We're working through a natural progression here, folks. First, we learned that Aaron Schobel wouldn't be returning to the Buffalo Bills. Then, this morning, we talked about what it means for the current pass-rushing OLB candidates already on Buffalo's roster. The third rung of the natural progression began in the comments section, in the form of "who might the Bills add to this position down the line?"
I have suggestions; hence this post. It should be noted, first and foremost, that the Bills might not see fit to add anyone to this position; they've got a couple of veterans in Chris Kelsay and Reggie Torbor, and some high-upside young guys in Aaron Maybin, Danny Batten, Chris Ellis and Antonio Coleman, already working within this defensive scheme. It's entirely possible that the team sees enough from those six players to proceed into the regular season with the status quo.
That said, that's a large pile of expectation placed on a group that is both very young and very inexperienced as 3-4 outside linebackers. The veteran market is pretty devoid of talent, but there are ten potential outside linebackers currently employed by other NFL teams that I'll be monitoring closely over the next few months. None are mortal locks to make the final rosters of their current teams, and all would add something to this critical position in Buffalo. (Caution: misleading headline; not all of these players are young.)
This list obviously isn't all-inclusive, so if there are names you'd like to add, the comments section is the place to do it.
Quentin Moses, Miami. I put him first on this list simply because, having spent the past three seasons with Miami, defensive coordinator George Edwards will have a good working knowledge of Moses' abilities. Miami is undergoing something of an overhaul at outside linebacker, where Jason Taylor and Joey Porter were off-season departures. Cameron Wake and Charlie Anderson are the likely starters on the outside, and second-round pick Koa Misi is held in high regard by the coaching staff. Moses has a fantastic chance of making Miami's roster given their need for pass rushers, but it's hard to rule anything out, particularly given how much change has happened at ILB down there.
David Bowens, Cleveland. The first of two old dudes on this list, Bowens has been an Eric Mangini defensive mainstay for the past three seasons in New York and Cleveland. Bowens also spent time with Edwards in Miami in 2005 and 2006. Though he's 32, he's still productive when called upon, and he's got a lot of 3-4 experience. No one's exactly sure what the Browns are doing at OLB, but after adding Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita to a group already including Bowens, Matt Roth and Jason Trusnik, it's not a lock that the veteran sticks with Mangini for a fourth season.
Brian Johnston, Miami. Though he's a Dolphin, there's no Johnston-George Edwards connection to be aware of here. Chan Gailey will have some knowledge of Johnston's abilities, as the two spent the 2008 season together in Kansas City. Johnston's a pure pass rusher, and it's unclear whether or not he'll be playing end or OLB in Miami. Either way, he appears to be a long shot to make Miami's roster, and could be worth a look if he does end up being released.
Marcus Howard, Tennessee. A fifth-round pick of Indianapolis in 2008, the 6'0", 237-pound Howard is vastly undersized for 4-3 defensive end, which he'll be playing as a Titan in 2010 should he make the team. Long have folks yearned to see Howard, an instinctive pass rusher with excellent athleticism, get a shot in a 3-4 scheme. Tennessee is re-tooling at end, and Howard could have a hard time cracking that roster, unless he gets a role similar to the one Brian Orakpo played as a SAM linebacker in Washington's 4-3 a year ago.
Curtis Johnson, Dallas. Another guy who got his start with Indianapolis, Johnson was released by Indy prior to the start of the 2009 season, and subsequently claimed by Dallas - so he's got a year in a 3-4 scheme somewhat similar to what the Bills will be running. Dallas doesn't rotate a lot of players in at OLB, and with Victor Butler being the chief reserve behind DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, Johnson may be on the outside looking in. He'd be worth a look in that situation.
Rahim Alem, Cincinnati. An undrafted rookie free agent that wasn't overly productive at LSU (14.5 career sacks), Alem is buried on Cincinnati's depth chart. He does have some natural pass rush ability, so in the event that the Bengals look to cut him prior to the start of the regular season and sneak him onto the practice squad, he'd be an interesting investigation for Buffalo's purposes.
Travis LaBoy, San Francisco. The other "old guy" on this list, the 28-year-old LaBoy is injury-prone, was suspended for four games in 2009, and is about to start a one-year deal with Mike Singletary and the Niners. San Fran needs pass rushing depth, so I'm betting that LaBoy sticks as a situational player. In the event that he does not, I'd snap him up in a heartbeat if I were Buddy Nix.
Ricky Sapp, Philadelphia. It's tough to put a guy on this list that was just drafted in the fifth round this past April, but Philadelphia's a unique situation. They've got a boat load of rookies on that team, and not all of them are going to make the roster. If the Eagles decide to play him at end, he's got almost no chance of cracking the team, which is why most believe he'll split time between end and linebacker. If the Eagles don't like his work ethic this pre-season - a knock on him coming out of Clemson - and choose to try to sneak him onto their practice squad, again, this is a young player worth looking at. But it's far more likely that he sticks as a deep reserve and specialist, with long-term potential, for a quality organization.
Will Davis, Arizona. It's tough to project Arizona's OLB depth behind starters Clark Haggans and the newly-signed Joey Porter. Cody Brown, a second-round pick in '09 out of Connecticut, returns to the lineup after missing his entire rookie season with a shredded wrist. He'll compete directly with Davis, another '09 draftee (sixth round, Illinois) coming off of IR, to be the primary understudy. Stevie Baggs and highly-touted rookie O'Brien Schofield are also solid options, so it's entirely conceivable that a player like Davis could be out of work come early September. He flashed potential as a rookie, and is absolutely worth keeping an eye on.
Nick Reed, Seattle. Entering his second pro season, Reed is in a free-for-all at the Leo position in Seattle, which is a hybrid end/outside linebacker spot in the Seahawks' totally unique defensive system. Reed will compete at the position with veteran Chris Clemons and youngsters Rickey Foley and Dexter Davis. The 6'1", 247-pound Reed, an Oregon product, is just 22 years old and was a very productive pass rusher as a collegian. If he doesn't make the cut in the Pacific Northwest, he'd look great as a situational depth option in Buffalo.