When the Buffalo Bills released veteran linebacker Nick Barnett and safety George Wilson on Monday, speculation immediately picked up about who would replace the two starters. Naturally, because of the presence of new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, much of that speculation centered on three players from his former team, the New York Jets: linebacker Bart Scott and safeties LaRon Landry and Eric Smith.
Scott is still under contract with the Jets, while Landry and Smith are scheduled for free agency. All three (but Scott and Smith in particular) will be well-versed in the terminology and philosophies of Pettine's defense, which could help smooth the Bills' current defenders transition to their third defense in three years.
Of course, the bigger question to ponder is whether or not the Bills would be getting good football players importing Jets cast-offs into Pettine's system. Enter John Butchko of SB Nation sister site Gang Green Nation, who was kind enough to field a trio of questions about the trio of players. The exchange is below; we'll offer it without comment (until, you know, we comment about it in the comments section).
I know Scott has said that he'd take a pay cut to stay in New York; what do you think the odds are that he'd leave?
Scott is sure to be a cap casualty. The Jets are more than $20 million over the cap, and cutting him saves over $7 million. My guess is he's a goner. This could be his last contract, and he'll look for a chance to maximize his payday. When he was a free agent (in 2009), he played the Ravens and the Jets against each other. He was 95 percent with the Jets. Then the Ravens upped their offer, and he was 95 percent to return. This kept playing out until the Ravens folded. Like most players, he's chasing every last dollar. I think he'll only remain a Jet if they are the only team that wants him.
Is it safe to assume that both safeties will be gone? Or will the team try to keep Smith because they won't be able to afford Landry?
I think Landry's definitely gone. His signing with the Jets was a marriage of convenience. The Jets got a good player at a discount price. Landry got to rebuild his value after an injury-plagued end to his career in Washington. He was very good with the Jets. If you can stick him in the box and have him play in limited space, he's a fantastic piece for a secondary. He'll probably cost too much for the Jets.
Smith's a more interesting case. He probably won't be back at the same price, but he's one of Rex Ryan's favorite players, and both starting safeties are free agents. I could see them looking to keep him. This might be a case where we find out the power dynamics between Ryan and new general manager John Idzik. Smith's play doesn't justify him being back, but we'll find out how much sway Ryan has to go to bat for one of his favorite players.
Any opinions on how much Smith and especially Scott have left in the tank?
I wouldn't touch either with a ten foot pole. Scott's game has deteriorated over the last two years. This year he supposedly dropped weight and was ready to have a bounce back year, but it never materialized. Down the stretch, it felt like he was responsible for a 50 yard gain a week with a blown assignment. His speed is all gone. He's a major liability in coverage. I think it has to do with how he was used. Scott's job with the Jets was to throw himself crashing into blockers and wipe them out so David Harris was free to make tackles. I believe he played a similar role in Baltimore with Ray Lewis. It's kind of like the running back position. His body took such a beating from that role that he's a shell of what he used to be.
Smith never had much in the tank to begin with. He's really slow, a major liability in coverage. Ryan and Pettine always talked about how smart he was, but it never really showed itself on the field. He constantly took bad angles, overpursued, and bit on fakes. We have a feature on GGN where we break down a crucial play every week. When Smith was starting in 2011, it felt like after every loss we were breaking down a catastrophic play Smith was responsible for. That continued this year. Smith isn't bad against the run, and he's pretty solid if you drop him down to be a linebacker in subpackages against the pass, but that's about it.
Landry's a good strong safety, though.