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Buffalo Bills have safety prospects lined up if Da'Norris Searcy leaves

Da'Norris Searcy is a good football player. The Buffalo Bills sound like they're bracing for his departure. If he leaves, how would that affect the Bills at safety, and in the defensive backfield as a whole?

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For the past two seasons, the Buffalo Bills have ranked in the Top 10 in the NFL in team defense (reaching No. 4 overall in 2014), paced chiefly by their excellent pass defense. While the run defense has been mired with inconsistency - though it's clearly much better than it was in previous seasons - the pass defense has been among the top handful of units in the NFL, ranking No. 4 overall in 2013, and No. 3 last year, allowing just 20 yards per game more than Seattle and their vaunted "Legion of Boom" secondary.

Naturally, the fact that the Bills boast one of the league's best pass rushes - they lead the league in the past two seasons combined with 111 sacks - is a big factor in the team's success defending the pass. But make no mistake about it, Buffalo's secondary is a major component to that success as well, and is coming off of an excellent 2014 campaign.

But while the team's cornerback position is loaded up with a deep mix of experience and youth, and of various skill sets, the Bills' safety position - while also in fairly good shape - could thin out considerably if a key free agent departs for greener pastures in March.

Current personnel

Aaron Williams

  • Age: 24 (25 on April 13)
  • 2015 cap #: $3.9M
  • 2014 snaps: 903 (83.1 percent of total)

Playing in the Mike Pettine defense in 2013, Williams was very good, recording a career-high four interceptions in his first season as a safety. The defense played to his strengths, highlighting his matchup coverage ability and moving him around the alignment, and his strong campaign led to a lucrative four-year contract extension. In 2014, however, a more traditional safety role (plus a few nagging, minor injuries) led to a dip in production. Now, Rex Ryan is bringing the brand of defense that suits Williams back to Buffalo, and as is the case with other defensive backs like Stephon Gilmore and Nickell Robey, a return to form should be expected for the fifth-year safety.

Da'Norris Searcy

  • Age: 26 (27 on November 16)
  • 2015 cap #: unrestricted free agent
  • 2014 snaps: 648 (59.6 percent)

Over the past two seasons, this 2011 fourth-round pick has emerged as a quality role player for the Bills. He was highly productive as a sub-package player (and fill-in starter) in 2013, and excellent as a nominal starter (but still a part-timer) in 2014 - and now he's looking like one of the more attractive safety options on the free agent market. The Bills, in fact, seem to be bracing themselves for Searcy's departure, knowing that another team could pay much more - and offer a bigger role - than the Bills can provide. Losing Searcy would not be a devastating blow for the Bills, because he's not an every-down player, but make no mistake about it: Searcy's a very good football player, and losing him would weaken a good secondary.

Duke Williams

  • Age: 24 (25 on October 15)
  • 2015 cap #: $703K
  • 2014 snaps: 528 (48.6 percent)

One of the reasons that losing Searcy would not be a crippling blow for Buffalo's still-improving defense is the presence of Williams, another former fourth-round pick out of Nevada entering his third pro season. A more gifted coverage player and athlete than Searcy, Williams saw extensive playing time on obvious passing downs in 2014 and, despite a few glaring gaffes (none bigger than in Week 6 against New England), he performed rather well. He is talented enough to emerge as an every-down player, with some matchup skill a la Aaron Williams, and could ultimately prove to be an upgrade over Searcy as a starter. For now, however, it'd be a lateral move at best, as Searcy is a better playmaker and has more experience. But Williams is promising.

Other personnel

People fell in love with him after a two-interception, pinch-hit performance against Green Bay, but Bacarri Rambo does not offer much long-term upside, and likely will not be a big factor in any post-Searcy starting safety competition. If he can stay healthy, Jonathan Meeks, a third-year player out of Clemson, offers more athletic potential, and 2014 undrafted free agent Kenny Ladler is a better prospect than Rambo, as well. The team also retained practice squad safety Deon Broomfield on a reserve/future deal in December.

Offseason needs

The presence of veteran cornerback Corey Graham, who has experience as a safety, will also soften the blow of Searcy's likely departure - but naturally, splitting his time between two positions, as was the case in 2014, would weaken the secondary to some extent, and the cornerback position in particular, which has some durability issues.

Bottom line: between the corner and safety positions, a team will ideally have seven guys that they can put onto the field, and at least four of them should be able to play corner. The Bills have the corner thing down, because Searcy doesn't do that anyway. Losing Searcy would leave the Bills with six quality, proven performers in the defensive backfield, but that seventh would come down to the likes of Ron Brooks and Ross Cockrell at corner, or one of Rambo, Meeks, or Ladler at safety. There's not much in the way of proven play there, and only Rambo has the size to profile as a player capable of holding down Searcy's dime linebacker role. It's therefore not mandatory for the Bills to replace Searcy if he leaves, but it might be nice to find an athlete, somewhere, that offers some of his versatility.