Nepotism is alive and well at One Bills Drive.
With the Buffalo Bills' recent signing of tackle Wayne Hunter, former New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan has signed a fifth player from his former team - and all of them play offense. The list includes receiver Percy Harvin, fullback John Conner, tight end Matthew Mulligan, quarterback Chris Simms, and Hunter.
It isn't an uncommon practice for coaches to sign their former players, as they tend to sign players that fit their particular system, buy in to their philosophy, or help implement a particular offensive or defensive scheme; it is obvious that Ryan has developed trust with these particular players.
Nonetheless, they are not guaranteed a roster spot come the beginning of the season. Wins are the only thing that matter in the NFL, and these players are going to have to earn their spots like everyone else. Today, let's try to predict how many of these players will actually make the 53-man roster come September. We'll set the over/under at 2.5, discuss the possibilities of each player making the roster, and flesh out some of the challenges that they will face.
Harvin will be added to a receiver group that already has some pretty young and reliable talent; leading that group is second year wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Harvin will be looking to find his niche, as he'll attempt to steal some playing time from incumbent wide receivers, Robert Woods and Chris Hogan. He'll also contribute in the return game.
We all know about Harvin's ability on the field, as he is one of the most explosive and dynamic players in the NFL. However, he has had locker room and injury issues in the past. Talent-wise, it should be a sure thing that he makes the team, but a lot can happen between now and final cuts.
Conner, a fullback and special teams contributor, is going to have an uphill battle to make this team, as the Bills just signed Jerome Felton to a four-year $9 million deal. The Bills are also expected to keep four running backs on the roster this season, which lands Conner squarely in a numbers game despite his good standing with the head coach.
Perhaps the team ultimately feels that he offers a better upside as a blocker than some of the other players that are expected to be use in the same capacity. Either way, it will be an uphill battle for Conner - but he'll be given opportunities.
Mulligan, not known in NFL circles as a pass-catching tight end, will play a role that former Bills tight end Lee Smith played last season, as the team's blocking tight end. In a wide-open race for at least one, potentially two (and quite possibly even three) roster spots, Mulligan's blocking skill makes him unique among a group that also includes Nick O'Leary (who likely makes the team), MarQueis Gray, and Chris Gragg. Mulligan's chief blocking competition will be undrafted rookie Clay Burton.
Ryan has admitted that he liked what he saw from Simms during his stint with the Jets. A major or season-ending surgery to one of the top three quarterbacks could potentially lead to a roster spot for Simms, as could Matt Cassel's $4.5 million cap hit. Though it is unlikely that Simms makes the roster outright, he does have some variables on his side that can help him.
The Bills were rather thin at tackle, which prompted the signing of Hunter. The 34-year-old hasn't played in the NFL since 2012. Ryan, however, seems to be a fan.
"He is a guy that did a tremendous job for us early," Ryan said of Hunter when he was in the Jets. "I think in an ideal world there are some players for whatever reason that are better in multiple roles and being almost like a utility guy, playing guard, tackle, tight end. Giving you a lot of that versatility, a smart athletic guy."
Hunter may not ultimately push for a starting job, but behind a shaky Bills line that lacks great depth, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he finds a niche.
The over/under is set at 2.5 former Jets making Ryan's first opening-day Bills roster. Where do you land?