With Over the Cap ranking the Buffalo Bills third in roster turnover from 2016 to 2017, it’s no surprise that the team had a multitude of players—36, to be exact—playing on expiring contracts last season. What may be a surprise, however, is the number of players who suited up for the Bills in 2016 who remain unsigned by any NFL team with only one week to go before training camps open.
We decided to look at those players in a bit more depth, focusing on the number of snaps they contributed last season. Overall, the Bills took 1,064 snaps on offense, 1,071 snaps on defense, and 464 snaps on special teams. The Bills’ unsigned free agents combined to take 541 offensive snaps, 2,205 defensive snaps, and 1,148 special teams snaps in 2016. Here they are.
FB Jerome Felton—322/1064 (30.26%)
RB Reggie Bush—96/1064 (9.02%)
WR Percy Harvin—67/1064 (6.3%)
WR Greg Salas—36/1064 (3.38%)
TE Gerald Christian—18/1064 (1.69%)
If you’re adding those snaps saying, “Hey...that only comes to 539,” allow me to congratulate you on your sharp eye. The other two offensive snaps went to Brandon Spikes and Leger Douzable.
Jerome Felton stands as the lion’s share of the missing snaps, accounting for 60% of the “unsigned snaps” from Buffalo’s offense. His role, however, will be filled by Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert; the latter also will easily fill in for Reggie Bush, whose 96 snaps were among the worst in NFL history.
Greg Salas was expected to contribute as the team’s third receiver, and he averaged 18 snaps per game through the first two games of the season (35%). Unfortunately, he ended up on injured reserve with a groin injury before being released in November. Percy Harvin was signed in a desperate attempt to give the Bills a semi-professional looking receiving corps in the middle of the season; however, he played in only two games before his migraine problems returned. The Bills retooled their receiver position this offseason, bringing in Andre Holmes, Corey Brown, and Rod Streater, as well as second round draft pick Zay Jones.
Gerald Christian appeared in three games, and he caught a pass against the Oakland Raiders. His snaps will be absorbed by the winner of the training camp battle for the third tight end position.
Other offensive players who did not play a snap last season, but who were rostered by the Bills and remain unsigned, include running back Dri Archer (who was claimed off waivers from the Pittsburgh Steelers but never reported to Buffalo), tight ends Blake Annen and Chris Gragg, and wide receiver/special teams ace Marcus Easley.
S Corey Graham—1052/1071 (98.23%)
DL Leger Douzable—481/1071 (44.91%)
S Aaron Williams—338/1071 (31.56%)
S James Ihedigbo—146/1071 (13.63%)
LB Brandon Spikes—97/1071 (9.06%)
S Jonathan Meeks—87/1071 (8.12%)
S Sergio Brown—4/1071 (.37%)
Obviously, Corey Graham stands out in this group. The veteran safety started all 16 games last season and rarely came off the field. He would have been joined by Aaron Williams, who was averaging 76% of the defensive snaps through week 6, but Jarvis Landry ended his season with an ugly crack-back block in week 7 when the Bills went to Miami.
Five of the seven players on this list play safety. Clearly, the position needed an upgrade, and while the Bills think they did just that by adding Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, depth remains an issue.
Leger Douzable was actually tenth on the Bills in overall defensive snaps played last season; a scheme change is the main reason for the Bills moving on, and even though his 2016 was a career-best statistically, his 43 tackles and 1.5 sacks are not exactly eye-popping numbers.
That leaves Brandon Spikes, whose skill set is something that has gone the way of the dodo in today’s NFL. The 29 year-old has never even been anything close to mediocre in pass coverage, so it’s unsurprising that he remains unsigned. He may have some use to a team as a goal line thumper, but nothing more than that.
Of the 2,205 defensive snaps that remain unsigned, Graham represents nearly half of them at 48%, and Douzable accounts for 22%. Barring injury, Hyde will most likely replicate Graham’s snap count numbers, and it’s hard to argue that the Bills downgraded by swapping out the 32 year-old Graham for the 26 year-old Hyde. Marcell Dareus should take most of Douzable’s snaps, and that would have been true last year, as well, had “99” not been suspended or injured for the better part of the season’s first half.
One 2016 Bills defensive player spent the year on injured reserve who still remains unsigned—safety Philip Thomas.
S Jonathan Meeks—316/464 (68.10%)
S Sergio Brown—170/464 (36.64%)
DL Leger Douzable—147/464 (31.68%)
S Corey Graham—143/464 (30.82%)
K Dan Carpenter—141/464 (30.39%)
That’s everyone who played more than 100 special teams snaps who remain unsigned. Meeks filled the role that the team expected Colt Anderson to fill, and unless he returns to the injured reserve list, Anderson will be counted on to fill that role in 2017. Among the other players on coverage units, the Bills will likely use younger draft picks like Matt Milano and Tanner Vallejo to replace those that they’ve lost. The Bills upgraded at the kicker spot by signing Stephen Hauschka to replace Dan Carpenter, who struggled mightily last year.
It will be interesting to see if any of these former Bills are signed in the weeks to come. Who among them may be able to help a team in need?