While the pressing concern for the Buffalo Bills’ brass heading into the 2018 offseason centers around the 22 players who are classified as free agents in one capacity or another, it’s never too early to take a look at the players who have only one year remaining on their contracts with the Bills.
Hoping to build off of a successful 2017 campaign that saw the Bills post a 9-7 record (just their third winning season since 2000) and qualify for the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, as of now, the Bills have 11 players who will be playing on the final year of their contract in 2018.
That list consists of the 2017 starting quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, along with the team’s top wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, the team’s starting left guard, Richie Incognito, one of the defensive leaders, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, and the punter, Colton Schmidt.
Here is the full list of players entering the final season of their contracts:
Lorenzo Alexander (LB)
One of the team’s captains, Alexander was a key member of the defense who also contributed significantly on special teams. Alexander appeared in all 16 games, making 11 starts. He finished fifth on the team in tackles (73) and made 58 solo stops. His three sacks ranked tied for third on the team, and he also forced three fumbles. Alexander has expressed a strong desire to return to Buffalo, and he is under contract for next season, set to earn a salary of $2.45 million, with an additional $400,000 roster bonus. A valuable leader in the locker room, I expect Alexander to play for the Bills next year.
Kelvin Benjamin (WR)
Acquired on Oct. 31 at the NFL trade deadline, Benjamin had an underwhelming debut season in Buffalo, though much of that can be blamed on a knee injury he suffered on his first play of Buffalo’s Week 11 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Benjamin was not the receiving threat the Bills envisioned when they shipped a third- and seventh-round draft pick to the Carolina Panthers. He finished with 16 catches for 217 yards, averaging 13.6 yards per catch with one touchdown. In 2018, he carries a cap hit of $8.459 million. Benjamin should provide Taylor (or whoever is under center) with a big target who can win his one-on-one battles.
Ryan Davis (DE)
Davis appeared in all 16 games along the defensive line, recording three sacks (tied for third-most on the team) to go with 26 tackles (17 solo) and one forced fumble. Davis emerged as a valuable rotational member of the defensive line once Marcell Dareus was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and should contribute even more in 2018. Davis is set to earn a salary of $1.125 million, with $150,000 in roster bonuses in 2018.
Ryan Groy (G)
The lineman appeared in all 16 games, making one start as Buffalo’s top swingman on the offensive line. Groy served as the primary backup at center to Eric Wood, and is the team’s top interior backup offensive lineman. Groy has proven he can play well at every spot along the line, and is set to earn a salary of $1.5 million, with an additional $1 million in a roster bonus.
Richie Incognito (LG)
The talkative guard appeared in and started all 16 games, earning his fourth Pro Bowl nod (third straight with the Bills). Incognito has been a valuable member of the offensive line, paving the way for LeSean McCoy to run to daylight. Incognito has been embraced by the Bills locker room in the aftermath of the bullying allegations from his days with the Miami Dolphins, and while it was troubling to hear the allegations that Incognito used racial slurs against Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Yannick Ngakoue during the 10-3 Wild Card loss to Jacksonville, Incognito’s teammates, specifically Dion Dawkins, were quick to defend Incognito and dismiss Ngakoue’s claims. On the field, Incognito has certainly justified the bargain-basement, three-year, $15.75 million dollar deal he signed with the Bills on March 8, 2016.
Khari Lee (TE)
Lee appeared in eight games as primarily a run-blocking tight end and did not have any catches with the Bills. Lee is set to make a salary of $705,000 in 2018, but with Charles Clay, Nick O’Leary, and Logan Thomas in the mix, and with only one career catch in 32 games, it doesn’t seem likely Lee will play a large role in the Bills offense.
John Miller (G)
Appeared in and started four games at right guard, before being replaced by Vladimir Ducasse. When he did play, the former third-round draft pick did not excel on the field, as Pro Football Focus ranked Miller near the bottom of the right guards in the league. Miller is set to earn a salary of $705,000, with $205,030 in additional bonuses, in 2018.
Jordan Mills (RT)
Appeared in and started all 16 games at right tackle, earning a grade of 65.8 from Pro Football Focus, tied for 43rd among tackles. While Mills was able to start all 16 games for the playoff-bound Bills, his play earned him a below average grade from Pro Football Focus, and it appears the Bills could find someone better in free agency or the draft to replace Mills if they felt like it. Mills is set to earn a salary of $1.5 million in 2018, with a cap hit of $2.15 million.
Lafayette Pitts (CB)
Appeared in 10 games, making eight total tackles (seven solo). Pitts is set to earn a base salary of $630,000 in 2018.
Colton Schmidt (P)
Schmidt enjoyed the second-best season of his Bills career in 2017, averaging 44.7 yards per punt on 79 punts. He did not have a punt blocked for the fourth straight year, and dropped 28 of his punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Schmidt is a valuable weapon for Buffalo, as he can help the team win the field position game. He had a net average of 40.5 yards per punt, and with his high hang time kicks, returners mustered only 210 return yards on 38 punts, an average of 5.52 yards per return. Schmidt will earn a base salary of $1.15 million in 2018.
Tyrod Taylor (QB)
Taylor is the player on this list who will generate the most discussion, and given how important it is to have a capable quarterback, the discussion is worth repeating: should Taylor be given one more opportunity to quarterback the Bills, or is a 22-22 career record in 44 games over three seasons as the starting quarterback a large enough sample size for the team to move on from the dual-threat quarterback? Taylor is due a $6 million roster bonus on the third day of the league year. It’s a clause written into the contract by Taylor’s agent to force the Bills’ hand; release him so he can sign with another team early enough to make a difference and some cash or pay him $6 million to wait around. Buffalo won’t be afforded the luxury of seeing if they can find their next franchise quarterback in the draft while hanging onto Taylor as a bridge without spending that money on Taylor. On the field, Taylor ranked 25th in the league in passing yardage (2,799 passing yards). Using efficiency metrics like yards per attempt tell a similar story (6.7 y/a for 23rd place). Taylor will always have his supporters who rely on his lack of turnovers (1.0 interception percentage) and his ability to scramble (427 rushing yards while averaging 5.1 yards per rush). He finished 2017 ranking 13th in QBR, 16th in passer rating, 20th in adjusted net yards/passing attempt, etc. Not figures of an elite quarterback. Taylor is what he is, someone who can keep plays alive with his legs and who won’t throw a back-breaking interception, but he also has become worse on his deep throws, and too often couldn’t find the open receiver if it wasn’t his first read on a play. The end result? Taylor possesses some desirable strengths to go with some noticeable weaknesses. Odds don’t look good for Taylor returning under center in 2018, though the decision to fire offensive coordinator Rick Dennison COULD open the door for one final season with Taylor at QB.