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Buffalo Bills have decisions to make at cornerback behind Tre’Davious White

For the second consecutive year, the Bills may have some new faces in the secondary

In 2016, the Buffalo Bills top four cornerbacks were Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and Corey White, with Kevon Seymour slotted as the fifth man. In 2017, none of those five men played a single snap for the Bills.

This is but one example of how volatile the NFL can be, as players, coaches, and executives come and go at a breakneck pace. In 2017, the Bills’ secondary was thought to be a weakness entering the season, but it became arguably the team’s strongest unit on either side of the ball.

If the Bills want to avoid another near-complete overhaul of the secondary, they’ll have to make some solid offers to retain key free agents. In this look at the state of the Bills’ roster, we profile the cornerbacks.

Tre’Davious White

  • Contract status for 2018: signed; $2.29 million cap hit
  • Age: 23 (24 on 1/16/19)
  • Playing time: 1,093 snaps (98.65% of defensive snaps), 80 ST snaps (18.31%)
  • Key statistics: 70 combined tackles, 18 passes defensed, 4 interceptions, 1 fumble forced, 2 fumbles recovered, 1 touchdown

White’s rookie season was nothing short of spectacular, as he routinely performed exceptionally throughout the campaign. Aside from a terrible showing against the Cincinnati Bengals, where he was burned multiple times by A.J. Green, White was superb. Many a talented corner has been burned by the ultra-talented Green, and to White’s credit, he immediately owned up to his poor showing, vowed that it would never happen again, and followed through with that promise.

While Bills fans can lament the team trading down and passing on quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the 2016 NFL Draft if they please, I’d prefer to look on the bright side and be happy that the team found a genuine stud in White while also stockpiling an additional first-round draft pick this year. At only 23 years old during the 2018 season, White’s best football should definitely be in front of him.

Breon Borders

  • Contract status for 2018: signed; $555,000 cap hit (no guaranteed money)
  • Age: 22 (23 on 7/22/18)
  • Playing time: N/A
  • Key statistics: N/A

Yes, the Bills only have two corners under contract for 2018—their stud first-rounder and Borders, who was a practice-squad signee from the Oakland Raiders prior to Week 15. He had a productive college career at Duke, totaling 148 tackles, 1 sack, 12 interceptions, and 34 passes defensed. The Bills won’t go into next season with him as a starter, one would assume, but they did keep him on the 53-man roster for the final four games of the season. I imagine the coaching staff thinks that he has a real shot at making the team next year.

Lafayette Pitts

  • Contract status for 2018: unsigned; ERFA
  • Age: 25 (26 on 9/24/18)
  • Playing time: 30 snaps (2.71% of defensive snaps), 138 ST snaps (31.58%)
  • Key statistics: 3 combined tackles

When I read his name, I think of Civil War generals, not football players, but Pitts is a bona fide NFL cornerback and special teams contributor. After being claimed off of waivers on October 25, he was on Buffalo’s 53-man roster for the entire season. As an exclusive rights free agent, it stands to reason that the Bills will tender him and make a decision on his roster status in the fall. (They can retain him by making him a one-year deal at the league minimum.)

Shareece Wright

  • Contract status for 2018: unsigned; UFA
  • Age: 30 (31 on 4/8/18)
  • Playing time: 455 snaps (41.06% of defensive snaps), 102 ST snaps (23.34%)
  • Key statistics: 42 combined tackles, 5 passes defensed, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumbles recovered

The veteran was a decent dime option and special teamer, but he was not good when filling in for starter E.J. Gaines. As a soon-to-be 31-year old, I think it’s unlikely that Buffalo brings him back, nor do I think that they should. He did not play the ball well in the air, and he seemed to provide far too much cushion in his zones. While that may have worked if he had better closing speed, his inability to take away space quickly led opposing teams to pick on him repeatedly when he was in the lineup. The Bills should allow him to find employment elsewhere in 2018.

Leonard Johnson

  • Contract status for 2018: unsigned; UFA
  • Age: 27 (28 on 3/30/18)
  • Playing time: 673 snaps (60.74% of defensive snaps), 87 ST snaps (19.91%)
  • Key statistics: 51 combined tackles, 7 passes defensed, 1 fumble forced, 1 fumble recovered

Johnson is gritty and undersized (5’10”), but he did a decent job in the slot. As the team’s third corner, he had his hands full with regard to crossing and underneath routes. It’s hard to say whether or not he was at fault for some big gains in the middle of the defense, especially with the deficiencies in coverage that the Bills’ linebackers displayed throughout the year. When the team went man-to-man, Johnson seemed out of his element. It will be interesting to see whether or not the Bills bring him back next season; for his part, Johnson has expressed a desire to remain with the team over the long term.

E.J. Gaines

  • Contract status for 2018: unsigned; UFA
  • Age: 25 (26 on 2/23/18)
  • Playing time: 654 snaps (59.03% of defensive snaps), 41 ST snaps (9.38%)
  • Key statistics: 59 combined tackles, 1 interception, 9 passes defensed, 3 fumbles forced

I saved the best for last. An afterthought in the Sammy Watkins trade with the Los Angeles Rams, Gaines produced at a high level when he was on the field. The key to that, of course, was “when he was on the field,” as Gaines missed plenty of time due to injury on the season. While he played in 12 games counting the postseason, he did not finish the game healthy in 3 of them. When he played, Buffalo was 8-4. That’s not to say that Gaines in the only reason Buffalo won those games, but in the five games he missed, the Bills allowed 20, 14, 34, 47, and 37 points. Most importantly, they were 1-4 in those games.

The Bills are definitely going to have a dilemma on their hands with regard to re-signing Gaines. In a stacked field of free agent corners, it will be interesting to see where the Bills and other teams value Gaines’s production, and it will also be interesting to see how much his injury history hurts him. He’s now missed 11 games in the last 2 years thanks to a variety of injuries.

Offseason Outlook

With Tre’Davious White entrenched as the team’s top corner, the question becomes who rounds out the group. If Buffalo decides to retain Gaines, then that gives the team some continuity, but they would be wise to invest in a strong third-option, preferably one who can play inside and outside corner, to hedge against Gaines’s injury history. I don’t think the Bills will look to spend big in free agency here, but it’s possible that they could look to add either a steady veteran (Terrance Newman? Leon Hall? Jonathan Joseph?) if the right opportunity presents itself.

They may also look into adding a younger player with high upside, like Bashaud Breeland. A big splash at the position in free agency with someone like Kyle Fuller, Byron Maxwell, or former Bills DB Ross Cockrell seems unlikely. I would expect that the biggest contract Buffalo would give to a corner would be to their own man, Gaines. They may bring Johnson back into the fold, but signing him is far less important than Gaines.

With that being said, I fully expect the team to add a corner through the draft and through high-priority undrafted free agents. You can never have enough corners, so drafting one should be on Buffalo’s radar.

If change is the only constant in life, the secondary position in Buffalo is a great symbolic representation of that cliche. Expect more of it in 2018.