Kyle Williams is the heart and soul of the Buffalo Bills defense. He has given his all to the Bills for the duration of his 12-year NFL career since being drafted in the fifth round out of LSU in the 2006 draft. But Williams’ status for 2018 is up in the air, as the co-captain is an unrestricted free agent who is not under contract for this season.
Williams, who turns 35 in June, is coming off a season where he was in on 41 combined tackles to go with three sacks, two passes defensed, one fumble recovery, and one thunderous one-yard rushing touchdown.
While Williams is still 9,999 rushing yards shy of joining LeSean McCoy in the 10,000-yard rushing club, he still can be a valuable contributor at defensive tackle for the Bills next year. If Buffalo opts to move on from the fan-favorite, or if Williams decides to hang ‘em up after tasting the playoffs for the first time in his career, the Bills are in deep trouble with few in-house options.
The loss of Williams, who played in 68.23 percent of the teams defensive snaps, leaves Buffalo in dire straits at one of the most important positions: defensive tackle.
Adolphus Washington is the only real sure thing to see the field among Buffalo’s defensive tackles. After playing in 46 percent of Buffalo’s defensive snaps this past season, Washington logged 33 combined tackles with one sack and two passes defensed. He appeared in 15 games and made 10 starts while accumulating numbers that would put Washington in the mix for snaps as part of a defensive tackle rotation. Is he good enough to start for Sean McDermott’s 4-3 defense?
Washington, entering his third year out of Ohio State, doesn’t possess above-average run-stopping abilities. Though with his massive frame (6’4” and 295 pounds) there’s a chance Washington can build on the momentum from this year and round into a solid run-stuffer for defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. I would feel more comfortable with Washington as the team’s No. 3 defensive tackle than one of its starters.
The sad state of the Bills’ defensive tackles can best be summed up this way: Washington is the best defensive tackle currently under contract for next season. Beyond Washington, there are only two other players on the roster who are signed for 2018, and they combined for 25 total snaps at defensive tackle in 2017: Rickey Hatley (one tackle in 25 snaps) and Marquavius Lewis (zero snaps, signed to a reserve/future contract).
Hatley is a mountain of a man, checking in at 6’4”, 320 pounds. Every one of the 25 snaps Hatley had in 2017 came in the regular-season finale win over the Miami Dolphins. With Hatley on the field, the Dolphins managed only 93 total rushing yards. Hatley also was on the field for 18 snaps in the Wild Card loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. On a team that struggled to stop the run, Hatley deserves a chance to show what he can do over a full season, especially with his penchant for stuffing the run.
Lewis isn’t a stout run defender, and he isn’t someone who commands double-teams in the trenches. During limited run in the preseason, Lewis combined for seven tackles with one sack and a pass defensed. He is signed to a reserve/future contract, meaning his fate will most likely be as camp competition.
Meanwhile, Cedric Thornton, 29, who showed flashes of his talents after the trade of Marcell Dareus, is an unrestricted free agent following a 2017 campaign where he recorded 27 tackles with two sacks while playing in 35 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. Thornton is a beast of a man at 6’4” and 290 pounds, but he would most likely be rotational depth for the Bills (or whatever team ends up signing him) and not likely to be a starter in Western New York.
If Williams retires, the Bills are left with a huge leadership void, and a tremendous hole to fill at defensive tackle. Given the lack of play makers on the roster, that hole would most likely be filled through either the draft or free agency.