While the Buffalo Bills drafted one cornerback of the future when the team selected sensational Tre’Davious White with the 27th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the team could be left with a gaping hole at the second cornerback spot. E.J. Gaines, Buffalo’s other starting cornerback, is an unrestricted free agent, and while he performed well last year, Spotrac projects him to make a whole lot of money on the open market.
Gaines, who was traded from the Los Angeles Rams to the Bills along with two 2018 draft picks in exchange for wide receiver Sammy Watkins, certainly demonstrated his value on the field. In games that Gaines started, the Bills were 8-3, while they were 1-4 in games where injuries forced Gaines to sit out.
In those 11 regular-season games, Gaines made 59 tackles, broke up nine passes, forced a team-best three fumbles, and had one interception while excelling in coverage. Pro Football Focus gave Gaines a high quality grade of 86.6 for his 2017 performance, the 13th best cornerback grade.
What do the Bills’ internal options look like should Gaines command too much money on the free agent market?
Leonard Johnson, the team’s top nickle option, is also a free agent, as is dime corner Shareece Wright. Johnson appeared in 15 games (seven starts) with 40 total tackles, seven passes defended, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery last year. In the Wild Card loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Johnson sacked Blake Bortles and made four total tackles. Wright appeared in 12 games (five starts) with 35 total tackles, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, five passes defended, and a 54-yard interception return.
The only other two cornerbacks on the active roster are Lafayette Pitts and Breon Borders. In 2017, Pitts appeared in 10 games, making eight total tackles (seven solo). He is set to earn a base salary of $630,000 in 2018 and should provide depth at the cornerback position, but Pitts is not ready to step in and start opposite of Tre White.
Borders came to the Bills prior to Week 15 after spending much of the 2017 season on the Oakland Raiders’ practice squad. An undrafted free agent out of Duke, Borders has never taken a snap in the NFL.
As is the case with many of these free agent stories, there isn’t much in the way of internal options to replace Gaines should the Bills move on from their talented but oft-injured cornerback.