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Buffalo Bills solidify defensive end heading into 2018 NFL season

While the sack production lacked, the team has an adequate core of players at the defensive end position and added a big-time free agent.

The Buffalo Bills finished 29th in the NFL in total sacks in 2017, notching only 27 on the season. That total is 12 fewer than 2016, and only 6 more than 2015, where the Bills finished 31st in total sacks. But that doesn’t mean the defensive ends played poorly, nor does it mean they didn’t hit the quarterback.

Buffalo relied heavily on four-man rushes in 2017, with one player seeing a multitude of double teams in the process. The big-ticket free agent addition of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei should help by eating some more space and blockers in the middle of the line and pushing the pocket, and should result in fewer double teams for the pass rushers.

As we continue with our State of the Roster series, we examine the defensive ends, their production, and the possibilities for the 2018 season.

Jerry Hughes

  • Contract status: Signed; $10.4 million cap hit ($3.6 million cap savings if cut)
  • Age: Turns 30 on 8/13/18
  • 2017 Playing time: 735 defensive snaps (66.34% of defensive snaps), 8 ST snaps (1.83%)
  • Key 2017 Statistics: 4 sacks, 44 combined tackles, 1 forced fumble

Even if his numbers don’t necessarily reflect it, Hughes had a good season. He earned great grades from Pro Football Focus for his run stopping, QB pressures, and ability to fight through constant double teams in 2017. That should change this year with help from two free agent additions.

Hughes has a big contract number, but it would still be a surprise if the team moved on from him this offseason. During last year’s training camp, he got into a public spat with his defensive coordinator near the end of training camp, and we know he has a tendency to have a hot temper on the field, but he is still a valuable member of the team’s pass rush.

Trent Murphy

  • Contract Status: Signed a three-year, $22.5 million deal this offseason with $10.375 million guaranteed
  • Age: Turns 28 on 12/22/2018
  • 2017 Playing time: Missed season due to torn ACL, 674 defensive snaps (61.28%) for Washington in 2016
  • Key 2017 statistics: 9 sacks, 46 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery in 2016 with zero starts

Murphy was one of two big free agent acquisitions on the defensive line, along with Lotulelei. His presence should take the pressure off Hughes, if nothing else, and provide a steadying presence on the other side of the line.

He has been easing his way back into practices coming off the ACL, but during every walkthrough he’s been taking first-team reps ahead of the next man on the list. We still have to see how healthy he is and how much he participates in camp coming off the ACL surgery, so that will be something worth monitoring.

Murphy was slapped with a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. If he is caught again, the suspension will be longer.

Shaq Lawson

  • Contract Status: Signed; $2.8 million cap hit (no cap savings by cutting him)
  • Age: Turned 24 on 6/17/18
  • 2017 Playing time: 436 snaps (39.35% of defensive snaps), 39 ST snaps (8.92%)
  • Key 2017 statistics: 4 sacks, 32 combined tackles, 2 passes defensed, 1 fumble forced

While Lawson took better to Sean McDermott’s 4-3 defensive end role than he did in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 scheme, he still struggled to make an impact on the field in his second season. He spoke this offseason of knowing that his future is on the line, but we’ll see if that translates to better training camp performance.

Entering the 2018 season as a role player instead of a starter, Lawson’s snaps will be limited to prove he can be impactful. He is still a candidate to be traded, as he has dropped on the depth chart and wasn’t picked by the current regime.

Eddie Yarbrough

  • Contract status: Signed a one-year, $555,000 contract as an exclusive rights free agent this offseason
  • Age: Turned 25 on 4/24/18
  • 2017 Playing time: 462 snaps (41.7% of defensive snaps), 16 ST snaps (3.66%)
  • Key 2017 statistics: 1 sack, 34 combined tackles, 2 passes defensed

Bringing Yarbrough back was a no-brainer on such a cheap contract, but it’s his production that’s allowed him to vault Lawson on the depth chart. The former CFL standout has been taking second-team reps ahead of the former first-round pick this offseason. If he continues playing as hard and well as he has in the past 15 months, he’s a roster lock.

Owa Odighizuwa

  • Contract status: Signed a one-year, $630,000 contract this offseason ($630,000 cap savings if released)
  • Age: Turned 26 on 4/1/18
  • 2017 Playing time: Out of football in 2017; 169 snaps (15.23% of defensive snaps), 92 special teams snaps (20.18%) in 2016 with Giants
  • Key 2017 statistics: 1 pass defended, 1 tackle in 2016

After being suspended for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, Odighizuwa was released by the Giants and spent the season out of football. The former third-round pick is hoping to get his career back on track, but he’s never made a significant impact at the NFL level.

Terrence Fede

  • Contract status: Signed a one-year, $880,000 contract this offseason ($630,000 cap savings if released)
  • Age: Turns 27 on 11/19/18
  • 2017 Playing time: 172 snaps (16.44% of defensive snaps), 335 ST snaps (75.11%) for Miami
  • Key 2017 statistics: 1 fumble recovery, 10 combined tackles

Fede was added this April as veteran depth, but his only QB sack came in his rookie season four years ago. He’ll need to contribute on special teams to have a shot at sticking on the roster.

Mike Love

  • Contract status: Signed a 3-year, $1,710,000 contract as an undrafted free agent
  • Age: 24 currently
  • Key 2017 statistics: 28 tackles, 5 sacks, and 3 passes defended in 11 games for University of South Florida

Love is playing for a depth role or a spot on Buffalo’s practice squad. Here is NFL.com’s scouting report on him from the draft.

Matt Boesen

  • Contract status: Signed a 3-year, $1,710,000 contract as an undrafted free agent
  • Age: 23 currently
  • Key 2017 statistics: 64 tackles (including 15 for a loss) and 11.5 sacks in 14 games for Texas Christian University.

After a productive college career, Boesen is looking for a depth role or a spot on Buffalo’s practice squad.

Offseason Outlook

The Bills saw a lackluster pass rush and didn’t sit on their laurels. They added a strong free agent, several depth options in free agency, and undrafted free agents to see how it will all shake out.

The biggest question comes from Lawson. Is he ready to take the next step and be a valuable part of the rotation or is he going to be a trade piece during training camp? He has some value as a former first-round pick and general manager Brandon Beane has already put him on notice this offseason.

Beyond that, who is going to stick from the new players? They are throwing as many of them as they can against the problem to see. With Murphy limited, there will be plenty of practice snaps to go around.