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State of the Buffalo Bills roster, defensive tackles: having trouble letting Kyle Williams go

Buffalo’s heart and soul will leave a huge void next season

Throughout the last thirteen seasons, the Buffalo Bills have had one constant presence in the lineup. No matter how bad the team was, Kyle Williams would line up at defensive tackle. In 2019, that will no longer be the case, as the Bills will transition to life without Kyle for the first time since the 2005 season (for those who are curious, Buffalo’s starting defensive tackles that season were Sam Adams and Tim Anderson. Justin Bannan and Ron Edwards also made starts that year).

Whenever a team loses a player of Williams’s stature, the season after is a difficult one with regard to finding replacements. The Bills will have to remake the position, as they lose two of the four players who rotated in at defensive tackle most heavily in 2018.

In the latest look at the state of the Bills roster, we look at the defensive tackle position.

Star Lotulelei

  • Contract status for 2019: Signed; $11.5 million cap hit ($12.4 million dead cap if cut)
  • Age: 29 (30 on 12/20/19)
  • Playing time: 16 games (16 starts), 475 snaps (46.84% of defensive total), 75 ST snaps (17.08%)
  • Key statistics: 17 tackles, 1 tackles for loss, 1 pass defended

It’s tough to evaluate someone like Lotulelei based solely on statistics, as so much of his job involves freeing other players to accumulate statistics of their own. At $11.5 million, his is the highest salary cap number on the Bills’ roster in 2019, and the contract is structured in such a way that makes it foolish to move on next season. Not that I think they need to, however, as Lotulelei did exactly what he was supposed to do this year. He ate blockers in front of rookie Tremaine Edmunds, and he prevented quarterbacks from stepping up into huge pockets, which was a big problem for the Bills last season. Buffalo’s run defense improved this season, as well—the Bills were 16th in the league this year, allowing 114.9 yards per game, an improvement from 124.6 per game last year, which ranked 29th.

Harrison Phillips

  • Contract status for 2019: Signed; $802,760 cap hit ($581,280 dead cap if cut)
  • Age: 22 (23 on 1/25/19)
  • Playing time: 16 games (0 starts), 389 snaps (38.36% of defensive snaps), 78 ST snaps (17.77%)
  • Key statistics: 35 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2 QB hits, 1 fumble recovered

Phillips turned out to be a very good draft choice by the Bills, as the former Stanford Cardinal stepped into a rotational role right away during his rookie season. Phillips was just as productive as Williams in terms of overall tackles, as each player had the same number on the year. The big difference in their numbers came in the form of quarterback hits, as Williams had 14 compared to two for Phillips. If “Horrible Harry” can step right into a starting role next year, it will allow the Bills to improve other positions of need; however, multiple mock drafts have Buffalo taking another defensive tackle early in the 2019 NFL Draft. In any case, Phillips will be part of the Bills’ defensive line next year.

Kyle Peko

  • Contract status for 2019: Signed to reserve/future contract; $645,000 cap hit ($0 guaranteed)
  • Age: 25 (26 on 7/23/19)
  • Playing time: N/A
  • Key statistics: N/A

Peko is the younger cousin of veteran nose tackle Domata Peko, currently of the Denver Broncos. Kyle Peko does not have the size or the pedigree of his older cousin, but he does possess solid athleticism for the position. He joined the Bills in September, signing with the team’s practice squad after his release from the Broncos’ practice squad. He has appeared in seven games during his NFL career, totaling eight tackles in the process.

Robert Thomas

  • Contract status for 2019: Signed to reserve/future contract; $645,000 cap hit ($0 guaranteed)
  • Age: 27 (28 on 2/19/19)
  • Playing time: 2 games (0 starts), 17 snaps (1.68% of defensive total)
  • Key statistics: N/A

Thomas was called up from the practice squad for Buffalo’s games against the Los Angeles Chargers and the Minnesota Vikings in Weeks 2 and 3, respectively. He did not contribute much to the roster, but he did allow cornballs like Skarekrow and I to make plenty of Matchbox Twenty puns for a few weeks.

Jordan Phillips

  • Contract status for 2019: Unsigned; UFA
  • Age: 26 (27 on 9/21/19)
  • Playing time: 12 games (0 starts), 268 snaps (26.43% of defensive total), 47 ST snaps (10.71%)
  • Key statistics: 19 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 3 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery

Phillips was claimed off waivers from the Miami Dolphins prior to Buffalo’s Week 5 tilt against the Tennessee Titans, and he made an immediate impact with the team. Phillips was a ball of energy from the start, and he did a great job eating space and helping to give Lotulelei a rest at various points throughout games. A former second-round pick, Phillips flamed out in Miami due to issues of work ethic, but he seemed to revel in the second chance he received in Buffalo. While he may want to test the market, the Bills would be wise to make contact with him and his representation to inquire about retaining his services.

Positional Outlook

It would appear that Buffalo has two set defensive tackles going into next season, as neither Lotulelei nor Harrison Phillips are in danger of losing their roster spot. With the surname Phillips quickly becoming the new Williams in Buffalo (Cam Phillips, a wide receiver, is on the team’s practice squad), the Bills might as well re-sign Jordan Phillips to keep the trio intact. Whether the team brings Jordan Phillips back or not, another defensive tackle will be necessary. With some outlets predicting that the Bills will spend their first draft choice on one, it’s possible that the Bills add a blue-chip talent here. If that pick is someone like Ed Oliver, then I can suspend my desire for an offensive player for a round. There have also been rumblings that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking to release Gerald McCoy, an outstanding veteran who has some gas left in the tank at 30 years old.

The Bills need to add a player or two here. No matter how they do it, I think that retaining Jordan Phillips should be a priority. If the team has a chance to sign McCoy, that should be a no-brainer, allowing them to send their draft capital to help the offense. If McCoy’s price tag is too high, then drafting a potential stud in Oliver could be a great consolation prize.

And yes, I’m still having trouble letting Kyle go.