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Defensive tackle options aplenty in free agency for Buffalo Bills

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To stick with their own free agent or to add a different name?

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NFL: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Phillips, whom the Buffalo Bills acquired via waivers this season after his release from the Miami Dolphins, won over fans and teammates alike in 2018 due to his energetic play in the defensive interior. The gigantic former second-round pick had flamed out in Miami, but his release seemed to light a fire in him, as he was fairly successful in a rotational role with the Bills this past season.

With Phillips set to hit the free-agent market, the Bills have a decision to make. Do they re-sign the 26-year old defensive tackle or try to rebuild the position entirely, allowing Phillips to leave? With Buffalo already losing veteran Kyle Williams to retirement, the position will look far different than it has in any season in more than a decade. Keeping Phillips would limit the amount of rebuilding necessary along the defensive line, but at what cost?

There are quite a few strong options available in the free-agent market for Buffalo to consider along the interior defensive line. Some players are technically defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme, but many of those players are athletic enough and versatile enough to kick inside in a 4-3 scheme similar to what Buffalo runs.

A comprehensive list of interior defensive line free agents can be found here, while Pro Football Focus has a list of the top-ten options at the position listed on its website, as well. For Buffalo, here are a few of the top options to consider.


Jordan Phillips

This one seems obvious. Phillips played in 12 games for the Bills, totaling 26% of the team’s total defensive snaps for the season. He made 19 tackles, including two for loss, and knocked down three passes at the line of scrimmage. Phillips did not register a sack with Buffalo, notching his one sack on the season while still employed in South Beach. As a rotational piece, Phillips is more than sufficient; however, if Buffalo wants to make a splash in replacing Kyle Williams, there are flashier options on the market.

Grady Jarrett

The clear top dog at the position is Jarrett, who has improved with every season in the NFL. Playing along the interior line for the Atlanta Falcons, Jarrett totaled 52 tackles, eight tackles for loss, six sacks, 16 quarterback hits, and three forced fumbles in 14 games this year. PFF graded him at a 91 for the year, sixth among all interior defensive linemen. At only 25 years old, Jarrett’s best football is probably still ahead of him, which is scary considering how strong he’s been over the course of his four-year career. Given his talent and his youth, he will probably demand a sizable contract (like $15 million per year), one that general manager Brandon Beane may decide isn’t worth it given Buffalo’s vast array of needs.

Margus Hunt

At 6’8” and 300 pounds, Hunt is an absolute mountain of a man. Born in Estonia, Hunt began his NFL career with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2013; however, he did not start a game until departing for the Indianapolis Colts in 2017. Hunt started 20 of 31 games he played over the last two years with the Colts, with the 2018 season serving as a breakout year of sorts for the raw talent. He made 30 tackles and five sacks, and 13 of his tackles went for a loss. Hunt is 31, so the “raw prospect” label is a bit tough to swallow given his advanced age, but he did not begin playing in the NFL until he was 26. As a rotational piece, Hunt still has tremendous potential, and he could be a good value signing if the Bills choose to go that route.

Ndamukong Suh

Another player whose contract will probably be too rich for the Bills’ blood, Suh is an elite pass rusher from the middle of the line, averaging 18 quarterback hits per season throughout his career. He also improved this season as a run defender in his time with the Los Angeles Rams. He has a history of awful behavior, but he is incredibly talented. Suh totaled 59 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 19 quarterback hits, and four tackles for loss in 2018.

Sheldon Richardson

Richardson is a familiar foe, having played the first four years of his career with the division-rival New York Jets. He played with his third team in as many years in 2018, suiting up for the Minnesota Vikings on a one-year contract. He notched 49 tackles, six tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and 16 quarterback hits this season in 16 games. At 28 years old, Richardson still has some gas left in the tank, and he is an explosive player who could absolutely fill the on-field void left by Kyle Williams.

Gerald McCoy

This one is kind of a bonus, since McCoy is technically still under contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, rumors have been swirling since the regular season ended that the Bucs would release the soon-to-be-31-year old defensive tackle, leaving him on the open market for the first time in his career. McCoy has great size (6’4,” 300 pounds), explosive speed, and great strength. He is an excellent pass rusher (54.5 sacks, 140 quarterback hits in nine seasons) and an explosive run defender (79 tackles for loss in his career). If he were to be released, Buffalo should call his agent the second they hear the news.

Poll

Which free agent defensive tackle should the Bills sign?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    Jordan Phillips
    (206 votes)
  • 16%
    Grady Jarrett
    (178 votes)
  • 3%
    Margus Hunt
    (37 votes)
  • 2%
    Ndamukong Suh
    (28 votes)
  • 19%
    Sheldon Richardson
    (214 votes)
  • 31%
    Gerald McCoy (if he’s cut)
    (342 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (specify in comments)
    (8 votes)
  • 5%
    None; draft one early in April
    (63 votes)
1076 votes total Vote Now