Heading into the 2019 season, the Buffalo Bills have far fewer questions at the linebacker position than they did in 2018, thanks mostly to strong campaigns by the trio of starters; Matt Milano, Tremaine Edmunds, and Lorenzo Alexander. After an offseason where they added a mix of young and experienced depth, Buffalo’s linebacker play should improve—if they can stay healthy.
In our latest look at the state of the Bills roster, we look at the linebackers heading into training camp.
- Contract status for 2019: Signed; $3 million cap hit ($3 million dead cap if cut)
- Age: Turned 36 on 5/31/19
- 2018 playing time: 16 games (8 starts), 629 snaps (62.03% of defensive total), 171 ST snaps (38.95%)
- Key 2018 statistics: 74 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 10 QB hits, 6.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 9 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovered
The ageless veteran keeps on playing at a high level. Alexander has been an invaluable leader throughout his time in Buffalo, and general manager Brandon Beane made re-signing him a priority this offseason. Alexander should not be counted out, though the Bills must find a player to develop behind him as a replacement for the 2020 season. Limiting Alexander’s snaps, even if only a bit, could help the veteran to stay fresh and maintain maximum effectiveness. It could also help to prepare his replacement, if that player is on the roster.
- Contract status for 2019: Signed; $2,877,169 cap hit ($10,357,809 dead cap if cut)
- Age: Turned 21 on 5/2/19
- 2018 playing time: 15 games (15 starts), 926 snaps (91.32% of defensive total), 71 ST snaps (16.17%)
- Key 2018 statistics: 121 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 7 QB hits, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, 12 passes defended, 2 fumbles forced
The youngest player in the NFL had a tremendous responsibility last season, serving as the Bills’ defensive play-caller and “quarterback” of the defense as the team’s middle linebacker. He rarely came off the field, missing time due to a concussion suffered against the New England Patriots in October, but otherwise was on the field at all times. With 121 total tackles, he was tied with three other players for twelfth in the league in that category. His 12 pass breakups were second among linebackers. If his rookie year is any indication, the second of Buffalo’s first-round draft choices in 2018 has a tremendous future ahead of him.
- Contract status for 2019: Signed; $710,376 cap hit ($130,754 dead cap if cut)
- Age: 24 (25 on 7/28/19)
- 2018 playing time: 13 games (13 starts), 741 snaps (73.08% of defensive snaps), 142 ST snaps (32.35%)
- Key 2018 statistics: 78 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 3 QB hits, 1 sack, 3 interceptions, 7 passes defended, 3 fumbles recovered
Buffalo’s ball-hawking second-year man was having a fantastic season through 13 games, but a broken leg ended his year prematurely. Milano is undersized, but he consistently proves the old cliche that it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. He is a solid run-stuffer who is especially adept at penetrating rush lanes. He is a strong cover man, able to lock down running backs and tight ends alike.
- Contract status for 2019: Signed; $1.525 million cap hit ($175,000 dead cap if cut)
- Age: 28 (29 on 9/2/19)
- 2018 playing time: 13 games (1 start), 89 snaps (8.78% of defensive total), 225 ST snaps (51.25%)
- Key 2018 statistics: 15 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 QB hit, 1 sack, 1 fumble forced, 1 pass defended
The veteran filled in at middle linebacker for Edmunds in one game this season, a 41-9 loss against the Chicago Bears. Stanford is primarily a special teams player, and he is solid veteran depth. However, if the Bills feel the need to go younger at the position, he could be the odd man out.
- Contract status for 2019: Signed; $570,000 cap hit ($0 guaranteed)
- Age: 25 (26 on 12/23/19)
- 2018 Playing time: 6 games (1 start), 80 snaps (7.89% of defensive total), 104 ST snaps (23.69%)
- Key 2018 statistics: 14 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 QB hit, 1 forced fumble
Thompson joined the Bills as an undrafted free agent in 2018. He is a nice athlete who adds value on special teams, but he struggled at the point of attack against the run in his time filling in for Milano late this season. He will be on the bubble.
- Contract status for 2019: Signed; $645,000 cap hit ($0 if cut)
- Age: 28 (29 on 7/18/19)
- 2018 playing time: 16 games (0 starts), 14 snaps (1.38% of defensive total), 299 ST snaps (68.11%)
- Key 2018 statistics: 7 tackles
While Lacey doesn’t exactly fill up the stats line, he does play more on special teams than any other person on Buffalo’s roster. With a new special teams coach, his roster spot is no lock in 2019.
- Contract status for 2019: Signed four-year rookie deal this offseason; $575,324 cap hit ($321,296 if cut)
- Age: 21 (Turns 22 on 12/15/19)
- 2018 playing time: 13 games for University of Florida
- Key 2018 statistics: 93 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery for University of Florida
Buffalo’s fifth-round selection in April’s draft, Joseph is known as an inconsistent linebacker but one who is very athletic. He’ll have to earn his roster spot on the special teams squads, but he has a chance to stick long-term as a developmental player.
- Contract status for 2019: Signed a one-year, $1 million contract ($150,000 if cut)
- Age: Turned 28 on 2/16/19
- 2018 playing time: 9 games (0 starts), 133 ST snaps (28.98%)
- Key 2018 statistics: 10 tackles for Seattle Seahawks
While his 2018 stats do not look very good, he had 23 NFL starts under his belt for the Rams franchise before heading to Seattle. He’s making the move from strong safety to linebacker and his coverage ability may give him a leg up on his competition. He has a chance to be a nickel linebacker in sub-packages in addition to his special teams acumen. (Or he could be completely off the roster.)
- Contract status for 2019: Signed a UDFA deal; $503,333 cap hit ($75,000 if cut)
- Age: Turned 21 on 6/25/19
- 2018 playing time: 13 games for Texas A&M University
- Key 2018 statistics: 70 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 INT (returned 78 yards for TD), 2 passes defended, 1 FR for Texas A&M University
Not a great look when the thing you’re most known for heading into your first training camp is a domestic abuse charge you caught in May following the signing of your first NFL contract. He was a long shot to make the roster before the arrest, and while the team hasn’t bailed on him yet, he’s on thin ice.
- Contract status for 2019: Signed a UDFA deal; $497,666 cap hit ($8000 if cut)
- Age: 23 (Turns 24 on 11/2/19)
- 2018 playing time: 12 games for University of Charlotte
- Key 2018 statistics: 68 tackles, 1 sack, 6 INTs (with 2 TD returns), 2 passes defended, 1 FR for University of Charlotte
A former wide receiver, Foggie has the skill set to be very good in coverage as his six interceptions can attest. He played at Charlotte, which is the biggest knock against him, and he will definitely need some seasoning before going from a smaller collegiate conference to the bright lights of the NFL. He could develop into a steal on the practice squad by staying in an NFL nutrition program and continuing his radical transition from WR to LB.
The Bills are set here in terms of the starting lineup heading into 2019. Alexander, Edmunds, and Milano will all reprise their roles barring injury. Who is going to be their backups and who is going to play special teams are the two biggest questions facing the unit now that Milano’s leg held up during minicamp.
Whatever Buffalo decides to do, they are in a favorable position here. They have their starters (and two of them on their rookie deals), they have their special teams options, but best of all, they have their leader. With Kyle Williams retiring, that final point makes a world of difference.