The mark of a good general manager is not simply whether he brings talent to a team, but whether he acquires that talent at a good value. Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane has done a nice job thus far in his tenure of securing solid talent at a reasonable price and, for most NFL teams, this value is often best exemplified in one-year free-agent contracts.
In 2019, the Buffalo Bills made a number of value free-agent acquisitions in the offseason, some who are new and some who are returning for a year. Why does a player sign up for a one-year contract? Often, there are injury concerns by the team signing the player or said player may wish to have a “prove it” year, as it were. This year, Beane picked up eleven important one-year contracts, and below is a power ranking of their potential impact for this season.
One-year free agent power rankings
1. LB Lorenzo Alexander
In 2018, 35-year-old Lorenzo Alexander had an excellent statistical year: two interceptions, nine passes defended, two forced fumbles, 6.5 sacks, and 74 tackles (the most in his career). But Alexander’s importance this year is not so much his stats. No, there are two qualities he brings to the Buffalo Bills that they need desperately in 2019: leadership and versatility. Alexander is the elder statesman on the Bills, and with the retirement of “heart and soul” team leader, Kyle Williams, Zo is going to need to step up in that role. Also, since the Bills did little to improve their defensive end room, Alexander’s ability to both play outside linebacker and defensive end in certain situations offers some great defensive flexibility for Coach McDermott and Leslie Frazier.
2. CB Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson was selected in the first round (16th overall) in 2015 by the Houston Texans out of Wake Forest University. This signing is the ultimate boom or bust free agent for the Bills this season. Johnson has top-end talent, but he is injury-prone. In his four years with the Texans, he only started a total of 18 games, and he only managed to play in 35 of Houston’s 64 games. Brandon Beane invested heavily in the second cornerback position opposite Tre’Davious White. Head coach Sean McDermott has a way of bringing out the best in defensive backs. If Johnson can stay healthy this season, the Buffalo Bills will have a secondary to be reckoned with.
3. G Quinton Spain
Quinton Spain comes over from the Tennessee Titans, where he played for four years. This young man is massive at 6’ 4” and 330 lbs. Spain is a solid pass protector, having played left tackle while at West Virginia, but his real strength is as a road-grading run blocker. He’s strong at the point of attack, and his value will be measured by the success of the power run game and the holes he opens for the Buffalo Bills’ AARP backfield, allowing for a more balanced attack. Spain may be the replacement for Richie Incognito the Bills lacked in 2018, and he may well become LeSean McCoy’s best friend.
4. DE Eli Harold
Eli Harold played outside linebacker for Virginia in college, and he’s spent his NFL career playing linebacker for both the San Francisco 49ers and the Detroit Lions. The Buffalo Bills picked up Harold with the intent of converting him to a defensive end. Harold is long and lean and, in his bit parts in the NFL, he’s shown some ability to pressure quarterbacks. While Harold is not going to push for a starting role, he’s extremely important on this Bills team that did little to address their pass-rushing needs in the offseason. If Harold can turn into a solid fourth defensive end, it would be a giant boon for McDermott’s defense.
5. RB Frank Gore
Frank Gore is a known commodity, but at the age of 36, can the Bills really hope for much production from him? Gore is that rare running back who seems to show no signs of age. Last year, on a struggling Miami Dolphins team, Gore averaged 4.6 yards per carry—his best since 2012—and he ran for a total of 722 yards on the season. Those 722 yards would have made him the leading running back on the Bills in 2018 by over 200 yards. Gore has been content to be more of a role player in recent seasons, but if he can bring his consistency to the Bills in 2019, paired with the veteran McCoy and the rookie, Devin Singletary, the Bills’ rushing attack will be much improved.
6. CB E.J. Gaines
E.J. Gaines is a known commodity for the Bills, having played opposite Tre’Davious White in the famous “end the drought” season. Gaines isn’t flashy. He’s a solid zone cornerback, but he lacks high-end talent. Like Kevin Johnson, he also has had injury problems throughout his career, as he has only played in 43 of a possible 80 games since entering the NFL in 2014. Still, should Kevin Johnson not work out or if Taron Johnson doesn’t live up to the team’s hopes at the nickel spot, Gaines represents excellent depth at the position, and McDermott will make the most of having him.
7. DT Jordan Phillips
The Bills drafted Ed Oliver to start at the three technique at defensive tackle, but McDermott’s defense utilizes a lot of rotation for players, keeping them fresh. Phillips is built more like a one technique at 6’6” and 341 lbs., but Harrison Phillips seems slotted right now to back up Star Lotulelei, and Jordan will back up Ed Oliver. Oliver and Jordan Phillips offer extremely different body shapes and sizes with Oliver more undersized and quick. If Jordan Phillips can make a difference in stuffing the run this season against excellent backs like Zeke Elliot, Le’Veon Bell, Saquon Barkley, etc., he will provide great help to an already stingy Buffalo Bills defense.
8. T LaAdrian Waddle
Mr. Waddle may not be quite as famous as Mrs. Waddle in Buffalo, as the latter helped Del Reid to raise a great deal of money for a children’s advocacy center in Nashville, TN in response to the famous “Titans fans buying votes for the best fan base Twitter poll controversy” of 2019. While Mrs. Waddle has endeared herself to Bills Mafia, LaAdrian represents solid depth at the tackle position for Buffalo, something the Bills lacked in 2018. It’s unlikely Waddle challenges to start this season, but Beane and McDermott can take comfort that they have depth at an important position.
9. RB Senorise Perry
Coming from the Dolphins, Perry played on two-thirds of Miami’s special-teams snaps in 2018, and his 12 special-teams tackles tied him for 13th in the NFL. Perry may have a difficult time making the 53-man roster because of Buffalo’s stacked running-back room, but if he does, it will certainly be because of his special-teams abilities. Perry is a good returner and an excellent gunner. Special teams was a weakness for the Bills in 2018, leading to the firing of special-teams coach Danny Crossman. If he makes the team, it’s unlikely Perry will see any snaps in the backfield, but he may make great contributions on punts and kickoffs.
10. DE Eddie Yarbrough
If Yarbrough makes the team in 2019, and there is no guarantee of that, this will be the season he will need to step up and contribute as a solid role player. Yarbrough is known for his work ethic and is well-liked by the coaching staff, but in the past two seasons, he’s only had a single sack and eight QB hits (only one last season). Yarbrough represents the sort of high motor, blue-collar, trust the process type players, but motor without a baseline of talent can equal a sweaty man with no results. He’s been on the Buffalo Bills for two seasons, and it stands to reason that Beane and McDermott might go with a defensive unknown over a failing known and cut Yarbrough before the season. Time will tell.
11. LB Maurice Alexander
As a converted safety, Maurice Alexander has been solid on special teams in his NFL career. McDermott, a fan of the “big nickel” defensive package, may try to utilize Alexander in that role on defense, though it’s more likely that his main contribution would be on special teams. It doesn’t seem likely that Alexander makes the final roster with players like Rafael Bush, Siran Neal, and Vosean Joseph all more likely to make the final cut. Still, if Alexander does make the team, he, like Perry, may help the Bills as a special-teams ace.