Last offseason, the Buffalo Bills added E.J. Gaines and Kevin Johnson to compete with Levi Wallace for the second cornerback position and to provide depth. After Gaines was injured in the preseason, he lost his shot. In the end, it was Wallace who began the season opposite Tre’Davious White.
As the season progressed, Johnson began stealing some reps from Wallace. In Week 11 against the Miami Dolphins, Johnson edged out Wallace for the first time—53% to 47% of the defensive snaps. It didn’t happen again, though they were nearly identical against the New England Patriots in Week 16.
Johnson played the entire Wild Card playoff game with Wallace dealing with an ankle injury, which proves the Bills were wise to go four-deep at cornerback heading into camp. With Gaines and Johnson set to become free agents, the Bills are going to need to add at least one, but probably two corners that can play.
Should Johnson be one of those guys? Should Wallace be the starter?
We looked at everything earlier this week and now it’s your turn to vote on what you think the team should do after Tre White. (Note: Taron Johnson is being treated as strictly a slot cornerback in this conversation.)
(Excerpt by Jeff Kantrowski)
There’s likely a case to be made that Levi Wallace was often the weakest link on the Bills’ defense. What I’d like to convey is that this means we’re spoiled as Bills fans. Consider the old saying that “A chain is as strong as the weakest link.” On the pass defense chain the Buffalo Bills were:
- Third-best in the league with 6.2 yards per attempt
- Second-best in yards per completion (9.8)
- Second-best in touchdown percent at 2.7%
- Second-best (tied) in touchdowns allowed with 15
For overall defense the Bills were:
- Fourth-best in yards per play (4.8)
- Second-best in points allowed with 259 or 16.2 per game
And so on...
There’s very little for growth on this side of the ball and Levi Wallace was holding down the fort for three quarters of the season. If he’s the weakest link, it’s still one hell of a strong chain. And, oh yeah, like I said—he seems to be improving. Even setting aside the fact that he’s an exclusive-rights free agent, it would be unwise not to try keeping Wallace around.
(Excerpt by Jeff Kantrowski)
With so many positives to Kevin Johnson’s play you may be wondering why I’m NOT calling for increasing his playing time over Levi Wallace. Make no mistake, I like both players quite a bit and wouldn’t be opposed to that. Still, there’s a simple answer as to why it hasn’t happened yet.
Levi Wallace is the better zone corner, and Kevin Johnson is better in man coverage. As a team that likes it’s zone work, Wallace is often the better fit. One thing I love about this situation is that rotating the two players allows them to effectively swap defensive game plans on the fly, which can put a lot of stress on a quarterback trying to figure out who will be open.
In regards to Kevin Johnson and the question we always try to arrive at, I assume you know my answer by now. Try to keep him.
(Excerpt by Matt Warren)
$15 million with $5 million guaranteed
Eric Rowe’s deal provides a really good framework. All of his 2020 money was guaranteed to the tune of $5.4 million. He gets another $250k if he’s active for every game, paid in $15,625 per-game active bonuses.
The $5 million per season is below the averages on all of the comparable contracts but Johnson’s injury history is severe. He will need to decide between betting on himself in terms of salary or taking less money later for more guaranteed money up front. (I went with the second option here.)
In order for this contract to make sense, Buffalo would need to commit to playing Johnson. Not necessarily as the starting CB2 or even as the “starting” slot CB, but he’d need to play 50% of the defensive snaps at least. As the fourth cornerback behind White, Wallace, and Taron Johnson, $5 million would be too much for an insurance policy even if he plays a ton of special teams.
In-house options for CB2
(Excerpt by Matt Warren)
The Buffalo Bills have a major need at cornerback this offseason. Beyond All-Pro Tre’Davious White, they have solid options under contract in Levi Wallace and Taron Johnson, but that’s not enough to get by.
With Kevin Johnson set to hit free agency, the only other option they have is converted safety Siran Neal. Neal is a big slot cornerback at best, who uses his size to cover and tackle tight ends or running backs. He’s not fluid enough to cover receivers.
(Excerpt by Sean Murphy)
It wouldn’t be a free-agent analysis without a former Carolina Panthers player. Bradberry was a second-round pick for the Panthers in 2016—the final year that Bills head coach Sean McDermott was Carolina’s defensive coordinator. If the Bills want to find a physical, long-term solution at CB2, Bradberry would be a good choice, but he could command more than $10 million per season.
While Worley played for the Oakland Raiders last season, he entered the NFL with—you guessed it—Carolina in 2016, as he was drafted in the third round of the same draft in which the Panthers snagged Bradberry. He was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018, and the Eagles subsequently released him after an altercation with police. From there, Worley landed with the Oakland Raiders, where he played for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. At just 25 years old, Worley would be another potential long-term investment in a big (6’1” and 215 lbs) player at the position.
The veteran had a solid season for the Cincinnati Bengals, especially considering that he began it on the PUP list due to a knee injury. He fits the profile of the kind of corner Buffalo tends to sign in free agency—a veteran who has under-performed thanks to injury who may be in need of a change of scenery.
Canady would add a tad more height at nearly the same weight, as he stands at 6’1” and 193 lbs. He split the 2019 season between the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets, and he was fairly consistent with both squads. He allowed 63.3% of the 49 targets he defended to be completed, and he did not allow a touchdown in 13 games. He turns 26 in May, and the former sixth-round pick is someone who could be on the upswing of his career.
Old friend alert! Cockrell was a fourth-round draft choice of the Doug Marrone-era Bills in 2014. He was released the following year by the Rex Ryan regime, and he immediately went on to play some productive football with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s a physical corner who excels in man coverage, so he would make a solid complement to Wallace, who is a better zone defender.
The Bills have done well with players who were drafted in the first round who flamed out with their former teams, and perhaps no corner on the free-agent market fits that description better than Burns. Selected No. 25 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, Burns has been a bona fide bust as a pro. A change of scenery could be to his benefit, and the Bills could almost definitely sign him at a discount.
(Excerpt by Andrew Griffin)
Jeffrey Okudah (Ohio State)
CJ Henderson (Florida)
Kristian Fulton (LSU)
Trevon Diggs (Alabama)
Okudah has the most talent in the class and proved it when he completely shut down Clemson’s pair of elite receivers in the College Football Playoffs. Observers give Henderson grief for his lack of tackling ability in run support, but it remains to be seen if most NFL teams will care because his man-coverage ability is elite. Kristian Fulton was solidly beaten a few times in the College Playoffs, but he was largely lockdown throughout the regular season. He had some struggles this season, but Diggs remains a really talented player who might need some development before he can be a good starting NFL corner.
Damon Arnette (Ohio State)
Darnay Holmes (UCLA)
Lamar Jackson (Nebraska)
(Excerpt by Matt Warren)
I am fine with Wallace being the starting cornerback heading into 2020. He’s physically limited and always will be, but if he’s the weakest link on your defense, that’s a pretty darn good defense.
Even if Wallace is the starting cornerback, they need to put a solid asset into the depth at the position. Whether that’s re-signing Johnson, adding a different veteran with starting experience, or drafting a mid-round cornerback to compete for time, Buffalo needs depth at the very least. This would be my preferred route as I have bigger plans for that money and those draft picks.
I also wouldn’t be upset if the Bills took a big swing, and signed a more impactful player opposite White. Bring in a player for $8 million per season or spend a second-round pick to solidify the position, and make Wallace your really solid depth piece. That would put Bills fans up in arms again, but their secondary would be darn impressive.
Now it’s your turn to vote. You’re heard all the arguments for and against Levi Wallace, Kevin Johnson, draftees, free agents, and other guys on the Bills roster. Now it’s your turn to vote.
Note: If you’re on a mobile device, you’ll have to click through to the full version of the website to vote in the poll.
What should the Bills do at CB2/3 this offseason?
This poll is closed
Re-sign Johnson to compete with Wallace
Re-sign Johnson AND sign another free agent to compete with Wallace
Re-sign Johnson AND spend a solid draft pick on a CB to compete with Wallace
Let Johnson walk, roll with Wallace as CB2
Let Johnson walk, sign a free agent to compete for CB2
Let Johnson walk, draft a player to compete for CB2