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Tiering the 2020 Buffalo Bills free agents for new contracts

How would you prioritize them?

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills have a list of free agents that they should now look into re-signing, but they can’t keep all of them and expect to get better in 2020. Here’s our attempt at placing them into tiers for likelihood and ease of keeping.

No-brainers that will get done

CB Levi Wallace (ERFA)

Wallace was the team’s number-two cornerback all season. The former undrafted free agent has started 23 games in his two seasons in the league and Buffalo can re-sign him for pennies as an Exclusive Rights Free Agent. He’ll be back in 2020.

WR Robert Foster (ERFA)

A key special teamer, the former undrafted free agent is in the same boat as Wallace, though not with the experience. He will be back in 2020 to play special teams and try and compete in the wide receiver room, but could find himself on the outside looking in again.

TE Jason Croom (ERFA)

The Bills stashed Croom on their injured-reserve list at the beginning of the season. He suffered a severe hamstring injury in OTAs but likely would have been available for time down the stretch if the Bills needed help at tight end. With the current crop of tight ends, he may also be on the outside looking in at the end of the day or they could save some money and release Tyler Kroft while keeping the younger Croom, but all of them should be in camp.

RFA tender would do it

WR Isaiah McKenzie

McKenzie played a strong role on the Bills since he was claimed off waivers from the Denver Broncos in 2018. In 22 games he has 45 catches for 433 yards plus 18 runs for 155 yards as a role player in the offense. He played more than 40% of the offense’s snaps in 2019. A former fifth-round pick, Buffalo can tender him at the original draft selection with a $2.1 million contract. If another team signed him to a better deal, the Bills would get a fifth rounder. I wouldn’t offer him a contract worth more than that. More importantly, Buffalo can retain McKenzie through training camp without paying him anything. If they upgrade their WR corps during free agency or the draft, McKenzie can stick around as insurance and in his gadget role, and they still have the option to release him at final cuts.

Would love to, but at what cost

DT Jordan Phillips

Phillips really came on playing for the Bills in the last two years, but he’s going to be looking for a substantial pay day. I’m not willing to give that to him when we’ve already invested heavily in the position with a first-round pick in Ed Oliver, big free-agent contract to Star Lotulelei, and a solid draft pick in Harrison Phillips. Especially with a need at DE, I don’t want to sign another highly-priced defensive lineman.

DE Shaq Lawson

You can write almost the same thing about Lawson as was done above for Phillips. If the Bills want Lawson above Trent Murphy, they can cut the veteran when they re-sign Lawson and that could even out the scales in this case. I imagine if the Bills weren’t willing to pay him $10 million for 2020 a year ago when they declined his fifth-year option, they probably aren’t going to want to pay him more than that in a free-agent deal.

OG Quinton Spain

Spain was very good for Buffalo on his one-year deal signed pretty late in the free-agency period. His problem isn’t that he doesn’t deserve the contract, it’s the numbers game just like the defensive line. Left tackle Dion Dawkins is going to need a new hefty contract soon, center Mitch Morse just signed one, the Bills still need to address right tackle in some way and figure out what to do with a high second-round pick in Cody Ford plus a hefty amount of money for veteran Ty Nsekhe. Buffalo should probably wait out the market and find a pluggable player later unless they have changed their mind on moving Ford to guard. Either way, Spain won’t be a priority.

CB Kevin Johnson

Johnson is a guy I’d love to have back in 2020. I like his pedigree and athletic profile and he was able to stay healthy in 2019, which was the only reason the team that drafted him couldn’t wait for him. If he signs another prove-it deal, I’m very okay with that.

Take it or leave it

LB Julian Stanford

He played 72% of the team’s special-teams snaps in 2019 and has experience playing in a limited role as a linebacker over the course of his extensive career. He’s exactly the type of low-cost, heady veteran you’re looking for.

S Dean Marlowe

The first safety off the bench, he may have reached his ceiling. But if he’s your fourth or fifth safety that’s okay. Like Stanford, he’s exactly the type of low-cost, heady veteran you’re looking for.

RB Senorise Perry

He played a ton on special teams after returning from his injury. That’s the only place I want to see him, but I’m okay with them having defined special-teams players like Perry on the roster.

LB Maurice Alexander

A versatile defender and special teamer, he has a role on the team if he’s willing to play for near the league minimum as he did in 2019.

OT LaAdrian Waddle

The Bills need to figure out what they’re doing with Cody Ford before they can address Waddle. Re-signing Waddle to be your backup OT behind Ty Nsekhe and Dion Dawkins could make a lot of sense. If he’s going to be the fourth tackle behind Dawkins, Ford, and Nsekhe, the Bills should probably invest in a cheaper, more long-term option for depth.

Time to say goodbye

S Kurt Coleman

A key special teamer, Coleman was also a top backup at safety. With young safeties playing well, I can definitely move on from the veteran, though. I want to see more from Siran Neal and Jaquan Johnson in 2020 and he’s four years older than Marlowe.

RB Frank Gore

It was clear when he played so many snaps in Week 17 that they weren’t worried about the tread on the tires. Gore bridged the gap to Devin Singletary in a way LeSean McCoy was never going to do, but his purpose is no longer needed. That’s not to diminish a Hall of Fame career.

LB Lorenzo Alexander

He’s announced his retirement, but even if he changed his mind, he’s a free agent. He’s made it clear he wants to spend time with his family.