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Recently-released veterans for the Buffalo Bills to pursue before free agency opens

There are some low-risk, high-reward players available

Tennessee Titans v Cleveland Browns Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills are set to be active players in free agency this year. With approximately $78 million in cap space at present, according to Spotrac, Buffalo will have plenty of money to spend if they so choose.

While most free agents must wait until the new league year opens—which is currently slated to be March 18—to sign a contract, any player who was released from his contract is free to sign with a team prior to that. So far, there have been four such signings, including one with the Bills, as the team inked cornerback Josh Norman to a one-year contract earlier in the week.

Buffalo has some needs left to fill, and while they may choose to wait for the league year to open, they could instead opt to pick from the pool of players who are readily available right now to fill those roles. Here is a brief list of players the Bills might have interest in and can sign immediately.

LB Christian Kirksey

We’ve discussed Kirksey already, and, as of yesterday, the Bills were supposed to be on his short list of teams to visit. The versatile linebacker would fill an immediate need in Buffalo, replacing veteran Lorenzo Alexander as the third linebacker to play alongside Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. At only 28 years old, Kirksey still has a few years of his “prime” remaining, though injuries are definitely a concern. He has not played a full 16-game slate since 2017, as he only managed to play in seven games combined over the past two years thanks to hamstring and chest injuries. When the Cleveland Browns made his release official, he was immediately connected to the Bills based on his athletic traits and his outstanding character. Ian Rapoport confirmed earlier reports that Kirksey is visiting with Buffalo today.

LB Alec Ogletree

See above, essentially, for the reasons why Ogletree would fit Buffalo’s needs. An athletic ‘backer with the ability to play off the ball in coverage and attack the run, Ogletree was released by the New York Giants in a cost-cutting move. As someone who is used to a far larger role, it’s unlikely that Ogletree would want to come to Buffalo to play third-fiddle to Milano and Edmunds, but if the Bills wanted to give him a hefty payday, it could hedge their bets if Milano’s asking price becomes too much entering the final year of his rookie contract. This is unlikely based on cost, but it would give the Bills one of the best, if not the best, linebacking corps in the league.

WR Taylor Gabriel

A smaller slot receiver, Gabriel is basically Isaiah McKenzie with more proven production. Granted, most of that production came during one season, 2018, where Gabriel caught 67 passes for 688 yards and two touchdowns, but that one season represents a greater impact than McKenzie has had in his entire NFL career. Gabriel could be useful as a gadget player, though I suspect that the Bills are looking to add something more in terms of the wide receivers they’re trying to find. I imagine they’ll look for an outside receiver rather than a slot/gadget type, but given McKenzie’s usage in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s scheme, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the team targets Gabriel.

WR Paul Richardson

True, the Bills already have a smaller burner on the outside in John Brown. However, the second wide receiver spot is completely up for grabs, and if the team wants to draft a young player to fill that role, perhaps they’d want to roll the dice on an under-performing former second-round choice like Richardson, who was released by Washington in February. At 6’ and 183 lbs, he and Brown are nearly the same size. Richardson is a burner—he ran a 4.4 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in 2014—but his speed and athleticism haven’t translated to success as a pro. His best season came in 2017, his last year with the Seattle Seahawks. That year, he caught 44 passes for 703 yards and six touchdowns, serving as quarterback Russell Wilson’s go-to deep threat. If Buffalo signed him to a “prove-it” deal loaded with incentives, it would give them a professional insurance policy at worst, and a top-notch athlete looking to capitalize on an opportunity in his age-28 season.

EDGE Cameron Wake

The Bills need help at defensive end, with Jerry Hughes aging, Trent Murphy under-performing against his massive cap number, and Shaq Lawson set to test the free-agent market. At 38 years old, Wake certainly isn’t a long-term solution, but he is still somewhat productive as a pass-rush specialist. He only played on 18% of the defensive snaps for the Tennessee Titans last season, appearing in nine games overall. He had 2.5 sacks and 11 quarterback hits in those games. In 2018, he played in 14 games for the Miami Dolphins, totaling 6.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hits on only 48% of the Dolphins’ defensive snaps. If Buffalo is unable to come to terms with a long-term extension for Lawson prior to the opening of free agency, talking to Wake about a one-year deal wouldn’t be Buffalo’s worst decision.

RB Dion Lewis

Buffalo loves to sign veteran running backs. It’s been a thing each year head coach Sean McDermott has been around, starting with Mike Tolbert and extending to Frank Gore last season. Lewis, who turns 30 in September, would add a dynamic receiving threat to Buffalo’s backfield. While the team already has one in T.J. Yeldon, it appears that coaches are hesitant to trust him thanks to some ball-security issues. On 710 career touches, Lewis has only fumbled six times, which is the same number of fumbles Yeldon has on 666 career touches. A backfield of Lewis, Devin Singletary, and Yeldon would lack size and breakaway speed, but it would give Brian Daboll a stable of backs with similar skills, allowing him to disguise his intentions regardless of which runner was on the field.

DT Damon Harrison

“Snacks” is a big boy who has been consistently productive and durable since entering the league in 2012. Last year with the Detroit Lions, Harrison made 49 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for a loss, and three pass breakups in 15 games, playing on 46% of Detroit’s defensive snaps. True, he’s a “one-tech” defender in Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s scheme, and the Bills probably need more of a “three-tech” to spell Ed Oliver given that they have Star Lotulelei and Harrison Phillips to play one-tech. However, Buffalo’s reported interest in D.J. Reader suggests that they are willing to consider talented players who might not fit exactly what we fans think the team needs. Perhaps the team feels that improving its run defense, which was decidedly average in allowing 4.3 yards per carry last season, is the most important thing to do with regard to its defensive tackles. In any case, someone like Harrison could improve the defensive line for a lot less money than someone like Reader.

DT Linval Joseph

The veteran was officially released on March 13, and he has shown steady signs of decline over the past two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. After putting up consecutive Pro Bowl seasons in 2016 and 2017, where he combined for 77 tackles, ten tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, and 27 quarterback hits, it’s been downhill since the big fella turned 30. In 28 games over the last two seasons, Joseph has combined for 62 tackles, ten tackles for a loss, four sacks, and ten quarterback hits. That’s still fairly productive for a guy who played 64% of the snaps in 2018 and 51% of them in 2019, so if the Bills are looking for a one-year plug and play option, the massive veteran (6’4” and 330 lbs) would be a good fit.