Cornerback E.J. Gaines has once again signed to play for the Buffalo Bills. Gaines was brought back on a one-year deal following a disappointing 2019 that ended during the team’s preseason. Despite his penchant for injury and limited availability, Gaines has been a solid player within head coach Sean McDermott and assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s defense.
Below is Gaines’s medical history and my take on how the signing looks for Buffalo.
E.J. Gaines was drafted in the sixth round out of Missouri by the St. Louis Rams. He appeared and started in 15 games, missing one due to a concussion late in the season.
Gaines missed the entire 2015 season with a Lisfranc injury sustained in training camp, which earned him a trip to the IR.
Appeared in 11 games, starting ten. He suffered a recurring thigh injury that gave him problems throughout the season early on and then late down the stretch. This injury ultimately cost him five total games.
Traded to the Buffalo Bills as a part of the Sammy Watkins trade. Started 11 games. He missed a total of five games that involved injuries to his shoulder, groin, and hamstring. He was able to suit up and start for the Bills’ playoff loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Following his effective play in 2017, Gaines left in free agency to sign a deal with the Cleveland Browns. He appeared in six games, starting two. He suffered an MCL injury early that cost him most of the preseason. Once the regular season started, he suffered a concussion from which he was able to return but, upon returning, he suffered yet another concussion that sent him to IR for the remaining ten games.
Gaines re-signed with the Buffalo Bills after his failed stint in Cleveland. He appeared in the running for either a starting position at CB2 or effective depth if injury occurred. Unfortunately, Gaines never made it out of the preseason, suffering a core muscle injury, sending him to the IR. He eventually reached an injury settlement but did not sign with a team for the remainder of the season. Core muscle injuries usually have excellent outcomes, but there may just not have been a market for him by the time he was fully healthy to play. For a detailed review, check out my article from last season when he originally suffered the injury. The video of the injury is also below.
This seems like the play where EJ Gaines got hurt in camp.— Thad Brown (@thadbrown7) August 11, 2019
It's from Sunday the 4th. He was out the next day.
You can hear a coach yell while the ball is in the air, "Go, get it EJ!" No one's fault. Just unfortunate. #Bills pic.twitter.com/rXjgnbXrBZ
Gaines has not been able to get through a season healthy since he entered the NFL. He hasn’t appeared in more than 11 games in a season with the exception of his rookie year when he appeared and started in 15 games.
In fact, Gaines has only played in six games over the past two seasons since he last left the Bills. Gaines does play a very physical style that is welcomed by the coaching staff, but would strike similarities to current Bills CB Taron Johnson.
Considering his injury history, this would normally be a terrible signing. However, his injury history is similar to CB Kevin Johnson prior to last season. Johnson later parlayed his healthy and productive season into a contract with the Browns for 2020. There is hope that the new training facility could be beneficial to Gaines’s availability, especially with his extensive soft-tissue injury history.
Ultimately, this is a low-risk signing for general manager Brandon Beane. He knows the defense, he produces when healthy and can create competition with CB Levi Wallace and CB Josh Norman. It’s quite possible that someone from that group may not even make the roster, but this is an excellent problem to have.
I can’t even say which injuries are a concern moving forward, I would look at it more as a whole rather than individually. He has the possibility to regain some of his strong 2017 season and help the Bills get back to the playoffs. Despite the injury history, the experience and contract outweigh the risks going into 2020.