The Buffalo Bills have overhauled their defensive line group this offseason, but it still remains a veteran-heavy positional group. Of the players who project to receive the most snaps along the defensive line, three have eight years of NFL experience. Compared to other groupings, like the linebackers, where the top two players in terms of snaps are still on their rookie contract, this is an older group.
In the NFL, older players often wind up the victim of salary cap-related moves; however, the Bills have enough of a cushion to maintain all of their veterans if they’d like. While that is more likely to occur with some players over others, the Bills don’t have to make decisions solely based on finances.
In today’s installment of “91 players in 91 days,” we profile the team’s current longest-tenured player, a defensive end entering his eighth year with the club.
Name: Jerry Hughes
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 254 lbs.
Age: 31 (32 on 8/13/2020)
Experience/Draft: 11; selected in the first round (No. 31 overall) by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2010 NFL Draft
Acquired: Buffalo traded linebacker Kelvin Sheppard to Indianapolis in 2013
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Hughes signed a two-year contract extension last May that kicks in this year. That contract is worth a total of $21.5 million over the next two years. This year, Hughes carries a cap number of $9.5 million, the sixth-highest on the team (and third in his own positional group, behind Mario Addison and Trent Murphy). If the Bills were to release Hughes this year, they would save $250,000 on the 2020 salary cap, but Hughes would carry a dead-cap charge of $9.25 million this year and $2.1 million next year. If he is traded, Buffalo saves $6.9 million on the 2020 salary cap, owing a split of $2.6 million and $2.1 million in dead-cap charges this year and next year, respectively.
2019 Recap: Statistically, Hughes had arguably his worst season in a Bills uniform last year, totaling the lowest number of tackles (23), tackles for a loss (6) and quarterback hits (9) that he’s had since joining the team. Against the Houston Texans in the Wild Card game, though, he was an absolute monster, sacking quarterback Deshaun Watson three times, adding four tackles and four quarterback hits to his ledger. After the season, Hughes had wrist surgery and groin surgery.
Positional outlook: Hughes figures to slot in as the team’s starting right end once again, with Mario Addison set to be the left end. Trent Murphy, A.J. Epenesa, Darryl Johnson Jr., Mike Love, Jonathan Woodard, and Bryan Cox Jr. are the other defensive ends on the roster, with Quinton Jefferson listed as a defensive lineman.
2020 Offseason: Hughes had the two surgeries mentioned above.
2020 Season outlook: While anything is possible, it’s highly unlikely that the Bills will part ways with Hughes this year. Even while battling injuries, Hughes only played fewer than 57% of the team’s defensive snaps once—the season finale against the New York Jets when Buffalo was resting key players—so he has a place on the roster. At least for one more year, expect Hughes to remain a fixture on defense for Buffalo.