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Which Buffalo Bills are 2020 roster locks?

Which players won’t be cut, regardless of how they play this season?

As the overall talent level on the Buffalo Bills’ roster has continued to improve, thanks to the combination of smart drafting and middle-tier investments during free agency, the level of competition on the roster has risen. Now, virtually every position has at least a veteran and/or young player looking to steal a spot on the roster. Few players are guaranteed spots on the roster anymore, but which players remain roster locks?

Last year we counted 19 players from the offseason roster who we saw as locks, but has that number decreased for 2020? Also keep in mind, these are the guys who can’t play themselves off the roster. It’s a list of guys who won’t be released—point blank, period.

The Draft Pick Locks

  1. Tre’Davious White (2017 first round)
  2. Dion Dawkins (2017 second round)
  3. Josh Allen (2018 first round)
  4. Tremaine Edmunds (2018 first round)
  5. Ed Oliver (2019 first round)
  6. Cody Ford (2019 first round)
  7. Devin Singletary (2019 third round)
  8. Dawson Knox (2019 third round)
  9. A.J. Epenesa (2020 second round)
  10. Zack Moss (2020 third round)

These players, with two notable exceptions, were all selected in the first three rounds by general manager Brandon Beane except White and Dawkins, who were picked by head coach Sean McDermott while Doug Whaley was still the nominal GM.

The one exception is defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, who is coming off a torn ACL. Unfortunately for him, the team restructured Star Lotulelei’s contract to make him a roster lock and signed veterans Vernon Butler and Quinton Jefferson who can play in the middle of the defensive line. If the team chooses to only carry four defensive tackles, he could be the odd man out.

McDermott/Beane regime drafted players who aren’t locks: Taron Johnson, Siran Neal, Ray-Ray McCloud III, Vosean Joseph, Jaquan Johnson, Darryl Johnson, Tommy Sweeney, Gabriel Davis, Jake Fromm, Tyler Bass, Isaiah Hodgins, Dane Jackson and we’ll add undrafted free-agent signings Robert Foster, Levi Wallace and Tyrel Dodson.

The Contract Locks

  1. Mitch Morse ($16 million dead cap, $11 million signing)
  2. Star Lotulelei ($15.3 million dead cap, $0 million signing*)
  3. Mario Addison ($13.3 million dead cap, $6 million signing)
  4. Jerry Hughes ($11.3 million dead cap, $6.3 million signing)
  5. Stefon Diggs ($10.9 million dead cap, $15 million signing)
  6. Jordan Poyer ($9.4 million dead cap, $3 million signing)
  7. Cole Beasley ($8.7 million dead cap, $6 million signing)
  8. Vernon Butler ($7.8 million dead cap, $2 million signing)
  9. A.J. Klein ($6.6 million dead cap, $1.2 million signing)
  10. Quinton Jefferson ($6.3 million dead cap, $3 million signing)

This is a list of players whose contracts prohibit the Bills from releasing them with large accelerated cap hits or fully guaranteed 2019 salaries. Note that doesn’t mean that the players aren’t tradable, as if it’s the salary that’s guaranteed (as opposed to remaining pro-rated signing bonus money), that would be offset by a new team if the player(s) were signed by another squad or traded.

Tyler Kroft ($5 million dead cap), Quinton Spain ($4.7 million dead cap), Jon Feliciano ($4.4 million dead cap), and Tyler Matakevich ($3.4 million dead cap) could be considered as well, but each of them is facing a log jam of competition from players behind them at their positions.

Kroft is an interesting debate to have, because the team could save the recently restructured contract shaved off the final year of his contract, but at the same time that makes him eminently tradable. Not to mention the competition he’ll have from younger players like Tommy Sweeney and Jason Croom.

Players with high dead-cap hits but who are not a roster lock: Lee Smith, Josh Norman, Stephen Hauschka, Spencer Long, and Trent Murphy.

The Play Locks

  1. Micah Hyde
  2. John Brown
  3. Matt Milano

The first two are guys who would save the team some money if they were to be released but have earned the benefit of the doubt by their play. They are all well-respected veterans and no matter how poorly they play in training camp and the preseason, they’re still on the team in September. Brown was the team’s first 1000-yard receiver since 2014 and Hyde has played at a borderline Pro Bowl-level for years. Milano has been taking nearly 100% of snaps and his play has been borderline Pro Bowl, as well.

So that makes 23 players on the 53-man final roster and current 88-man offseason roster locks at this point in the offseason:

  1. Tre’Davious White
  2. Dion Dawkins
  3. Josh Allen
  4. Tremaine Edmunds
  5. Ed Oliver
  6. Cody Ford
  7. Devin Singletary
  8. Dawson Knox
  9. A.J. Epenesa
  10. Zack Moss
  11. Mitch Morse
  12. Star Lotulelei
  13. Mario Addison
  14. Jerry Hughes
  15. Stefon Diggs
  16. Jordan Poyer
  17. Cole Beasley
  18. Vernon Butler
  19. A.J. Klein
  20. Quinton Jefferson
  21. Micah Hyde
  22. John Brown
  23. Matt Milano

Want to make a case for someone else?