The Buffalo Bills’ defense was tenth in net yards per attempt against in 2020, 20th in passing yards against, and 14th in yards per play against. After the heights achieved in 2018 and 2019, this year’s version of the Buffalo defense was a clear step back, and that included their performance against the pass. In the AFC Championship Game, the Bills played a lot of two-high zone coverage in an effort to slow down the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense and although a lack of pressure from the front four has been the talk of the offseason thus far (particularly after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to achieve it in the Super Bowl), the cornerback position (particularly outside CB2) should get some of the shine this offseason as well. After the Josh Norman 2020 signing returned worse results than the team likely hoped for a max $6 million contract investment, the cupboard is looking fairly bare at that position for 2021. What should the Bills do? I have some thoughts...
1. Let Josh Norman walk
One of the things that lacking speed at outside corner does is it limits the options you have on defense. More options are always better than fewer options, and athleticism is one of the player traits that gives you options. Being forced into a zone-heavy game plan simply due to lack of options makes the defense more predictable against an elite offense like Kansas City. Josh Norman’s experience in the system, although a benefit, doesn’t help this particular factor swing in the favor of the Bills.
Buffalo Rumblings projected a potential 2021 Josh Norman deal at one year, $2.5 million (up to $6 million max) and even at that number, I’d rather have a late-round rookie or a free agent with more athleticism to burn.
2. Tender or re-sign Levi Wallace
I don’t think Levi Wallace will command a contract that would put his ability to be re-signed to a tender-level adjacent deal in question. Two years at $2 million per season or the right of first refusal RFA tender at $2.133 million would give the Bills at least a reliable floor at the position should other options in free agency or the draft not work out. The second-round tender is $3.259 million, but I don’t feel Wallace would be at significant risk of being poached with even a tender that gives no compensation back, so I’m less inclined to reach up an additional step in tender level.
3. Let Dane Jackson compete for CB2
Levi Wallace has always shown two particular flaws as a cornerback that have kept him from being the clear long-term answer at CB2: lack of athleticism and competitiveness at the catch point.
Dane Jackson can potentially help eliminate one of those concerns.
Jackson showed competitive aggression at the catch point in limited reps in 2020, and although his athletic traits are only marginally better than Wallace, the ability to clear up one of the issues that matters when playing across the field from Tre’Davious White wouldn’t necessarily give the Bills THE ANSWER at CB2, but potentially a step forward.
4. Draft a CB high
Historically, head coach Sean McDermott’s defenses have had a good player at CB1 and a reasonable “get-by guy” at CB2. There’s enough data to call it a “trend” for certain, although not a complete modus operandi. I’m hopeful that a player like Tyson Campbell or Israel Mukuamu will be enough to convince general manager Brandon Beane and McDermott to invest in a good athlete across from White. Having a draft pick, Jackson, and Wallace at CB2 feels like a cupboard better prepared for the onslaught of offenses the Bills will face for years to come.