The Buffalo Bills have three large decisions to make this offseason at the linebacker spot. Eventually, they will need to decide on whether they want to pick up the fifth-year option for Tremaine Edmunds, securing his play through the end of the 2022 season. For now, the more pressing concern is free agent Matt Milano and veteran A.J. Klein, who is due a roster bonus and guaranteed money this year.
Earlier today, we broke down every possible angle the Bills could use to tackle the situation and now it’s your time to let us know what your preference is. Should the Bills pony up and re-sign Milano? Should they keep Klein? Should they draft a guy or sign a guy or promote a guy? Lots of options on the table.
Before you vote in the poll, here are some short summaries of our other articles with links to the full analysis.
The speed and reaction time Matt Milano displays are easy to see and provide a heck of a baseline for a player. Milano is decently stout at the point of attack and is usually a dependable tackler as well. Beyond these traits his versatility adds a lot of value to the Buffalo defense, able to line up effectively in a wide variety of spots. Milano and Tremaine Edmunds have also developed a lot of chemistry on the field. The ability to swap on the fly and confuse opposing offenses is not something every linebacker can replicate. If general manager Brandon Beane can make it happen, there’s little doubt Buffalo is better with Matt Milano on the team.
Should the Buffalo Bills work to keep A.J. Klein around? Well that depends. The Bills will need to take a long look at their defense and see what their plan is for the linebacker position. They dabbled around with more 4-3 after Matt Milano came back from injury. Mixed in with coverage linebackers like Milano and Tremaine Edmunds, Klein isn’t a bad fit for 4-3 looks. If the Bills want to get even faster on defense, Klein would be a poor fit. Klein knows the system and the Buffalo coaching staff now has experience scheming to his strengths.
Four-year, $52 million contract ($27.6 million guaranteed)
Four-year, $55.5 million contract with incentives
With those contracts in mind, I’m starting at $14.5 million per year if I’m Milano’s agent but will come down to $13 million per year in negotiations. Sitting out half of 2020 hurt his value, the COVID-19 cap limits what he can get on the open market, and I’m building in incentives so if he stays fully healthy, he can trigger more money in the future.
He gets a hefty amount of guaranteed money up front but the cap hits are relatively low in the first two years before ballooning when the new television deals kick in and hopefully when the COVID salary cap has settled down a bit.
Klein’s signing bonus was very small, just $1.2 million, and spread out over the course of three years there is a very low dead-cap hit from that. It’s just $800,000 remaining in that pro-rated money. Where Klein’s big money came was in the form of guarantees, with $3.2 million of his 2021 salary guaranteed. To cut Klein would be a $4 million dead-cap hit in total. That saves $2.4 million on the cap while costing $3.2 million in actual dollars.
The first name that would pop up is Tyrel Dodson, who played in ten games in 2020, starting two in place of the injured Tremaine Edmunds. He is better in coverage than Klein and got the nod despite being in his first NFL season. With one sack, two passes defended, and 22 tackles on 172 snaps, his numbers are pretty good. For some reason, Dodson fell out of favor after his return from IR. Andre Smith out-snapped him 21 to 2 in the season finale against the Miami Dolphins. Smith is only 23 and played in 12 games for the Bills in 2020 (mostly on special teams) after Buffalo traded for him late in the offseason. He had nine tackles and a forced fumble on the season playing only 42 defensive snaps.
It’s still very early in the process, but there are signs that this could be a “buyer’s market” for linebackers. Well over a dozen starter-quality players are set to test free agency, and they cover a number of roles from all-around talents to pass-rushing outside linebackers to tackling machines or big-bodied inside linebackers.
A new deal would probably average roughly $10 million per season, but at a shorter length, given his age. Spotrac says he could make up to $13 million per season, though.
Was this year an anomaly or the start of something good, and can Reddick handle three-down linebacker responsibilities or should he be used mainly as a pass rusher?
With Tennessee, Brown primarily played inside linebacker in their 3-4 system, but he has the size and athletic ability to handle Milano’s spot for Buffalo. Like Milano, he’s going to command a hefty pay day.
An undrafted linebacker out of Cincinnati, Wilson has been a worthwhile backup for the Minnesota Vikings since 2017. He was pressed into service this year because of injuries, and flourished—122 tackles, eight tackles-for-loss, three sacks, and three interceptions, with eight passes defended.
The 6’0” 225-lb Morrow is on a positive career trajectory—a career-high 78 tackles and eight tackles for loss this year. He also had three sacks and seven pressures on only 25 blitz snaps this year—excellent productivity and in line with his career average.
One of the lower-cost options on this list, Campbell signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals last season. The 27-year-old linebacker isn’t amazing in coverage, but he hits hard and has solid pass rushing prowess.
2021 NFL draft options for the linebacker role excerpt
Micah Parsons (Penn State)
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame)
Nick Bolton (Missouri)
A true middle linebacker for the Nittany Lions, Parsons is absolutely athletic enough to be able to drop a few pounds and keep in coverage. On the weak side his instincts would still stand out, as would his dominant tackling ability. Excelling as a blitzer throughout his tenure with the Fighting Irish, Owusu-Koramoah is at his best threatening the quarterback or dropping into coverage. He just needs to work on his tacking. That’s not a problem for Bolton, who is one of the better tacklers in the draft. He’s doesn’t offer as much in coverage as some of his peers though.
Pete Werner (Ohio State)
Tony Fields II (West Virginia)
Garret Wallow (TCU)
Riley Cole (South Alabama)
For all those reasons, I’m probably going with a cheaper option this offseason if I’m Buffalo. General manager Brandon Beane wants to reward homegrown players and head coach Sean McDermott drafted Milano in his first offseason with the team, so this one is going to hurt. But this is what needs to happen if the franchise is going to go from team building to team sustaining. With the salary cap going down due to COVID-19 revenue shortfalls, Buffalo won’t have the money for everyone and unfortunately that’s going to start with Milano this offseason.
Further adding to the conversation, I think Buffalo keeps A.J. Klein as their veteran presence at the position while adding a player in the draft who could possibly take over for Klein during or after the 2021 season.
Now it’s your turn to vote, Bills fans. What do you want to do at the linebacker position this offseason? I kept the options simplified to just the starter role. You can expand on your opinion in the comments.
What do you want to do at starting linebacker?
This poll is closed
Re-sign Milano to a big deal
Let Milano walk, keep Klein as starter
Jettison Milano & Klein, go with Dodson/Smith as starter
Jettison Milano & Klein, add free agent starter
Jettison Milano & Klein, add starter in the draft
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