Earlier this offseason, the Buffalo Bills gave defensive end Mario Addison the choice to take a pay cut. He accepted and, in exchange, the Bills guaranteed a large chunk of his 2021 salary and voided the final year of his deal in 2022 making him a free agent in 12 months. That presents an interesting wrinkle in roster management for Bills’ general manager Brandon Beane.
Buffalo’s other starting defensive end from 2020 also has one year remaining on his deal. Jerry Hughes has been the leader of the defensive end unit for several seasons since joining the team in 2013 but 2021 is the final year of his most recent contract extension. He will start the 2021 season at age 33—a year younger than Addison.
Buffalo has 2020 second-rounder A.J. Epenesa developing and 2019 seventh-rounder Darryl Johnson has been earning more playing time, plus a handful of practice squaders. With how much the Bills like to rotate players at that position to keep them fresh, they are going to need rosterable players and soon. Beyond simply being replacement-level, the Bills will need an impact at the position we haven’t yet seen from either player.
Buffalo doesn’t have a pass rusher in their prime, which is one of the reasons I advocated so strongly for that prior to the beginning of free agency. I would have loved to have seen a bridge free agent signed to a two- or three-year deal this offseason to get from Hughes/Addison’s departure to Epenesa and Johnson or another young player’s prime. The only move they have made at the position is a one-year deal for Efe Obada.
Picking at 30, it’s unlikely the Bills are going to be able to find instant impact at the position in the first or second rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft. The rookie, like Epenesa, won’t be expected to start or even play significant minutes during his first season, but with three departures scheduled for a year from now, that new player will need to be able to play significant snaps in Year 2 as the roster is currently constructed.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Beane and head coach Sean McDermott have a plan at the position. If it doesn’t include a Hughes extension, it will likely be some combination of a draft pick this year and a free agent in 2022. Buffalo likes having a veteran in every room so I don’t expect them to just throw draft picks at the position.
If you haven’t yet, start scouting the defensive ends available in the back end of the first round.