The Buffalo Bills invested a lot of money and draft picks into their defensive line, but the 2020 season didn’t measure up to expectations. With Star Lotulelei opting out of the season, free agents Vernon Butler and Quinton Jefferson failed to impress. Either or both could be back on the market if the Bills decide to look elsewhere for their defensive tackles.
That brings up the question: “Who else could the Bills sign in free agency?” Glad you asked. Let’s review the top names, which include plenty of nose tackles, but not much in the way of high-caliber interior rushers.
This is probably the best nose tackle on the market, assuming he isn’t franchise tagged by the New York Giants. Tomlinson, 27, is a four-year starter with eight career sacks, 21 tackles-for-loss (TFLs), and an average of 52 tackles per season. The 6’3” 320-lb defender sets up a concrete barrier at the line of scrimmage, and he’s accustomed to playing roughly 60 percent of snaps in a game.
Tomlinson, coming off his rookie contract, is hoping to sign a pricey deal. Even for a nose tackle, that’s doable; Star Lotulelei signed a five-year, $50 million contract three years ago, after all.
What a truly bizarre career turn for Casey. He’d played nine seasons, his whole career, for the Tennessee Titans, and was a five-time Pro Bowl selection. After 2019, his most recent Pro Bowl season, he was traded to the Denver Broncos for a seventh-round pick. He likened the move to his former team throwing him out with the garbage. Before he could make an impact for his new team, a torn biceps ended his 2020 season after only three games played.
Casey’s been a remarkably consistent tackle who could play anywhere from zero to four or five technique. From 2014 to 2019, he averaged six sacks, nine TFLs, 14 QB hits, and 34 tackles per year. Was 2020 a fluke or the start of a sudden downturn?
Until he was released, Casey was on a contract paying him roughly $12 million per year. He’ll probably look for similar value in free agency, if he can find a suitor.
Admit it: When you heard that the Carolina Panthers were releasing Short, you expected the Bills to have signed him within a day or two. A couple years ago, that would have been a no-brainer, but 2019 and 2020 haven’t been kind to him. He’s only played in five combined games in those two years, with shoulder surgery being the season-ender each time.
Now 32 years old, Short will need to sign a low-cost prove-it deal with his next team. There’s still a chance for a career renaissance, but the prognosis isn’t great for the former two-time Pro Bowler.
Now 34 years old, Suh is still a starting-caliber defensive tackle. He had six sacks, nine tackles for loss, and 19 QB hits for the Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020. Suh brings power, attitude, and a rough edge to any team he joins. That has plusses and minuses.
Suh’s been playing under a series of de-escalating one-year contracts lately. $14 million in 2018, $9.25 million in 2019, and $8 million last year. So look for him to sign a deal worth $6 or 7 million this year.
Hankins, an eight-year veteran who’s been a starting defensive tackle for seven years, is another outstanding run defender on the interior of the line. He’s 6’3” 340 lbs of muscle mass, and turns 29 this year. That said, he’s mainly a gap clogger with limited pass rushing upside. From the last two years, he had 2.5 sacks, eight TFLs, and ten QB hits.
Former first-round pick Rankins looked to be on his way to stardom when he had eight sacks, 40 tackles, and 12 TFLs in 2018. But he’s been battling injuries in the last two years. An ankle injury, then a knee injury the next year, basically cut his snap count in half compared to his early career. From 2019 to 2020, he only had 3.5 sacks and 30 tackles—total.
Rankins just wrapped up his rookie contract, and would normally be looking for a long-term deal. It’s more likely that he signs a one-year contract worth less than $10 million, though the exact value is hard to pin down.
Jones is a hard-working 6’4” 320-lb nose tackle who’s spent his whole career with the Tennessee Titans. He’s not a dynamic pass rusher, with only nine sacks in his seven years as a pro. But he’s an effective run stopper and an unselfish part of the defense—something that would fit right in with the Bills.
Jones just finished a three-year, $21 million contract. He’ll probably be targeting similar value, with a contract averaging $7 or 8 million per year.
“Snacks” is one of the best nose tackles of the past decade, but he’s now 32 years old, and last season was a bit of a downturn. Harrison only appeared in seven games, with nine total tackles. He played for the veteran minimum last year, so he’d probably be a low-cost option if the Bills wanted him.
Larry Ogunjobi is a solid pass rushing defensive tackle, with 13.5 sacks and 25 TFLs in his last three seasons. Lawrence Guy, a captain on the New England Patriots, is a versatile run-stopping defensive lineman. Adam Butler, his teammate, had ten sacks in the last two seasons, but mostly played as a situational player in the Patriots’ line rotation. Shelby Harris played 3-4 DE for the Denver Broncos, but still found the quarterback on occasion. He might be a low-cost lineman with upside.
Which defensive tackle should the Buffalo Bills sign?
This poll is closed
- All-22 Analysis: Vernon Butler
- All-22 Analysis: Quinton Jefferson
- Bills can save cap space before looming roster bonus for Quinton Jefferson
- Incoming bonus, guarantees could hasten Vernon Butler cap cut
- Free-agent defensive tackles the Bills could look to add
- 2021 NFL Draft 1-tech defensive tackles to consider
- With Star Lotulelei returning, Bills might be set at DT even without Butler, Jefferson