The Buffalo Bills boast two of the league’s better young linebackers—true three-down talents who contribute in every facet of the game. Thanks to that, it was a bit surprising to see the Bills allocate fairly significant resources to a third linebacker last year. Given the amount of time the Bills spend in their nickel defense, it seemed as if the contract was one that was destined to be viewed as a mistake.
Then, both of those young linebackers were injured. They each recovered and returned to play but for a time, the top linebacker on Buffalo’s depth chart was that free-agent signee. While he struggled a bit when he was asked to do too much, the Bills eventually found the best way to deploy their defenders and, as a result, that third linebacker thrived in Buffalo’s defense.
At number seven on our list of the Bills’ best salary cap values of 2020, we’re going with a player who was probably viewed as overpaid, perfectly compensated, a bust, and a steal all at different times throughout the season.
LB A.J. Klein
2020 Salary Cap Figure: $6 million (2.72 percent of Buffalo’s 2020 salary cap)
2020 Stats: 75 tackles, five tackles for loss, nine quarterback hits, five sacks, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery
Klein was a mainstay on Buffalo’s defense, and he actually ended up tying for the team lead in sacks, matching fellow newcomer Mario Addison. Klein’s 75 tackles was good for fourth on the team, trailing only Jordan Poyer, Tremaine Edmunds, and Taron Johnson. In terms of snaps played, Klein was sixth in overall defensive snaps (652) and 12th in special teams snaps (148). Klein played in all 16 games, starting 11.
In last year’s “91 players in 91 days,” I wrote that Klein has “played all three linebacker positions [in head coach Sean McDermott’s defense] at different points, a level of versatility that makes him a valuable commodity in a pandemic-altered offseason.” That versatility ended up serving the Bills well thanks to the injuries suffered by Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds. Ideally, Klein plays less this season, since that would mean Buffalo’s top two linebackers are healthy. However, in a pinch, Buffalo knows what it has in the steady veteran, and he showed his worth last season.