Through a mostly quiet offseason, the Buffalo Bills and general manager Brandon Beane put a strong emphasis on maintaining the roster that brought them to the AFC Championship Game last season. By and large, it was a successful effort, and it’s hard to argue with the results on paper. Still, not every transaction looks like a winner. If the Bills struggle to repeat their 2020 performance, these decisions may make the difference. What has you most worried about the 2021 season?
Cheaping out on tight ends
The 2020 Bills weren’t able to count on their tight end unit to win them games. Second-year starter Dawson Knox caught fewer passes than he did as a rookie, and he led the bunch with 24 receptions for 288 yards. They were, as a unit, contributors toward the team’s lousy run blocking.
So it makes some sense that the Bills traded Lee Smith in the offseason and allowed Tyler Kroft to sign elsewhere in free agency. But what was their replacement plan? Apparently it was signing Josh Allen’s college teammate Jacob Hollister to a veteran minimum deal. Hollister has been in the league twice as long as Knox, but has even fewer receiving yards to show for it.
Sure, the NFL is consistently lacking for tight end talent. But maybe the Bills could’ve taken a shot on a player like Pat Freiermuth or Hunter Long in the draft? Or they could’ve signed a free agent with a longer resume. Or maybe they’re just planning to make 10 personnel their primary lineup this year.
Signing Matt Haack to a multi-year contract
It wasn’t too surprising to see Corey Bojorquez test the waters as a free agent this year, but it still raised an eyebrow when the Bills signed Haack to a three-year deal, on what would be more than a month before Bojorquez had found a new home. If you don’t remember Haack playing for the Miami Dolphins, you might remember Isaiah McKenzie dancing past him on a punt return touchdown at the end of last season. That didn’t leave a good impression, nor did Haack’s 26th-ranked yards-per-punt average—so this signing doesn’t make much sense on paper. Maybe he’ll blossom under special teams coordinator Heath Farwell?
Replacing Ty Nsekhe with Bobby Hart
This bitter pill became easier to swallow after the Bills reinforced their tackles with Spencer Brown and Tommy Doyle in the draft. Nsekhe didn’t see the field much at all in 2020, but was more than adequate as a platooned right tackle (and swing backup) in 2019. With him turning 36 this year, and having cost a pretty penny for his role with the Bills, it wasn’t surprising that Buffalo moved on during the offseason.
But Bobby Hart? The penalty machine, the turnstile? They signed that Bobby Hart? He shouldn’t be within throwing distance of the swing tackle position on this roster, but Buffalo signed him nonetheless. Here’s hoping Brown and Doyle are quick studies.
Dishonorable Mention: The defensive tackle situation
The Buffalo Bills’ defensive tackles struggled last season, and that’s putting it mildly. Star Lotulelei was out of the picture but his absence wasn’t expected to be quite so glaring—it’s just that his replacements really fell flat on their faces. Lotulelei is back, but the Bills didn’t really improve their situation here.
Quinton Jefferson, envisioned as a savvy flexible DL signing a year ago, was already released as a cap casualty. Vernon Butler took a pay cut and is staying with the team this year, but he still costs $5.3 million in cap space and didn’t demonstrate much value in 2020. And former waiver claim Justin Zimmer is still around, but a team aiming for the Super Bowl shouldn’t be counting on the waiver wire for significant snaps.
Otherwise, the only reinforcements to the DL have been bulky defensive ends like Efe Obada and Boogie Basham. Could they flex to defensive tackle? Sure. Would it work? We’ll see. Unless someone steps up, this could be the key weakness on the Bills’ defense for the second year in a row.