For all of the money general manager Brandon Beane has spent on improving the Buffalo Bills’ defensive line, one of his better moves came with a much smaller transaction. In terms of cap dollars, the Buffalo Bills ranked first overall in defensive line spending in 2020. They rank third heading into the 2021 season.
In today’s installment of “90 players in 90 days,” we profile a man who took up just $485,298 of the $51.3 million that Buffalo allocated to its defensive line on the 2020 salary cap.
Name: Justin Zimmer
Height/Weight: 6’3” 300 lbs
Age: 28 (29 on 10/23/2021)
Experience/Draft: 3; signed with Buffalo following the 2016 NFL Draft
College: Ferris State
Acquired: Signed as UFA with Bills on 8/16/2020
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Zimmer signed a two-year deal worth a total of $1.67 million last August. There are zero guarantees on the contract. For the 2021 season, Zimmer will carry a cap hit of $920,000 if he makes the opening roster. Buffalo can release him with no dead-cap charge.
2020 Recap: Zimmer signed with Buffalo in August, but he didn’t make the initial roster. He instead signed with the practice squad after clearing waivers. Buffalo elevated him to the active roster for the season opener, and he was arguably the team’s most impactful interior defender, combining for four tackles and a tackle-for-loss (TFL) in only 16 defensive snaps. Zimmer was relegated to the practice squad following the game, and he next appeared in Week 6 against the Kansas City Chiefs. In that game, he had six tackles and another TFL, this time on 32 defensive snaps. After that stellar performance, he signed to the active roster for the remainder of the season. Zimmer closed Buffalo’s Week 8 victory over the New England Patriots by chasing down Cam Newton and forcing a fumble to end a late drive where the Patriots were already in field goal range. While his effectiveness waned as his usage increased, Zimmer had a career year, notching 21 tackles, three TFLs, seven quarterback hits, one forced fumble, and one sack.
Positional outlook: Zimmer finds himself surrounded by familiar faces, as Ed Oliver, Vernon Butler, Harrison Phillips, and Brandin Bryant all return from last year. Star Lotulelei is back after opting out due to COVID-19 last season, and the Bills have added Eli Ankou and Treyvon Hester this offseason.
2021 Offseason: Zimmer is healthy and he participated in OTAs.
2021 Season outlook: Lotulelei, Oliver, and Butler are going to be on the roster this year. With all the talent Buffalo has at defensive end, and factoring in the ability for most of those players to kick inside on passing downs, it’s possible that the team only keeps three defensive tackles on the final roster. If that doesn’t happen, the Bills certainly aren’t keeping more than four interior defensive linemen, so it should come down to Phillips and Zimmer battling for that last spot. Phillips is a great guy, and this may be unpopular, but I’ll take Zimmer all day long on Sundays. If the coaching staff thinks differently, they’ll almost certainly try to keep Zimmer on the practice squad. Either way, I’m hoping that we see more of number 61 in a Bills uniform this season.