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Buffalo Bills training camp battles: Cornerback 2

We thought they might bring in a veteran, but they still have not.

The Buffalo Bills kick off training camp soon and, in preparation, we are taking a look at the biggest battles on the board. Today we look at the starting cornerback position opposite Tre’Davious White.

Levi Wallace vs. Dane Jackson vs. free agent

Levi Wallace took over as the starting cornerback in his rookie season out of sheer necessity. Vontae Davis quit the team at halftime of the opening week. Philip Gaines was bad. That left the undrafted free-agent Wallace to pick up the pieces. He’s always been good at being in the right place, but his limited athleticism has held him back and prompted the Bills to sign veteran replacements for him every season to try and improve on the solid floor Wallace provides.

But none of them have been able to unseat him. Last year, former All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman couldn’t do it. In 2019, former first-rounder Kevin Johnson was behind Wallace. He keeps rising to the challenge in training camp.

This offseason, the Bills re-signed Wallace to a paltry deal by starting cornerback standards. One year, $1.75 million isn’t very much money and it’s less than he would have made if Buffalo tagged him as a Restricted Free Agent. It seemed like they were looking to upgrade again and Wallace was their fall back.

To this point, they haven’t done that. Some free-agent options remain on the open market but that number is dwindling following an off-field incident with Richard Sherman and the Philadelphia Eagles signing Steven Nelson.

Instead, the challenger who’s been hyped by general manager Brandon Beane all offseason has been Dane Jackson. Buffalo’s seventh-round pick in 2020, Jackson didn’t even make the team as a rookie—starting the year on the practice squad. When Wallace and Norman were injured, he was brought up to the active roster on a COVID exemption in Week 7 and caught his first NFL interception in his debut. In all, he played five regular-season games and two playoff games for the Bills without ever signing to the official active roster.

That’s the biggest question, really. If Jackson was good enough to potentially challenge for the starting job now, why was he on the practice squad at the end of the season? He signed a minimum contract as a reserve/future signing this offseason. Is he a legitimate threat or is this just talk?

I personally see him as a legitimate threat to Wallace’s job. Both are technically on one-year contracts, so I thought the team would draft another cornerback to add to the competition. When that didn’t happen, I expected a free-agent signing and one never came. Beane doesn’t leave quality depth to chance so if these are the two guys competing at CB2, it’s because they think both of them could do the job.

Sure, there are free agents out there but the Bills report to camp very soon. The player they sign would have to be COVID-vaccinated in order to make it through the protocols in time for the first practices.

To me, it’s a pretty clear pecking order of Wallace then Jackson. If one of them gets injured, Beane will go to the phones. Until then, I don’t think he’s going to bring in anyone. They’ve traditionally gone light on cornerback numbers anyway and with White, Wallace, Jackson, plus slot cornerback Taron Johnson and special teamer Siran Neal, they might only keep that many. They only kept five in 2020 and 2019. Cam Lewis is another up-and-comer who could factor in at slot and make the roster, and Buffalo picked Rachad Wildgoose Jr. in the 2021 NFL Draft, too. (We previewed the battle at slot cornerback last week.) They have a talented cornerback who is going to be released at some point, so it’s probably not necessary to add to the competition at this point.