The Buffalo Bills spent big last year to revamp a defensive line that struggled to generate consistent pressure in 2019. When Buffalo did reach opposing quarterbacks, it was often thanks to blitz schemes (the double-A gap look with both Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano come to mind as a particularly effective 2019 tactic).
However, any defensive coordinator wants his front four to be able to generate pressure without a blitz, especially in a league that passes now more than ever. Buffalo tried to sign players who could accomplish that goal heading into the 2020 season.
Narrator: It didn’t work.
Instead, the Bills were left with an expensive defensive line that just didn’t create the kind of pressure they wanted. Moreover, the Bills’ run defense wasn’t nearly as good as it was the year prior, either. Buffalo went from tenth in yards allowed and 18th in yards per attempt in 2019 to 17th in yards allowed and 27th in yards per attempt in 2020.
That’s why three of our top ten worst salary cap values from 2020 are defensive linemen, and an argument can (and has) been made that there may actually have been more defensive linemen who were bad values. Coming in at number two on our list is a defensive tackle who hasn’t lived up to his status as a first-round draft pick.
DT Vernon Butler
2020 Salary Cap Figure: $7,368,750 (3.34 percent of Buffalo’s salary cap)
2020 Stats: 14 games, 9 starts, 18 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 2 quarterback hits, 1 pass breakup, 1 forced fumble
Sure, Butler was used a bit more as a one-tech than the Bills would have liked, for even though Butler has the size of a space-eating player, he’s been better throughout his career when allowed to penetrate as a three-tech (or set the edge as a five-tech with three down linemen). However, he neither created space for the linebackers to operate nor caused havoc in the backfield, as opposing rushers were constantly able to advance to Buffalo’s second level untouched. In head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier’s defense, the defensive tackles need to keep the linebackers clean. Butler did not do a very good job helping his linebackers stay off blocks. He also was unable to generate much pass rush. Coming off a career year with the Carolina Panthers where Butler had six sacks and seven tackles-for-loss, he didn’t come close to equaling those sack numbers, as he failed to register a quarterback takedown. His two quarterback hits tied a career-low just one year after he set a career-high with eight. Butler’s cap hit was the tenth-highest number on the 2020 Buffalo Bills, yet he only played on 40 percent of the team’s defensive snaps and he rarely made an impact in those snaps. While there were players who made more money than he did (Mario Addison comes to mind) whom others would argue belong on this list, finding the combination of Butler’s pay, lack of production relative both to the league and his own teammates, and his status as a heavily rotated player is a trifecta of poor value for the Bills. Butler is almost sure to find himself on this list again next year, as the likelihood that Buffalo eats the $3.5 million dead-cap charge is less than using him again to rotate in at his $5.3 million cap figure this season. Butler may have a better chance at playing his natural position with Star Lotulelei back in the fold but, in 2020, he was clearly one of Buffalo’s worst salary cap values.