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Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane sure to employ roster shenanigans this week

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills have a deep roster, with 60 or more NFL-caliber players in the fold. By Tuesday afternoon, that number needs to be at 53 on the active roster, and that will present a challenge for general manager Brandon Beane. One of the tools he is going to employ to hold on to players he likes is a bit of a shell game we wanted to explain.

If a player goes on injured reserve as part of the team’s final cuts (or before), his season is over. The player is on injured reserve and can’t return to the roster. The team did this previously with Bryan Cox, Jr. and Treyvon Hester. Cox suffered a season-ending injury and will rehab with Buffalo.

If a player makes the initial 53-man roster, then goes onto injured reserve, the player can return in as little as three weeks because of the COVID-19 Collective Bargaining Agreement. In 2020, the NFL and NFLPA were worried about losing too many players when roster maneuvering was going to be necessary so they changed it from three players being able to return from IR in a season to an unlimited number of players able to return from IR. They also shortened the window of time necessary to return from eight games to three games.

All this means is that it benefits the Bills and other teams to get players with medium-range injured players to injured reserve after the 53-man roster cutdowns so they can eventually return to action.

The best way to do this is to look at the vested veterans on the roster, or players with more than four years of playing experience. These players are not subject to the waiver wire when released so the player has a choice about what to do next. They also need to be a player with little to no guaranteed money, and typically they only have a one-year deal. These veterans are easy wink-wink, nudge-nudge cut candidates and it’s how Beane has employed roster shenanigans in the past.

You cut the veteran player as part of the move to 53 but you have a handshake agreement in place that you’re going to bring them back in a day or two after you place the hurt player(s) on injured reserve. For the trouble, we’ll give you a little bit of extra money on the new deal you’ll sign later this week and fully guarantee your contract.

It’s a win for everyone involved and legal.

Last year, it was safety Dean Marlowe and kick returner Andre Roberts. Both had one year left on their deals are were vested veterans. They were cut on September 5 and re-signed on September 7. WR Isaiah Hodgins and G Jon Feliciano were placed on injured reserve and both returned to the active roster later in the season. In 2019, it was safety Kurt Coleman cut and re-signed so TE Jason Croom could get to IR.

There are several players who fit the mold of possible releases this year; RB Taiwan Jones, RB Matt Breida, and TE Jacob Hollister. All three are players the team thinks highly of, they have one year left on their deals, and they have little to no accelerated money that would kick in if released. Teams wouldn’t be banging down their door with lucrative contracts that would tempt them away from the handshake deal. I’d rank them Jones, then Hollister, then Breida in terms of most likely to fit the situation.

Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky fits many of these criteria but he has a bunch of guaranteed money and would almost certainly receive an interested phone call from a team or two. He wouldn’t work for this. Cornerback Siran Neal, DT Justin Zimmer, and WR Jake Kumerow aren’t fully vested, and would be exposed to waivers. Wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie couldn’t be released because he’s injured and couldn’t pass the physical. Cornerback Levi Wallace is injured and not fully vested, along with CB Taron Johnson and DT Harrison Phillips. Defensive end Efe Obada would likely receive some phone calls and has significant portions of his salary guaranteed.

So it’s likely the Bills will be able to stash two or three players on their short-term injured reserve this week, and with a long list of players on the injury report that they will want on the squad, it will make a lot of sense. Defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, WR Isaiah Hodgins, TE Tommy Sweeney, and S Jaquan Johnson are all candidates for the stash. We don’t have great information on the severity of some of these injuries so that’s more of a guessing game.