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Opinion: What I think the Bills should do at edge rusher this offseason

Time to sink or swim

The Buffalo Bills have invested their first draft pick in an edge rusher each of the last two seasons, with A.J. Epenesa being picked at 54 in 2020 and Gregory Rousseau being picked at 30 in 2021. They even doubled down in 2021 by taking Boogie Basham in the second round. During the 2021 regular season, Rousseau was second among Bills defensive ends in snap percentage (49.26%) while Epenesa was fourth (30.61%) per Pro Football Reference. Basham was a distant sixth (18.65%). Veteran players on expiring contracts made up the remaining three top six spots, as Jerry Hughes led the pack with 51.76% of the snaps, Efe Obada contributed 21.99% and Mario Addison slotted in at third with 44.71%.

When the Bills invested in the position heavily over the last two years in the draft, they did so surely knowing this day was coming: the day when Hughes and Addison left the team and cheaper alternatives drafted highly could step up to take their place. It’s time for the newbies to sink or swim. Here’s what I would do at edge rusher this offseason:

Let Hughes and Addison walk

Jerry Hughes was still an effective player in 2021, registering 55 pressures in the regular season and playoffs, which led the team and paced the entire defensive line in both pass rush efficiency and pass rush win rate per Pro Football Focus. So why on earth would I advocate for letting him and his fellow veteran Mario Addison walk?

Two items: money and finishing.

First, the reason you draft players like Rousseau, Basham, and Epenesa to take the place of aging veterans like Hughes and Addison is because of the cost component. Rousseau, the highest-drafted player of the bunch, will have a cap number of $2.64m in 2022. The COMBINED cap totals for all three of the youthful ends will be less than $5m. Josh Allen’s cap number doesn’t spike until 2023, but the preparation for that came the moment the organization decided to ink him to a mega deal, and moving away from more expensive veterans is one of those preparations.

The Bills also added a lot of length to their edge room over the last two years with Epenesa and Rousseau (both of whom have 34”+ arms) and after hovering in the “ok” sack-rate area of the NFL rankings in 2021 (12th) and 2020 (15th), the Bills may be looking for more tackle radius to help them convert more pressures to sacks.

Re-sign Efe Obada

Efe Obada was quietly the second-most efficient pass rusher on a per-snap basis for the Bills in 2021. and there are three reasons why he should be re-signed: First, he’ll likely come much cheaper than an Addison or Hughes re-signing Next, he provides the ability to reduce inside and play defensive tackle, which is a tremendous weak spot for the Bills this offseason Finally, he’ll likely see the departures of Hughes and Addison as an opportunity to get more playing time in a system and with coaching he already knows. It’s a win for everyone involved, and a contract could likely be completed for less than $2 million annually.

Draft DeAngelo Malone from Western Kentucky (late day-two/early day-three projection)

Regardless of whether the Bills let Hughes and Addison walk or elect to bring them back, the Bills have a speed problem on the defensive line.

“But Bruce,” you’re saying, “We would be drafting a fourth or fifth edge rusher!”

A couple counters to that: As outlined above, the Bills will play five or six edge rushers over the course of the year and as long as that rotation mindset is in play, I will build the team around that method. Also, Malone may be able to provide sub-package versatility as an off-ball linebacker in 4-3 looks. It was a role they had for AJ Klein for a chunk of 2020 and Malone would be more effective in it.

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