Edge rusher is a critical position in the modern NFL, and the Buffalo Bills know this. They’ve spent premium draft picks, and significant free-agent dollars, investing in this position over the last five years. Now they’re at a turning point with the position, staring at two aging veteran free agents and a trio of unproven young players.
The Bills need to re-tool for the 2022 season. A reinforcement could arrive from the open market. Do any of these players seem like good fits for this team’s rotation?
One of the better bargains of the last couple years has been Ogbah, who signed a two-year, $15 million contract with the Miami Dolphins in 2020. He turned in 18 sacks, 17 pass breakups, four forced fumbles, and 15 tackles for a loss (TFLs) during that span.
Ogbah is still only 28 years old, and has a real appealing profile: 6’4” and 275 lbs. He’s a great athlete, and a productive starting defensive end. He’s probably due for a raise at least around $10-12 million per year, which might actually undervalue him since edge rusher is one of the most premium positions. But it might be just what the Bills want, if they can convince him to head north again.
Fresh off a Super Bowl win, the 33-year-old Miller will become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. Miller doesn’t need an introduction; an eight-time Pro Bowl and three-time All-Pro, he’s one of the best edge rushers of the past 20 years. He still had 9.5 sacks and 19 TFLs this past season—a sign that he’s not slowing down as he gets on in age.
Ultimately, Miller will choose where his career goes from here, whether it’s retirement, or the best combination of Super Bowl odds, location, and money for his desires. His exact market value is uncertain, since he wrapped up a six-year, $116 million contract, but the neighborhood of $10-15 million per year seems appropriate.
Speaking of “potential Hall of Famer who hasn’t been a free agent before,” say hello to Chandler Jones and his 107.5 career sacks. Jones is about to turn 32, and his last couple years were his first significant step back in his impressive career. He missed almost the entire 2020 season with a torn bicep. His 2021 stats look impressive on the surface, but five of his 10.5 sacks came in a single game, and the other 5.5 sacks came in the other 16 games of the season.
Nevertheless, the 6’5”, 265-lb pass rusher is still an asset, and might see his career close out well on a team where he isn’t playing 90% of snaps. Maybe the Endicott native who went to Syracuse might be interested in coming back to New York?
Like Miller, his contract is tough to estimate, given the time since he last signed a contract, but anywhere from $10-15 million per year is the target range.
An example of how statistics can fool you, the 33-year-old Ingram only had two sacks and four TFLs in 2021. But anyone could see how he wrecked the Bills’ game plan with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener, and the Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs. And after joining the Chiefs, Ingram’s presence transformed their defense from one of the league’s worst to one of the league’s best. In that way, he’s very similar to Jerry Hughes and his impact with the Bills.
Ingram had signed a one-year, $4 million contract in 2021, so a similar cost would make sense for the veteran if he plays another season this year.
Another mainstay of the 21st century edge-rushing stable, Pierre-Paul struggled with a broken finger and a torn rotator cuff in 2021, and only notched 2.5 sacks as a result. Before then, he was an excellent sack artist, with 46 sacks in five seasons from 2016 to 2020. He also made the Pro Bowl in 2020.
He just finished a two-year, $25 million contract extension, and being a little older and a little more injured, he’ll probably make less than that $12.5 million average. If teams think the 33 year old can bounce back from injuries, he can give them a starting end.
Dante Fowler Jr.
Is Fowler actually good? The former first-round pick signed $57 million of contracts in the last three years, which suggests teams value him like a good edge rusher. But he’s had exactly one season with more than five sacks, 30 tackles, and eight TFLs: 2019. Yes, that’s an arbitrary marker, but Jerry Hughes managed to hit it five times with the Bills, and Fowler did it once in his six seasons.
Based on his contract history, Fowler is probably due to make $10 million per year or more. Unlike some of the other edge players on this list though, he might not be worth it.
A divisive option, to be sure, Clowney did himself no favors with a pathetic 2020 season for the Tennessee Titans. He lasted on the roster for eight games, didn’t notch a sack, and basically wasted the $13 million paid to him.
Clowney took a pay cut in 2021, with $8 million to play for the Cleveland Browns. He was fortunate to play across All-Pro edge Myles Garrett, and all his numbers ticked up dramatically (nine sacks, 11 TFLs, 19 QB hits).
Clowney’s played for four teams in four years, so a one-year contract is the baseline expectation here. A range of $10-12 million seems reasonable for the 6’5”, 255-lb defensive end.
The former first-round pick was a certified bust in his first four seasons, in which he only started nine games and managed 6.5 sacks. Signing a one-year, $1.75 million contract with the Detroit Lions, Harris managed to work his way into the starting rotation after a few games, and became a crucial player for the team without their top edge rusher, Romeo Okwara. Harris had 65 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and ten TFLs for the Lions.
So what’s the market value for the 27 year old? A former first-round bust with low-to-moderate sack production, you wouldn’t think he lands a big salary, but 16.5 sacks in four years earned Shaq Lawson a $30 million contract. So maybe a two-year deal, that gives Harris a raise and a chance for another payday on the right side of 30, could be the best fit. As for market value, $7-10 million is probably the range for Harris.
An extremely high-risk player, Gregory has a long-documented drug habit that cost him most of his career. He’s only been able to play in 50 games, and started 12, out of a possible 113 since he was drafted. The Dallas Cowboys might be the only team with the right environment (and enough patience) to keep the defensive end on track.
Nevertheless, Gregory has 9.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, and 29 QB hits in the last two years as a rotational edge rusher for the Cowboys. That’s pretty productive. Coming off a one-year, $2.3 million contract extension, he might be due for a raise around $5-6 million. It’s possible, though I’d be surprised, if a team offers him more, given his history.
Now we move into the “young player who might fit into a rotation, not a starter” portion of the list. First up is Key, who turns 26 this year as a former third-round pick. After being waived by the Las Vegas Raiders, he signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the San Francicso 49ers in 2021. It was a career-best season for Key, who had 6.5 sacks, 17 QB hits, and five TFLs while only playing 35% of snaps. Maybe a two- or three-year deal, worth $5 million per year, is a good compromise on potential and current value.
Carter was effectively a starter in the last three seasons for the New York Giants, averaging 70% of snaps played on defense (when healthy). He wasn’t especially productive as an edge rusher, with essentially 4.5 sacks per season in his career. Still, he’s 6’5” and 255 lbs, a good athlete, and would come at a cheap price. He was paid $1 million this season, and not much would justify a significantly higher salary in 2022. Maybe he can thrive better in a backup role on a better defense?
- 2021 All-22 Review: Jerry Hughes
- 2021 All-22 Review: Mario Addison
- 2021 All-22 Review: Efe Obada
- 2021 All-22 Review: Gregory Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa, Boogie Basham
- Contract projection for Jerry Hughes
- Contract projection for Mario Addison
- Bills have young bodies to move on from Addison, Hughes but it’s a drop off
- Free agents for the Bills at DE
- 2022 NFL Draft prospects at defensive end
- Opinion: Bills should move on from aging DEs and draft a depth option