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Ranking the Bills’ needs on defense heading into 2022 offseason

What’s your list?

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 head into the offseason with only 40-something players under contract. While last year, they could re-sign everyone and “run it back,” it seems less likely they will be able to do that moving forward in 2022.

Here, we are listing their top needs on defense heading into the offseason. We take into account holes where they have no players to fit the bill as well as potential upgrades we’d like to see.

1. Outside Cornerback

Levi Wallace is a free agent, so right now the Bills have Tre’Davious White (who won’t be fully healthy until the beginning of the season at the earliest) and Dane Jackson under contract at CB2. Tim Harris, Olaijah Griffin, and Nick McCloud aren’t going to be enough. The Bills need to infuse the position with another talented player to take the pressure off White’s return to the lineup PLUS replace or re-sign Wallace. Buffalo has lived on the edge at this position group but at some point, they will need to add bodies.

2. 1-Tech DT

Harrison Phillips is a free agent, Star Lotulelei diminished down the stretch after a good start to the season, and practice squad DT Eli Ankou remains unsigned in the hopes of getting a free agent deal. The Bills need a guy to play 50% or more of the 1-tech snaps at the bare minimum. Even if Buffalo chooses to overhaul the position and release Star to re-sign Harry or another adequate 1T, I would love to see them pull the trigger on a monster to pair with Ed Oliver for the next several years in the middle of the line.

3. Edge rushers

For the last several years, I’ve been pounding the table to draft pass rushers. Then the Bills spent a first-round pick in 2020 and a first- and second-round pick in 2021 to improve the pass rush and replace aging players Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison. They set themselves up great. Except those guys haven’t played up to the level we need just yet. A.J. Epenesa is bordering on bust territory after being a healthy scratch for multiple games. Boogie Basham was also inactive for multiple games this year as a second-round rookie. Greg Rouseeau hit the rookie wall, according to general manager Brandon Beane, but gets a bit of a pass after being out of football in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns. Can you trust any of those three guys to be a full-time starter, much less two of them? With Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison on expiring contracts, Buffalo is going to need to add one or two pass rushers who can get after the quarterback and play meaningful snaps. Honestly, I think this is so important that it was initially at the top of my list—but the gaping holes at CB and 1T can’t be ignored.

4. 3-tech DT

Another numbers problem here; Justin Zimmer is a restricted free agent. Ed Oliver and practice-squader Brandin Bryant are the only two 3-tech options on the team. Sure, they could bump one of the DEs inside to take some snaps, but they need at least one more 3-teach for the final 53-man roster. Re-signing Zimmer could work, but he’s coming off an injury.

5. Slot cornerback

Taron Johnson signed an extension last year. Cam Lewis is a good second option. I think the Bills are set at slot cornerback for 2022, except that Siran Neal is a free agent. If the Bills want to play Big Nickel, they will need to add a player to do it.

6. Linebacker

It’s been a luxury to have A.J. Klein as the third linebacker for the last few years. His cap hit is over $5.5 million in 2022 and I don’t think the Bills can afford to keep him at that number. If he doesn’t restructure his deal, they will need to address it. Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano are really good starters, so this is about depth.

7. Safety

Speaking of really good starters, both Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are still under contract but, at their age, the team needs to start thinking about replacing them. Jaquan Johnson is a solid number three but even he only has one year left on his current deal. They drafted Damar Hamlin last year and have Josh Thomas, so maybe they don’t add anyone and roll with those guys plus some roster fillers on UDFA contracts.