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2022 NFL free agency: Veteran nose tackle options for the Buffalo Bills

Should the Bills sign one of these guys?

The Buffalo Bills, currently slated with only two defensive tackles on the roster for 2022, need to reinforce the room in the offseason. At nose tackle, someone needs to join Star Lotulelei, not to say whether Lotulelei himself could be a cap casualty as well.

Nose tackle (which in Buffalo’s defense is usually a player who aligns across from and between the center and guard, setting up the pivot point for gap assignments) isn’t the most glamorous job in the league. And different schemes have different preferences for their players. The Bills, under defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier, have tended toward smaller nose tackles; Lotulelei is 6’2”, 315 lbs, and backup Harrison Phillips measured up at 6’3”, 307 lbs. That may continue to be the standard, or it may change with this offseason’s opportunity to shuffle the deck.

Listed below are most of the unrestricted free agents you could consider as nose tackles for Buffalo’s scheme. Do any of these players need to be wearing Bills uniforms in 2022?

Brandon Williams

This 6’1” 336-lb Williams has been an immovable object on the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive line for all nine years of his NFL career. A Pro Bowl selection in 2018, Williams just wrapped up a five-year, $52 million contract and will be 33 years old this year. There’s no question of his gap-clogging prowess, but it’s hard to see Williams leaving Baltimore when he played his whole career there, and they’re still a highly competitive team.

Jarran Reed

Reed, a former second-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, just finished a one-year, $5.5 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. A player who’s been heavily used in the defensive line rotation in his career, his best season came in 2018, with 10.5 sacks and 24 QB hits. He’s mostly a nose tackle, but at 6’3” and 313 lbs, he could play across from a guard too.

With a season of 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and 43 total tackles, Reed roughly hit the par for his contract value in 2021. Expect a similar annual value on his next deal. He could return to the Kansas City Chiefs, or maybe seek out another team looking for another Super Bowl opportunity.

Sebastian Joseph-Day

Joseph-Day will be 27 years old and entering his fifth season after finishing out his rookie contract with the Los Angeles Rams as a former sixth-round pick.

Inactive his rookie year and a rotational backup in his second and third seasons, Joseph-Day was playing the most of his career (nearly 70% of snaps) in 2021 before a torn pectoral muscle all but certainly ended his season (he still has a chance to play in the Super Bowl). Until the injury, it was the best year of his career, with 38 total tackles and three sacks in less than half a season.

The 6’4” 310-lb Joseph-Day made a little over $2 million this year thanks to performance-boosted salary from earlier seasons. An unrestricted free agent after the season ends, he can decide whether he wants to return to the Rams or try out the market, although he probably won’t be getting much more than a small one-year deal either way.

Derrick Nnadi

A former third-round pick out of Florida State, Nnadi will be 26 years old and entering his fifth pro season. He’s been a situational defender for the Chiefs, playing an average of 45% of snaps on defense in the last three seasons. His snap share also declined in the last three years, from 54% to 46% and 40%, and he only “started” ten games this year.

Listed at 6’1” and 317 lbs, Nnadi had three sacks, two tackles for loss (TFLs), and 38 total tackles in 2021.

He just finished up his rookie contract, and given his recent history, is probably signing a one-year, low-cost contract with another team (unless he really wants to try for another Super Bowl ring as a backup with the Chiefs).

Linval Joseph

33-year-old Joseph, measuring 6’4” and 323 lbs, just finished a two-year, $17 million contract with the Los Angeles Chargers. Overall, it was a bit disappointing for both parties. The Chargers, with a 16-17 record, missed the postseason twice, and Joseph only recorded a single sack and six TFLs across those two seasons.

In his previous stint with the Vikings, Joseph was one of the better nose tackles in the NFL. He made the Pro Bowl in 2016 and 2017, averaging three sacks, a forced fumble, five TFLs, and 60 tackles in the four seasons from 2016-2019.

Has Joseph’s play declined because he’s now in the twilight of his career, a 13-year veteran? Or were the Chargers just a poor fit? At any rate, he’ll likely garner a decent price in free agency, given his prior experience, but maybe not a contract that measures up to the one he just finished.

Johnathan Hankins

Hankins, a nine-year veteran, is a 6’3”, 340-lb nose tackle coming off a one-year, $3.5 million contract with the Las Vegas Raiders. He’s now played for the Raiders for four consecutive seasons, all on short-term deals.

In general, Hankins plays around 60% of snaps as a starting defensive lineman. His 2021 season was a down one, in part because he missed three games with back and knee injuries. He didn’t record a sack, but had 38 combined tackles and one TFL.

If Hankins has interest in leaving the Raiders, a roughly $3 million contract would fit the market rate.

Austin Johnson

A 6’4”, 316-lb former second-round pick of the Tennessee Titans, Johnson just finished a one-year, $3 million extension to a one-year, $1.5 million contract he’d signed with the New York Giants in 2020.

It was a career year for Johnson, who started every game and saw his snap share skyrocket to 57%. With 3.5 sacks, six TFLs, and seven QB hits, he had as many splash plays in 2021 as he had in his first five seasons combined. He also had a career-high 72 total tackles.

Johnson, turning 28 this year, has probably earned another raise thanks to his play for the Giants. He has a chance for either another raise on a 2022 deal, or maybe a multi-year deal for some added job security.

DaQuan Jones

After his three-year, $21 million contract with the Titans had played out, Jones signed a smaller one-year, $4.05 million contract with the Carolina Panthers for 2021. The 6’4” 320-lb Jones continued starting every game, playing 59% of snaps,

The Panthers mainly used defensive tackles like Jones to set the table for pass rushers Brian Burns and Haasan Reddick. Overall though, Jones’s season with 38 tackles, one sack, and one TFL was underwhelming.

Now entering his age-31 season, Jones will probably garner a similar contract to his last one.

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