The Buffalo Bills ended the 2021 NFL season as the No. 1 defense in the NFL. For the second time under head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier, the Bills had the No. 1 pass defense in the league. In the five years that pair has worked together, Buffalo has finished in the top-five in pass defense three times.
While coaching and scheme obviously play a big part in that success, talent and players are the greater part of the equation. The Bills have one of the league’s best corners in Tre’Davious White, and they have arguably the league’s best safety tandem in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. That strength has allowed the Bills to develop solid contributors at CB2 like Levi Wallace.
Here’s the problem for the 2022 season, though: White is still rehabbing an ACL tear, and it’s almost a guarantee that he’ll miss some time in the early going. Wallace signed a two-year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers, so he’s gone. Without some additions, Buffalo could be looking at a crew that includes Dane Jackson and Olaijah Griffin trying to regulate NFL receivers in September.
After clearing some salary cap space via restructures, the Bills can, and probably should, look to sign a veteran corner for two purposes: first, to serve as insurance as White continues to recover from the ACL tear, and second, to compete with Jackson and the other young players for reps upon White’s return.
Here are some names to watch in the coming weeks. The full list of available free agents, according to Spotrac, can be found here.
Could Gilmore return to the place where he was drafted in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft? After bolting Buffalo for the New England Patriots, Gilmore made two All-Pro teams and four Pro Bowls, and he was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2019. He has 27 career interceptions, 14 of which came with Buffalo during his four-year stint with the club. A lot has changed in Buffalo since Gilmore left following the 2016 season. A reunion isn’t totally out of the question.
The veteran has had a stellar career, spending all 12 of his professional seasons in the AFC North. Originally drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, Haden played for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2017 through 2021. He played in 12 games last year, starting 11, and had six pass breakups and a fumble recovery to go with 38 tackles. He has definitely lost a step, but the Bills could be a perfect landing place for the veteran who is missing one thing in his illustrious career: a Super Bowl.
Another former Carolina Panthers player, Bouye made a name for himself with the Houston Texans before signing a massive free agent contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017. He’s spent the last two years fighting injuries with the Denver Broncos (in 2020) and the Panthers (in 2021). Bouye hasn’t registered an interception since 2019, and he’s only played in 17 games over the last two seasons. A one-year deal in a situation like the one he’d enter in Buffalo could catapult him to one last payday in 2023 if he performs and stays healthy.
King was a draft crush of mine back in 2017, but Buffalo obviously went with the better player in Tre’Davious White. King’s career (all with the Green Bay Packers) has been derailed by injury, as he’s yet to play a full slate of games. In 2019, which is the year where he played in a career-high 15 games, he had five interceptions, 15 pass breakups, and 66 tackles. At 6’3” and 200 lbs, King is a rangy defender who could be a real weapon in Buffalo’s zone-heavy scheme.
Another former first-round choice, Rhodes was a three-time Pro Bowl selection with the Minnesota Vikings before spending the last two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. The negative from those two years is that he allowed eight touchdowns in 29 games. The positive is that he allowed just 56% of the passes thrown his way to be completed. He turns 32 in June.
It wouldn’t be a sexy move by any means, but it would make perfect sense. Mabin was with the Bills as a rookie in 2017, and he appeared in one game for the club, playing on 28 defensive snaps in a 20-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Mabin has bounced around plenty in the years since, playing with the San Francisco 49ers (2018), Bengals (2019), Jaguars (2020), and Tennessee Titans (2021). Mabin turns 28 in June, and he’d be a low-cost option to add to the cornerback room.
At best, the Bills would have a veteran capable of playing plenty of snaps in both man and zone who is a willing tackler. At worst, the Bills would have a 34-year-old corner who could help fans play a drinking game: for every time the announcers said “jackrabbit,” take a swig. Jenkins has had at least one interception in every one of his professional seasons, and he would be a more than capable fill-in while White recovers.
At 22 years old, Williams would be a risk, especially given that he’s only played four defensive snaps professionally. The Syracuse grad is a solid athlete and a good developmental prospect, but it might be too big an ask for him to come in and push Dane Jackson for time.