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Reviewing the Bills’ 2021 free-agent class

The Bills made quite a few moves prior to last season

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills made a series of moves last offseason in hopes of turning the corner from AFC runners-up to Super Bowl champions. While the team fell short of their ultimate goal, the process behind the roster general manager Brandon Beane built was a sound one.

The Bills had one of the league’s deepest rosters in 2021, and while the team’s draft prowess is certainly a big part of that roster depth, finding valuable players in free agency is another underrated part of Beane’s success. It’s not always about the splash singing—though those certainly help—as much of a general manager’s mettle is proven through finding solid players who fit a role within the team’s system.

With the 2021 season squarely in the rearview mirror, we figured it was high time to examine how the free-agent signees from last year fared.

LB Tyrell Adams
G Forrest Lamp
DT Treyvon Hester
WR Brandon Powell
WR Steven Sims Jr.
CB Tim Harris

These players are all grouped together because they did not play a snap for the team in 2021. Of this group, only Harris remains with the team, as the veteran corner signed a reserve/futures contract following Buffalo’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. Powell is notable for catching on as a returner with the Los Angeles Rams, as he helped the team to victory in the Super Bowl. Powell’s 61-yard punt return for a touchdown proved to be the winning margin over the Minnesota Vikings on December 26, clinching a playoff berth for the Rams and launching their playoff run.

G Jamil Douglas
T Bobby Hart

Douglas played for the Bills, albeit in an extremely limited fashion. He appeared on just two snaps on offense, both coming in Buffalo’s 31-6 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thanksgiving night. He signed with the New York Giants in March. Hart had three separate stints with the Bills last season. He signed in March, was released in August, signed to the practice squad in September, and re-signed to the practice squad in November. He played six snaps—one on offense and five on special teams—in Buffalo’s 33-21 win over the New England Patriots in December.

DT Eli Ankou
LB Joe Giles-Harris

These two defensive players were practice-squad guys for much of the year, but when they were called upon in game action, they performed fairly well. Ankou saw action in five games for Buffalo, notching nine tackles and a sack in those games. Giles-Harris appeared in two games, playing exclusively on special teams. He made two tackles in the games where he appeared. Ankou signed a reserve/futures contract with Buffalo in February, while Giles-Harris signed his reserve/futures deal in January.

QB Mitchell Trubisky

The Bills knew they needed to upgrade the backup quarterback position, and they did just that with Trubisky, a former first-round pick who needed a change of scenery after his time with the Chicago Bears came to an end. Fortunately, Josh Allen stayed healthy and continued to thrive, so Trubisky only played in mop-up duty. He completed six-of-eight passes for 75 yards, throwing one interception. He added 24 rushing yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Trubisky parlayed his layover in Orchard Park into a two-year deal worth just over $14 million with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

RB Matt Breida

There was a moment there where I thought Breida would be RB1 for the Bills, as his combination of speed and receiving skills gave the team an element that neither Zack Moss nor Devin Singletary could match. However, worries about ball security and a renewed spark from Singletary led to Breida fading back into the shadows as the year progressed. Breida finished with 26 carries for 125 yards and a touchdown, adding seven receptions for 72 yards and two touchdowns on nine targets. He fumbled just once. He signed a contract with the New York Giants in March.

P Matt Haack

The Bills swapped one left-footed punter for another, as the team let Corey Bojorquez go in order to sign Haack to a three-year contract. That trade was not a great one for the Bills, as Haack ranked at or near the bottom of essentially every major punting category in his first year with Buffalo. He did earn rave reviews as a holder, however. Haack’s original deal was restructured this offseason, as the Bills lowered his 2022 cap number and removed 2023 from the contract. He still may be replaced.

DE Efe Obada

Whether due to a lack of game snaps, a lack of overall effectiveness, or a heavy rotation, Obada did not provide quite the “oomph” in the pass rush that the Bills envisioned when they signed the then-29 year old to a one-year deal last offseason. In ten games, he managed 12 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Those numbers certainly don’t pop, but his sack total was good for fourth on the team, trailing only Mario Addison (7), Greg Rousseau (4), and Ed Oliver (4). He signed a one-year deal with the Washington Commanders in March.

WR Emmanuel Sanders

Sanders signed as the veteran replacement for John Brown, and after a strong 2020 campaign where he showed that he could still have a major impact on an offensive game plan (82 targets, 61 receptions, 726 yards, 5 TDs), his numbers took a nosedive in Buffalo. He caught just 42 passes on 72 targets, totaling 626 yards and four TDs. The target total was his lowest since 2012, and his reception total was the third-lowest total in his 12-year career. In the playoffs, Sanders caught three passes for 52 yards and a touchdown. The signing certainly wasn’t a bust, as it added a legitimate veteran presence to a wide receiver room that had two other excellent vets in Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley. However, one could make the argument that his presence kept Gabriel Davis from breaking out—or, they could argue that Sanders was just another veteran presence helping to bring the young wideout along. Whatever the case may be, Sanders remains a free agent as of now, with Davis looking likely to replace him as WR2 in the Buffalo offense in 2022.