It feels like the Buffalo Bills have been revamping their pass rush for multiple seasons, now. They’ve invested plenty of draft picks at the position and signed a bunch of free agents. None of those moves came close to what the Bills did this offseason, adding a future Hall of Famer to their rotation.
In adding Von Miller, the Bills said goodbye to the longest-tenured member of the team when Jerry Hughes left via free agency. Also gone is Mario Addison, who led the team in sacks in 2021 and Efe Obada who chipped in, as well. Lots of changes.
In our continued look at the state of the Bills’ roster heading into training camp, we examine the edge rushers.
Contract status: Signed a six-year, $120 million contract this offseason ($5.15 million cap hit, $45 million dead cap if cut)
Age: Turned 33 on 3/26/2022
2021 Playing time: 15 games (15 starts) for Broncos (7) and Rams (8), played at least 66% of defensive snaps in 14 of those contests
Key 2021 statistics: 1 pass defended, 1 forced fumble, 9.5 sacks, 50 tackles for Rams & Broncos
Miller was one of the biggest fish in free agency and Bills’ general manager Brandon Beane was able to land him. He’s used to playing more than two-thirds of defensive snaps, so we’ll see how head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier adjust his workload. They usually like closer to a 50-50 split but they’ve never had anyone as good as Miller before. (Also, Miller has never been 32 before, so he may be more effective playing fewer snaps.) Make no mistake, Miller was brought in for big games. He has experience stepping up in key situations on the biggest stage and was MVP of Super Bowl 50.
Contract status: Entering second year of four-year rookie contract (with fifth-year option possible); ($2,638,227 cap hit; $9,256,493 dead cap if cut or traded)
Age: Turned 22 on 4/5/2022
2021 Playing time: 17 games (17 starts), 531 defensive snaps (49.26% of team total), 52 special teams snaps (11.98% of team total)
Key 2021 statistics: 50 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hits, 4 pass knockdowns, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, 14 hurries, 24 pressures
Sure, he didn’t have crazy sack numbers, nor did he have a slew of highlight-reel plays. He did have one, though, as his interception of Patrick Mahomes on a batted ball (that he batted himself, no less) all but sealed Buffalo’s regular-season victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Rousseau was more productive in the first half of the year than he was in the second half, as three of his four sacks came within the season’s first eight games. Aside from some rookie hiccups, Rousseau flashed plenty of first-round ability. He was one of Buffalo’s most productive players along the defensive line, and with another year of professional strength and conditioning under his belt combined with the experience of his first 19 professional games, year two should be a good one for Groot.
Contract status: Entering second year of four-year rookie contract ($1,278,396 cap hit; $2,003,830 dead cap if cut or traded)
Age: 24 (25 on 12/16/2022)
2021 Playing time: 8 games, 201 defensive snaps (18.65% of team total), 9 special teams snaps (2.07% of team total)
Key 2021 statistics: 18 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, 3 quarterback hits, 3 hurries, 6 pressures
For all of the frustration surrounding Basham’s season, as he was a healthy scratch in nine of Buffalo’s regular-season games, just take note of his production relative to his teammates for a silver lining. Basham seemed more to be a victim of circumstance, as the coaching staff had two veteran players they wanted active at all times accounting for most of the snaps. Basham showed some ability as a disruptor from both the edge and the interior, and with an increased role this season, he has a real chance to break out.
Contract status: Entering third year of four-year rookie contract ($1,602,900 cap hit; $917,200 dead cap if cut or traded)
Age: 23 (24 on 9/15/2022)
2021 Playing time: 14 games, 330 defensive snaps (30.61% of team total), 144 special teams snaps (33.18% of team total)
Key 2021 statistics: 14 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 9 quarterback hits, 1 pass knockdown, 5 hurries, 14 pressures
After a monster Week 2 where he tormented Tua Tagovailoa and Jacoby Brissett, Epenesa didn’t do much the rest of the season. Too often, it seems like he is washed out of plays, whether due to a lack of functional strength or poor reads off the ball. When he sets the edge, he’s a useful defender, and he’s another high-motor guy with great character. Unfortunately, he isn’t quite as disruptive in the passing game as the team would like. This year is a big one for Epenesa.
Contract status: Signed a one-year veteran minimum deal this offseason
Age: Turned 28 on 6/17/2022
2021 Playing time: 14 games (7 starts) for New York Jets
Key 2021 statistics: 1 interception, 2 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery, 1 sack, 23 tackles for New York Jets
Lawson is on his fourth team in three offseasons since leaving the Bills. Initially he signed with the Miami Dolphins in 2020 before being traded the following offseason to the Houston Texans. He never played a down for them and was traded later the same offseason to the New York Jets. He was released on January 8 but no one (including the Bills) signed him to their practice squad for a playoff run. At this point, with that contract, it wouldn’t surprise us if he’s the last DE on the roster or if he’s a roster cut following training camp. If he’s your backstop at defensive end, you have a pretty solid DE group.
Contract status: Signed reserve/futures deal on 1/24/2022
Age: Turned 29 on 1/22/2022
2021 Playing time: N/A
Key 2021 statistics: N/A
Buffalo’s perpetual practice-squad player, Love did not appear in a regular-season game last year.
Contract status: Signed a three-year UDFA contract with the Bills this offseason
2021 Playing time: 8 games for Syracuse University
Key 2021 statistics: 10 tackles, 4.5 sacks for the Orange
A great student-athlete, Jonathan wasn’t able to break into the starting lineup during his super-senior year. While he doesn’t have a shot at making the final roster, the Bills are always looking for practice squad players at DE. Could he beat out Mike Love here?
The Bills upgraded their defensive end position with Miller, no question. The bigger question is how the young players can improve on their early careers. Can Epenesa take a next step to having a role—any role—on the team moving forward? Can Rousseau develop into a consistent, legitimate starter after an up-and-down rookie season? Can Basham carve out a role for himself?
Those top four are expected to be locked in to start the season, so after that, how comfortable are they in the young guys? That will impact Lawson’s role. If they love how the young guys are progressing, maybe they don’t need to keep five defensive ends. So the biggest roster battle is Basham/Epenesa vs Lawson, even if it’s not for a roster spot for the first two.
We won’t have a sense for how much the Bills are going to use Miller in the regular season until the end of September. He plays his former team in Week 1 in what is sure to be an emotional homecoming, even though he only spent half of a season there.