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How did Bills’ 2021 free-agent signings perform?

Eh, it was a so-so free-agent crop

This year the Buffalo Bills made a major splash in free agency with the addition of future Pro Football Hall of Fame edge rusher Von Miller. In 2021, Buffalo’s free-agent additions lacked that star power but were supposed to help fill some of the gaps on a roster expected to contend for the AFC Championship.

After re-signing linebacker Matt Milano, guard Jon Feliciano, and offensive lineman Daryl Williams, general manager Brandon Beane brought in the following free agents last spring:

  • QB Mitchell Trubisky
  • WR Emmanuel Sanders
  • RB Matt Breida
  • DE Efe Obada
  • P Matt Haack
  • OT Bobby Hart
  • LB Tyrell Adams
  • LB Marquel Lee
  • G Jamil Douglas
  • WR/returner Brandon Powell

With the power of hindsight, let’s take a moment to reflect on the contributions made by Buffalo’s free agents in 2021.

Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky saw the field in limited duty as Josh Allen’s backup. Trubisky, who was signed to be an insurance policy for Allen, played in six games (zero starts), completing 75% of his passes (6 of 8) for 43 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Trubisky also rushed 13 times for 24 yards with a four-yard rushing touchdown in a 40-0 shutout of the Houston Texans. This offseason, Trubisky agreed on a contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers and will compete for their starting job.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was brought in to take the starting WR2 job previously held by John Brown, who was a cap casualty after serving as a starter for the past two seasons. Sanders came to Buffalo on a one-year deal, with the goal of teaming with Stefon Diggs to provide Allen with another veteran wideout. At first, the move seemed to pay off, with Sanders recording a pair of two-touchdown efforts through the first five weeks of the season. Sanders caught 24 passes for 413 yards with four touchdowns over Buffalo’s first six games (an average of 69 yards per game), but his productivity dipped. He suffered a knee injury in Week 14 vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Gabriel Davis took over as the WR2. Sanders finished his lone season in Buffalo with 42 receptions for 626 yards and four touchdowns in 14 regular-season games, and three catches for 52 yards and a TD in two playoff games. Sanders hasn’t signed with a team yet this offseason.

Running back Matt Breida was signed to give the Bills more speed out of the backfield, and to contribute as a pass-catching option out of the backfield. In his only season with the Bills, Breida amassed just 197 all-purpose yards in nine games. Breida rushed 26 times for 125 yards (4.8 yards per carry) with a TD and caught seven passes for 72 yards and two TDs, and flashed his abilities when he was on the field. But he was a healthy scratch ten times, including both playoff games. His best game came during a 45-17 trouncing of the New York Jets in Week 10, when Breida scored a rushing and receiving TD en route to 50 all-purpose yards. The Bills didn’t bring back Breida this offseason and he inked a one-year deal with the New York Giants.

Defensive end Efe Obada was another free-agent signing who played well in limited snaps. Tapping into the Carolina Panthers pipeline once again, Obada signed a one-year deal with the Bills, and proceeded to rank fourth on the team in both sacks (3.5) and QB hits (8) despite being on the field for only 35% of the defensive snaps. Obada was a more than capable rotational piece of the team’s defense, and his best outing came against his old team. During a 31-14 win over Carolina in Week 15, Obada registered two sacks and three tackles on only 18 snaps—displaying much of the natural talent and raw athletic ability. He was a terrific value signing for Buffalo, but he and the team parted ways this offseason, with Obada signing to play for the Washington Commanders and his old head coach in Carolina, Ron Rivera.

Punter Matt Haack signed a three-year deal to replace Corey Bojorquez, and the first year didn’t go as expected. Haack struggled from the start and finished with a career-worst 42.9 yards per punt on 52 punts. Signed partially because of a penchant for coffin-corner kicks that pinned the opposition deep in their own territory, Haack instead struggled to keep his punts out of the end zone, finishing with a touchback rate of 13.5% and seven touchbacks. Thankfully, Haack was praised for his ability as a holder for Tyler Bass, but that might not be enough to keep his job as the Bills both re-worked his deal this offseason and drafted Matt Araiza to compete for the starting punter’s job.

Offensive tackle Bobby Hart was an on-again, off-again member of the Bills’ 53-man roster in 2021. Signed in March, he was released before the season started and found his way to the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad before re-joining Buffalo. Eventually, Hart saw action in three games for the Tennessee Titans before the Bills brought him back in November. With the Bills, Hart played in one game (one snap on offense and five on special teams). The Bills re-signed Hart this offseason to a one-year deal.

Linebacker Tyrell Adams signed a one-year deal with the Bills after enjoying a career-year with the Houston Texans, but Adams was released in late August and didn’t play a snap for Buffalo. He did suit up for both the Jacksonville Jaguars (two games) and San Francisco 49ers (five games), making four tackles and forcing a fumble. The Jaguars saw enough to bring Adams back for the 2022 season.

Linebacker Marquel Lee spent 2021 training camp with the Bills before he was released on cut-down day, when he eventually signed with the Las Vegas Raiders, the team that drafted him in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He played in 11 games for the Raiders, finishing with 11 tackles. The Bills signed Lee to another one-year deal this offseason to compete for a backup linebacker position.

Guard Jamil Douglas was signed to a one-year deal during the 2021 offseason, and was placed on Buffalo’s practice squad following the conclusion of training camp. Douglas played in one game (two snaps) with Buffalo (a Week 12 game vs. the New Orleans Saints after he was called up from the practice squad). When guard Jon Feliciano was activated from the injured reserve leading up to the team’s Week 15 clash with the Panthers, Douglas was released, and the Washington Football Team claimed him. He played in three games for Washington before signing with the Giants this offseason.

Wide receiver Brandon Powell was signed to a veteran minimum one-year deal but was cut during the preseason. He latched on with the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, returning six punts for 133 yards (22.2 yards per return) with one touchdown, and had eight kickoff returns for 208 yards (average of 26 yards per return) in six regular-season games. He also returned nine punts for 104 yards and had five kickoff returns for 88 yards in four playoff games. The Rams brought Powell back on a one-year deal this offseason.