When the Buffalo Bills lost defensive tackle DaQuan Jones to a pectoral injury in London during their Week 5 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the unit’s efficiency and dominance took a major hit. Jones was playing at an All-Pro level, leading the league in most categories as a defensive tackle.
Having joined the Bills during free agency in 2022, Jones has been a revelation on defense, deftly operating as a 1-tech with 3-tech tenacity/traits in head coach McDermott’s defensive system this season. Replacing him won’t be easy, and may be nearly impossible, simply due to his scheme versatility.
Jones has since undergone surgery to repair the torn muscle, and remains on the team’s in-season Injured Reserve (IR) list. Though head coach Sean McDermott hasn’t ruled out a return by Jones later this season, there’s no guarantee — and no certainty he’d re-gain his prior form in time to re-commence wrecking opposing offenses.
Yes, the Bills still have defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who remains a key part of their plans as a penetrating 3-tech. The team also has scheme-versatile DTs (primarily 3-tech, but with ability to play as 1-tech space eaters) Jordan Phillips, Tim Settle Jr., and Poona Ford. But none among the latter three are nearly as capable of playing the role that Jones occupies with Buffalo.
As such, in this space we’ll entertain the idea of adding help from outside the organization. While you could plug almost any name as a trade idea, there are a couple players who I believe make sense. Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips immediately jumps off the page, having begun his NFL career with the Bills. With Kirk Cousins now lost for the season due to an Achilles injury last weekend, it’s possible the Vikings find more reason to open their roster up to trade suitors. Phillips is a 1-tech DT who was a beloved, high-quality teammate who meshed well with Buffalo’s defense. He knows the system fairly well, even if McDermott’s defense is different from former defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier.
If not Phillips, the idea of adding Washington Commanders defensive tackle Daron Payne would certainly move the needle. While likely a pipe dream, given Payne’s talent and what it would cost to bring him in, it’s still a worthy mention. The Commanders chose today to move on from Montez Sweat and Chase Young, in what appears to be a cap flush and move towards rebuilding for 2024. McDermott and Commanders head coach Ron Rivera go way back, and if Rivera is willing to move on from Young for a mid-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers, there’s no telling what he’d consider for Payne. In a way similar to Jones, Payne is a scheme-versatile 3-tech who can also dominate as a 1-tech defensive tackle. But, for sure, a likely pipe dream fit for Mario. Payne’s current 4-year $90 million contract alone makes his journey to a Bills uniform a mountain to climb.
It’s possible Buffalo’s front office has their sights set on someone else, entirely avoiding a trade of any kind. Ndamukong Suh is currently a free agent, someone with plenty of NFL experience as a 36-year-old NFL veteran. Suh would also bring scheme versatility, but his greatest abilities early in his career were as a penetrating 3-tech. It’s possible at this stage of his career that Suh would fit well in a primary 1-tech role with pass-rush upside.