Team needs are not a fixed concept. They’re fluid and change as players develop or regress. They adjust when contracts get extended or players get unexpectedly released or traded.
For the Buffalo Bills, team needs lists will begin to pop up immediately following the 2023 NFL season. It’ll be interesting to see at that point how much the list looks like one you would predict before the 2023 season begins and, for that reason, we should attempt to establish that list now. In doing so, we can help identify growth and trends during the season that we otherwise may have missed. Let’s dive into it now and bookmark it for later.
The Bills currently have zero defensive tackles under contract for 2024. Ed Oliver is playing on his fifth-year option; DaQuan Jones is in the final year of his two-year contract signed as a free agent; Tim Settle restructured his deal and will be a free agent after the season; and Jordan Phillips and Poona Ford signed one-year contracts as unrestricted free agents. It’s not simply talent concern for 2024 — it’s a numbers issue, and a more significant numbers issue you will not find.
Things that could change this need before the end of the league year: an extension for DaQuan Jones may happen anytime after this article. Ed Oliver could ball out in his fifth year and get an extension before hitting free agency in 2024. Poona Ford could play exceptionally well and get extended before hitting the market next year. Apart from those scenarios, there isn’t much likely that will alter the need for the Bills and even if all three of them happened, you’d still need bodies at the position. Almost regardless of what happens from now until the beginning of the 2024 league year, defensive tackle is likely to appear high on the list of Bills needs at that time.
The Bills ran it back with Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde once again in 2023, signing Poyer to a two-year, $12.5 million contract after he tested the market. Hyde is entering the final year of his contract. Both are 32 years old. The Bills signed Taylor Rapp away from the Los Angeles Rams as an unrestricted free agent and his versatility seems to lend itself well towards a possibility of future replacement for either Hyde or Poyer, but him being on a one-year contract means you can’t count on that in the future. Damar Hamlin’s health shouldn’t be assumed and making assumptions about his ability to be a long-term starter for this team after Hyde’s departure may be presumptuous.
Things that could change this need before the end of the league year: Micah Hyde could sign an extension to line his contract up with Poyer’s and give the Bills the ability to continue to kick the safety can down the road. But coming off a neck injury, the Bills may want to see how Hyde reacts to live football again before making a contract extension decision. Taylor Rapp is in an odd spot because we don’t know how much playing time he’ll get this year and if it would be enough to warrant an extension before the end of the league year that would make us feel differently about the need in 2024. It feels like this need, much like defensive tackle, will most assuredly show up high on the needs lists when the 2023 season is over.
It feels like this will be a need on every list every year until the backup to Josh Allen is a drafted player, as the Bills continue to sign backup quarterbacks to one-year free-agent deals. But the drafted players won’t have the experience that would bestow confidence in their ability to get the team out of a game or a stretch of a regular season if Josh Allen misses time. And so round and round we go.
Things that could change this need before the end of the league year: I can’t think of anything apart from Kyle Allen loving the Bills and the Bills loving Kyle Allen so much that they sign him to an extension before free agency starts in 2024.
When you sign a pass rusher in his 30s to a six-year contract, you don’t get the luxury of waiting until year five to start worrying about succession planning. Von Miller showed early last year that he was still capable of playing at a high level, but even if he hadn’t suffered an ACL tear during the season, the Bills would still be left at the position with only an effective player who’s older and a younger promising starter in Gregory Rousseau who they’re hoping takes the next step towards being an elite player.
Things that could change this need before the end of the league year: Boogie Basham and/or A.J. Epenesa could break out. It doesn’t appear highly probable that either of them would rise to the level that you would consider an alleviation of this need, but we must acknowledge it as a possibility that can alter the way we feel about this position moving forward. New England Patriots pass rusher Josh Uche broke out in a big way in 2022 (his third year), recording 11.5 sacks and forming an impressive pass-rushing duo with Matthew Judon. If Basham broke out, no contractual maneuvering is necessary as he’d still have a year left on his deal. If Epenesa did, he’d need to be signed to an extension as he’s entering the final year of the four-year contract he signed as a rookie. Even if Rousseau continued his growth and became and elite pass rusher, the need would still exist for the Bills given Miller’s age and the need for more than two competent edge rushers. So the task of changing this need for 2024 falls to Epenesa and Basham.
...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!