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The Buffalo Bills made a concerted effort this offseason to improve the offensive side of the ball. As crazy as it sounds to say — there’s been a glaring need to give more attention to the offense for a few seasons now. During the spring, general manager targeted improvements to surround quarterback Josh Allen, wide receiver Stefon Diggs, tight end Dawson Knox, left tackle Dion Dawkins, and center Mitch Morse. But that meant the defensive side of the ball was likely to play second fiddle.
Unfortunately, where time, effort, and money has been spent previously on defense — the returns haven’t met the loftiest of expectations. Beane swung for the fences last offseason to bring in edge rusher Von Miller to improve an under-performing group of drafted players. Miller delivered, but injury ended his season on Thanksgiving, and the rest of the group wasn’t able to motor up to his lofty mountain of production. Bruce Nolan outlined the early needs within the team, and his thoughts are well worth your time.
Beyond Miller — at defensive end/edge rusher, there remains hope that drafted players Greg Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa and Boogie Basham put it all together this season. But it’s tough to continually operate on hope alone. One-year contracts for defensive ends Shaq Lawson (who has been his best self as a Bill), C.J. Brewer, and Shane Ray seem to be the preferred route for Beane and the Bills to continually evaluate individual talent from outside their draft process. Lawson was of course drafted by the Bills, but under a different regime. His return is a sound move. Ray is a lottery ticket as a former first-round draft pick with an injury history and brief stint playing in the Canadian Football League. Brewer is likely competing for a spot at the back end of the group as is Kingsley Jonathan who the team re-signed to a reserve/futures deal this offseason. They added zero players to the rotation this spring, and time is ticking on several players in the DE room, whether that be due to age or opportunity. For a team that likes to rotate their defensive line as much as the Bills, it’s concerning things look identical to last season at this point.
At defensive tackle, there’s an urgent need to find solutions beyond this season. No player in the DT room is currently signed beyond 2023. That means former first-round draft pick Ed Oliver, and veterans DaQuan Jones, Jordan Phillips, Tim Settle, Brandin Bryant, Kendall Vickers, plus free-agent addition Poona Ford all could be in a different uniform next season. Yes, the team re-signed several here to one-year contracts and could continue the trend next offseason. Perhaps the plan is to sign Poona Ford to an extension if all goes well. Additionally, undrafted free agent (UFDA) DJ Dale was signed by the Bills after the 2023 NFL Draft, and the Bills claimed three-year veteran Kameron Cline off waivers this spring. But as of now, Buffalo hasn’t committed to a single current interior defensive line player in 2024. Even if they manage to retain several of the players listed here, expect Buffalo to add talent in myriad ways next offseason.
Anyone who follows the NFL knows the Bills lost linebacker Tremaine Edmunds to the Chicago Bears as soon as free agency started this spring. It was expected, given the price he was set to command. But there may be more to the story than just general manager Brandon Beane’s reticence in paying Edmunds to stay in Orchard Park, NY. It’s possible the team is exploring a bit of a paradigm shift at the position — where instead of fielding just two ‘backers, we could see three on the field at times. Apart from Edmunds, the Bills’ have prioritized adding smaller, lighter, and faster athletic linebackers. While Edmunds was perhaps a bit of a unicorn at the position in terms of size and ability, Beane intimated a desire to fill his role with a different type of skill set to better counter slot players. Unlike the two groups listed above, linebacker is set to look much different this season — and should see a fair share of carry over into 2024. At strongside linebacker, Matt Milano is as locked in as it gets in the NFL. Beyond Milano, the team has further invested significant resources in drafted players such as Terrel Bernard, Tyrel Dodson, Baylon Spector, and most recently with 2023 third-round pick Dorian Williams. Travin Howard was recently brought in to see if he can re-gain his prior form, and the Bills brought back A.J. Klein who has the advantage of experience in the system on his side. Tyler Matakevich is almost exclusively on the team for his special teams ability. Lots of players. One lock. Plenty of questions. Opportunity awaits.
The future of Buffalo’s safety group was a major concern at the conclusion of the 2022 NFL season. But Beane managed to push the need further down the road in the name of stability this season. While aiming to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl, it makes sense to keep the dynamic tandem of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde together. Thankfully Poyer came back in free agency and Hyde was cleared to play football again following a scary neck injury early last season. Behind them we know well the story of Damar Hamlin, and the entire world is pulling for him to make a triumphant return to the field this season. The team signed free-agent safety Taylor Rapp, and there’s a feeling he could be in line for an extension beyond 2023. Deeper within the safety room are Zayne Anderson, Jared Mayden, and Dean Marlowe (who was recently re-signed to a one-year contract). Buffalo could stand to add to this group before the eventual losses of Poyer and Hyde.
So tell us Bills Mafia, which defensive group are you most concerned about past the 2023 NFL season?