The Buffalo Bills have had two players atop their linebacker depth chart for the last five seasons. It’s been pretty easy to write about the group over that time period, since we knew exactly who would play when healthy.
However, now that one of the two top linebackers has left, the Bills have some questions to answer. A battle is raging for snaps and playing time at middle linebacker, but at weak side linebacker, the same, steady player remains with the squad. There’s definitely comfort in knowing that one of Buffalo’s best defensive players will remain with the club for the foreseeable future, especially a year after his main playing partner left the club.
In today’s installment of “90 players in 90 days,” we discuss one of Buffalo’s finest — a former fifth-round draft pick who has far exceeded the modest expectations he had coming out of college.
Name: Matt Milano
Height/Weight: 6’, 223 pounds
Age: 29 (30 on 7/28/2024)
Experience/Draft: 7; selected by Buffalo in the fifth round (No. 163 overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft
College: Boston College
Acquired: Fifth-round draft choice
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Milano signed a two-year contract extension in March. That deal is worth a total of $28.33 million overall. The previous extension he’d signed, a four-year pact, was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2024 season. What this most recent extension did was add two years to Milano’s time in Orchard Park, NY while also adding salary cap space for Buffalo in the present. Milano’s cap number for 2023 is $7.087 million, which is the tenth-highest number on the roster. If Buffalo were to release or trade him, they would be on the hook for a dead-cap number of $35.822 million.
2022 Recap: As good as Milano has been, coming into the 2022 NFL season, there was a bit of a feeling that he was under-appreciated league-wide. Well, that thought disappeared after a stellar campaign that saw him earn his first All-Pro nod as well as his first Pro Bowl appearance. Milano was excellent both in run support and pass coverage, totaling 99 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 11 pass breakups, three interceptions, 1.5 sacks, and two fumble recoveries in 15 games. In Buffalo’s two playoff games, Milano was a beast. He had 20 tackles, three sacks, one pass breakup, four tackles for loss, and four quarterback hits. If there was one negative about Milano’s season, it was that he missed more tackles — 13 — than anyone on the team. Considering all the other ways that Milano filled the stat sheet, it’s a small blemish on what was an otherwise exceptional season.
Positional outlook: Milano is the sure-thing at linebacker. With Tremaine Edmunds having departed via free agency, the middle linebacker spot is up for grabs. Tyrel Dodson, Terrel Bernard, and Baylon Spector have been the main combatants. Rookie Dorian Williams is Milano’s primary backup, with A.J. Klein, Travis Howard, and Tyler Matakevich the other off-ball linebackers in camp.
2023 Offseason: Milano is healthy and participating in most offseason work. He did miss the “Return of the Blue and Red” scrimmage due to what the team termed “general soreness.”
2023 Season outlook: Milano is the anchor in the middle of the team’s defense. He is one of the league’s best linebackers, and he even landed on the NFL Top 100 list this offseason, coming in at No. 69. It’s nice that his peers recognize his ability, and it’s great that such a quiet player is able to shine as Milano has. He’s not someone who seeks the limelight, but he’s definitely someone who makes big-time plays for a great Bills defense. So long as he can stay healthy, Milano is set to wreak havoc on opposing offenses once again.
If he can play similarly to the way he played last season, then the defense may even take a step forward this year given the return to health of other players like Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde, Von Miller, and Jordan Poyer. While replacing Edmunds has been a focus this offseason, and with good reason, it’s comforting to know that the Bills have a player like Milano to keep the linebacker group in a good place.