clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Replacing Buffalo Bills fullback Patrick DiMarco with a free agent will be difficult

The fullback is a dying position in the 21st-century NFL, so the pickings are slim

The fullback is a dying position in the modern NFL. The Buffalo Bills are one of only three teams that committed $2 million dollars or more of their 2018 salary cap to the position. Ten of the league’s teams did not even have a fullback on the roster this season.

Patrick DiMarco, Buffalo’s fullback for the last two seasons, is slated to remain the second-highest paid fullback in the NFL by salary-cap hit, trailing only Kyle Juszczyk of the San Francisco 49ers. Juszczyk is also the only fullback to start more than eight games this year and receive a carry in a game.

DiMarco was voted captain by his teammates this year, which shows that he has the respect of those in the locker room. If the Bills were to cut him, they would still be on the hook for $1 million. If the Bills were to cut him and replace him with another fullback, they would be hard-pressed to find one as versatile as DiMarco in the free-agent market at a reasonable cost. However, there are a few options that could work.


Ryan Hewitt

The veteran 28-year-old spent 2018 with the Indianapolis Colts, appearing on 182 offensive snaps, or 16% of the team’s total on the season. That total snap count is significant because it’s the highest total of all the free-agent fullbacks this season. Hewitt is less a traditional fullback and more an H-back/tight end, meaning that he could be a better fit than DiMarco in terms of the scheme. Buffalo’s offensive coordinator Brian Daboll likes to use motion and varied personnel groupings to create mismatches, and Hewitt is a player who could help to keep an opposing team in its base defense when the Bills want to attack the field vertically. Hewitt played on a one-year deal at the veteran’s minimum last season, and with the Colts having a couple of stellar tight ends in Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron, Hewitt is likely to be elsewhere in 2019.

Dan Vitale

The former sixth-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is only 24, and while he has done little in the NFL (29 games, 8 catches, 48 yards), he did show proficiency as a receiver while at Northwestern. Vitale caught 135 passes for 1,427 yards and 11 touchdowns while in school. At 6’ and 239 pounds, he’s large enough for the position, although not tremendous like Hewitt, who stands 6’2” and 255 pounds. Vitale ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine, performed 30 reps of the 225-pound bench press, and showed off a 38.5” vertical leap. He’s plenty athletic, and the Bills could replace the 31-year-old DiMarco with a younger player who could be ready to do bigger things if given a larger role.

Jamize Olawale

The veteran spent 2018 with the Dallas Cowboys, appearing on only 114 snaps, or 10.59% of the Cowboys’ offensive total. He caught two passes for 13 yards. While his meager stat line in 2018 seems to indicate a player unworthy of his salary, a la DiMarco (Olawale clocked in at $1.6 million against the cap last year), Olawale has shown flashes of effectiveness as both a runner and receiver in the past. In 2014, he ran 24 times for 110 yards and a touchdown as a member of the Oakland Raiders. The following season, also while with Oakland, he caught 12 passes for 227 yards and one touchdown. He is the same age as DiMarco, so it would seem to be unnecessary to swap one for the other. However, if Brandon Beane and company think that he’d be a better fit schematically, it’s something that could happen.


Ultimately, I think that replacing DiMarco with a free agent is fruitless—the league is moving towards eliminating the fullback position as we know it. If the team were to cut a player with tremendous leadership capabilities and some special teams prowess (DiMarco appeared on 233 special teams snaps, fourth-most on Buffalo’s roster), they would need to find a player in the mold of a Juszczyk or a Hewitt—an H-back/move piece who can help to create mismatches all over the field. My vote would be for Vitale if they move on, but I’m content to stand pat here in 2019 given the other areas of need along the roster.

Poll

Which free agent should the Bills sign if they release Patrick DiMarco?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Ryan Hewitt
    (28 votes)
  • 5%
    Dan Vitale
    (32 votes)
  • 1%
    Jamize Olawale
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    Other (specify in comments)
    (8 votes)
  • 85%
    None; keep DiMarco or don’t, just don’t add a new fullback
    (459 votes)
534 votes total Vote Now