Jerry Hughes accounted for the highest salary-cap number on the Buffalo Bills roster in 2018. In 2019, he will drop to second on that list, as he is set to count for $10.4 million, or 5.25% of the team’s overall salary-cap allocation.
While the Bills can save $7.5 million by cutting the veteran defensive end, doing so would only open up a hole along the defensive line. It would also remove the team’s best pass rusher from the roster, and it would mean that the Bills would be forced to spend big in order to find a replacement.
Buffalo has north of $80 million to spend next season, so they don’t need to cut veterans solely for cap-saving purposes. Hughes has not notched as many sacks as you’d like to see from a player who is paid like he is, but he has been a disruptive force for the Bills even when he isn’t taking the quarterback down behind the line of scrimmage. Adding a defensive lineman via free agency would be nice in addition to Hughes, not in place of him.
If Buffalo does decide to go the free-agent route, it’s a strong free-agent class to do so. The only problem, of course, is money. If Buffalo wants to land a big-name pass rusher, they will have to shell out big-time dollars at the expense, literally and figuratively, of other positions with more pressing needs.
Here are some of the top free-agent defensive ends available. A comprehensive list can be found here.
The golden goose of this year’s free agent class is the young, dominant pass rusher. Coming off his second straight season of at least ten sacks, Lawrence turns 27 in April, and he should command a contract of at least $100 million. Over the last two seasons, he has 25 sacks, 29 tackles for loss, and 49 quarterback hits. If Buffalo added him to the defensive line with Hughes, the unit would be downright scary. If they added him in Hughes’s place, it would still be a fantastic investment—again, great pass rushers are hard to find, and they can completely derail opposing game plans—but it would lessen his effectiveness lining up across from Trent Murphy. Lawrence is scary-good, so if you’re going to add a defensive lineman, why not add the best one available?
The veteran former first-round pick of the Detroit Lions is coming off an injury-plagued down year—one where he was only able to play in seven games total. However, he still managed four sacks, three tackles for loss, and seven quarterback hits in those seven games. For comparison’s sake, Hughes suited up in all of Buffalo’s games this year, and he totaled seven sacks, 13 tackles for loss, and 18 quarterback hits. Ansah’s injury was to his shoulder and, as we saw with Shaq Lawson during his rookie year, those kinds of injuries can really hamper a defensive end if not allowed to heal. Ansah turns 30 in May, so he still has some good years left; therefore, he too should command a hefty salary.
There may be some East Coast Bias here, but Clark is far more under-the-radar than the previous names on the list. Playing for a stellar Seattle Seahawks defense, Clark has amassed 35 sacks, 35 tackles for loss, and 72 quarterback hits over his four-year career. Last year, he totaled 13 sacks, 27 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles, and one interception. All of those totals led every 2019 free-agent defensive lineman during the 2018 season. At 6’3” and 265 pounds, Clark is built similarly to Hughes, who is 6’2” and 256 pounds. Spotrac also calculated his contract value by using Hughes’s deal as a comp, projecting his worth on the open market at approximately $12 million yearly. That’s far more palatable than the $19.7 million they project Lawrence to command. Clark is only 25; he’ll be 26 in June. Pairing him with Hughes could make for a lethal one-two pass rushing punch in Orchard Park.
The Bills could kill two birds with one stone with this signing, simultaneously strengthening their team and weakening a divisional opponent, the New England Patriots, in the process. Flowers is an excellent all-around player who had seven-and-a-half sacks, nine tackles for loss, and 20 quarterback hits last season. In his career, he has 21 sacks, 25 tackles for loss, and 59 quarterback hits. Spotrac projects that Flowers will make nearly $16 million annually, but it could be worth it for the Bills to add a young (25), tough player to the defensive line rotation.
Insert obligatory mention of connections to Carolina Panthers via head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane here. The 39-year old future Hall of Fame player still has some value as a situational pass rusher, as evidenced by his five sacks, six tackles for loss, and 11 quarterback hits while playing on merely 50% of Carolina’s snaps this season. However, it is unlikely that he will continue his career anywhere other than where he is—Carolina. He was with the Chicago Bears when McDermott was in Carolina, so their paths did not cross. It’s an unlikely signing, but it might be worth pursuing for a year.
Which defensive end should the Bills sign in free agency?
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Other (specify in comments)
None; keep Hughes or cut him, but don’t spend free agent dollars here