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(WKBW) - The Buffalo Bills have gone through the majority of the 2017 season without losing significant players to injury, but on Tuesday, the Bills lost a pair of starters with only four weeks to go in the campaign.
The team announced that they’ve placed both defensive end Shaq Lawson and wide receiver Jordan Matthews on injured reserve, effectively ending both of their seasons.
Lawson, the team’s first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, appeared in 11 games this season, starting 10 of those games. He suffered an ankle injury in the team’s loss to the New England Patriots and was thought to be “week-to-week” by the Bills as of Monday. His season ends with four total sacks and 33 tackles.
Matthews was acquired by the Bills during training camp when the Bills sent cornerback Ronald Darby to Philadelphia for the wide receiver and a third-round pick in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft. Only managing to have more than three catches in one game once this season, Matthews’ first Bills season ends with only 25 receptions for 282 yards and one touchdown. He is a free agent at the end of the season.
With the two spots on the roster, the Bills promoted two members of their practice squad to the active roster, including preseason fan favorite and wide receiver Brandon Reilly, and defensive end Cap Capi. The Bills also announced the signing of safety Dean Marlowe and punter Cory Carter to the practice squad.
Joe B’s Take
Over the last five weeks, we’ve seen quite a few developments with this Bills team during a string of games in which they lost four of five. And two of those developments directly involved both players that were put on season-ending IR on Tuesday.
I wrote on Sunday after the game that Matthews has been a bust of an acquisition this season — which isn’t totally his fault. The Bills couldn’t consistently get him the ball — or even target him, in the 10 games he was available to the team. Heck, over the last three games, Matthews has had a total of four receptions and 43 yards on just eight targets — which would be a mediocre stat line if it was merely one game.
Matthews just couldn’t seem to separate from defenders well enough in his time in Buffalo, and that was compounded with Tyrod Taylor’s aversion to tight window throws, which led to a minimal impact on the field outside of a few big chunk plays in the early stages of the season.
As a free agent, my expectation is that the Bills choose to move on from Matthews — and Matthews from the Bills all the same. It just never seemed to be a fit, and with more changes likely on the way, it seems most likely that the Bills choose to draft and develop than to re-sign Matthews for probably more than they’d be comfortable with.
With both Zay Jones and Kelvin Benjamin under contract in 2018 — especially with the emergence of Jones over the last month-and-a-half of the season, it builds an even stronger case towards Matthews’ tenure with the Bills reaching its conclusion.
As for Shaq Lawson, this is a rather interesting situation given his draft status in 2016, and still with two years left on his contract — with the potential for a third if his fifth-year option is exercised. Lawson’s best days in 2017 were during training camp, the preseason, and in the first few games of the regular season. Really since the first month, his play has dipped as they’ve gone along.
Though he’s been a solid run defender in his time on the field, he hasn’t contributed much in the pass rushing department — really struggling to use an array of moves to get to the quarterback. Considering how much Sean McDermott’s defense relies on pressuring the quarterback from the defensive line, Lawson didn’t live up to his full responsibilities.
With all those years under contract still remaining, still being a fairly young player, being benched to start the Kansas City game by McDermott for an unknown reason, and with GM Brandon Beane’s penchant for taking advantage of any type of value in the trade market, you certainly cannot rule out the idea that the Bills could look to move Lawson sometime ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft.
An important part of the discussion will be how Eddie Yarbrough performs over this final four-game stretch as the full-time starting defensive end. If he shows well enough both in providing pressure off the edge and in run defense, he can potentially make Lawson expendable in the offseason. In recent weeks, Yarbrough has been outperforming Lawson, and in my All-22 reviews, has a higher season-long grade than the former first-round pick.
As for the recent call-ups from the practice squad, the two players should have different expectations to their role. They’ll likely have him active just in case, but there’s a chance they don’t utilize Capi on defense during the game unless an injury occurs. When the Bills were without Shaq Lawson in Week Four against Atlanta, they called Eric Lee up to the active roster and didn’t give him a single snap.
With Reilly, I would expect him to have an immediate role on special teams, and then maybe to get a handful of offensive snaps. Anything more than that would be a bit of a shock given his spot on the depth chart, and with the optimism, the Bills have in the return of Kelvin Benjamin to the lineup. Reilly’s rise to the active roster is a nice story, but he’ll likely need an injury or two to get some serious time on the field through the final four games.