At long last, the preseason and preparation for the regular season is now officially over. Now, for the Buffalo Bills and the rest of the National Football League, the job is to pare down the roster from 75 players to the regular season maximum of 53.
The Bills announced all the cuts on Friday shortly ahead of their last practice of the week. Among the biggest surprises, the team parted ways with veteran fullback Jerome Felton.
The release of Felton means that Western New York native Glenn Gronkowski, following a strong end to both training camp and the preseason, has made the 53-man team for the time being. Gronkowski was an undrafted free agent out of Kansas State this spring.
All 21 players that were released by the Bills, along with analysis on each of the players released:
OLB Manny Lawson
- For a long time, the Buffalo Bills boasted about having Manny Lawson on their team and it seemed like he'd be a lock for the roster in 2016. That wasn't the case, as the Bills cut Lawson in what was their most surprising move of the day. The outside linebacker returned to practice during training camp after missing much of it with a pectoral injury, and then that time was then mired by an investigation by the National Football League that could possibly result in a suspension. On the field, though, Lawson was expected to start in place of Shaq Lawson until the rookie was able to come back, but something changed between last season and Friday, September 2, 2016. The money certainly plays a role in the discussion, with Lawson being in the final year of his four-year contract, and the Bills would only have to eat a total of $1 million in dead cap space. The Bills would be saving a potential $2.4 million by making the move, but it's also quite interesting that Rex Ryan wouldn't get into the Lawson decision no matter what. Instead, he deferred to Lorenzo Alexander winning the job. Either way, Lawson is gone in the biggest surprise cut of the day.
FB Jerome Felton
- Not as surprising as the Lawson move, but the Bills releasing Jerome Felton was a bit of a shock to many. Felton was the obvious top fullback that was penciled into the starting role, and only in the second year of a four-year deal with the Bills. They believed that he was one of the best fullbacks in the league, but after a disappointing 2015 season, the Bills must have had a change of heart. The Bills will save some money in 2016 by cutting him, but they'll still have to take a dead cap hit of $1.95 million in total at some point over the next two years. This move is solely about Western New York Glenn Gronkowski, and the fact that he flat out earned the job from Felton with a really strong final two weeks of training camp and preseason games. Gronkowski is now the team's fullback, which is a limited role, but he made Felton expendable.
CB Sterling Moore
- The last of the surprising cuts made on Friday afternoon was cornerback Sterling Moore, who looked like he was going to be the sixth of six cornerbacks kept on the 53-man roster. Instead, the Bills likely looked at safety Robert Blanton as a bit of a hybrid safety/cornerback, and with how strongly all the safeties on the roster played, decided to flip the numbers and keep all six safeties (Aaron Williams, Corey Graham, Duke Williams, Jonathan Meeks, Robert Blanton, Colt Anderson). Moore is a surprise, but they felt stronger about all three bubble safeties (Meeks, Blanton, Anderson) than Moore. No arguments there.
WR Dez Lewis
- One of the standouts from the offseason workouts, for the second straight year Dez Lewis fell off once the pads went on at training camp. He began to struggle with the physicality of the game, and in turn, started to struggle with his hands and catching the football -- the essential part of being a wide receiver. It's hard to ignore his height and potential, but the writing seemed to be on the wall with how well Walt Powell played over the summer. Lewis is an obvious practice squad candidate.
WR Jarrett Boykin
- The only way Jarrett Boykin was going to crack the 53-man roster is if they had special teams roles to give out, but with all six safeties making it for special teams reasons, there was no further reason to keep Boykin on board. While he flashed some ability on offense, he was far too inconsistent and often buried on the depth chart. Dez Lewis had a better shot at the roster than he did.
G/C Fernando Velasco
- Coming into training camp. Fernando Velasco had a clear opportunity to secure a role as the team's backup center and to be frank, he squandered it. You could tell the Bills weren't happy with him when they started to use Ryan Groy at center, and when Groy was getting the first-team reps at practice while Richie Incognito was injured. Velasco's future became clear when the Bills chose to claim reserve interior lineman Patrick Lewis from waivers: he wouldn't be a member of the Bills for much longer.
OLB Kroy Biermann
- The Bills had relatively high expectations for the Kroy Biermann, a veteran defender with expertise in the 3-4 defensive scheme. They were also hoping that he could help out on special teams. But when Biermann was lined up as both a defender and as a coverage player on special teams, he struggled mightily. It forced the Bills to trade for Lerentee McCray, and that essentially wrapped up any further chances Biermann had of making the roster. On defense, Bryson Albright outplayed him -- and it wasn't even close. In that situation, you go with the raw potential of a rookie every time.
DL Lavar Edwards
- Heading into the final preseason game, Lavar Edwards had a clear opportunity to make the 53-man roster in front of him. As long as he did everything correctly and made a few flash plays, he could steal a spot and be the sixth defensive lineman on the roster. Except, all did not go according to plan. Rex Ryan said that he was "disappointed" with how Edwards performed, which is likely the reason why he was left on the outside looking in on the roster. Even though he didn't make it, his strong end of training camp indicates that he would be a good practice squad candidate.
ILB Randell Johnson
- It was a big summer for the third-year player Randell Johnson, and time for him to prove that he was worthy of keeping around for another season. Johnson, who has fantastic size along with an intriguing skill-set, just never was able to pick up the defense the way the Bills wanted him to. He also struggled to find a home in this defense, playing middle inside linebacker when his skills might indicate that he'd be a better pass rusher. Either way, his release was not all that surprising.
CB Mario Butler
- In 2015, the Bills were so impressed by the work of Mario Butler in training camp that they kept him on the active roster. In 2016, Butler didn't discern himself nearly as much as he did in the previous season. Butler was often lined up with the third-team defense, and buried on the depth chart behind the top five cornerbacks (Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Kevon Seymour, and Corey White). He needed an extraordinary camp to make the team, and instead had an ordinary one.
HB James Wilder, Jr.
- Although he's a beloved figure amongst some Bills fans on social media platforms, James Wilder, Jr. just didn't have the game to back it up -- even though he had the opportunities to do it. When the Bills got to the preseason games, Wilder, Jr. showed a lack of vision and speed as a runner, which ruled him out as an offensive threat. Then on special teams, he took two foolish penalties in the first preseason game, and that likely sealed his fate on coverage units -- which was probably the only other shot he had to make the team.
TE Blake Annen
- Much like Dez Lewis, Blake Annen was a standout during offseason workouts, and he certainly piqued the interest of the Bills heading into training camp. Much like Lewis, though, Annen struggled to stand out during the padded practices. A tight end with great size and speed, Annen has some tools to work with but even with a clear opportunity, failed to impress the Bills front office this summer.
G Cyril Richardson
- A former fifth-round pick, Cyril Richardson struggled so much so that he was one of the main reasons the Bills were unable to do anything on offense during the first half versus Detroit. He was consistently beaten in training camp practices as well, and wasn't a real threat to make the roster. A once promising player that even started in his rookie season, Richardson's time in Buffalo might just be over for good.
OT Chris Martin
- At the beginning of training camp, Chris Martin actually had some success in the first week of training camp, but then slowly started to unravel as time wore on. The defenders started to figure Martin out in practices, and it all came to a head when he was beaten, badly, on multiple occasions by third-string Detroit defenders. His release was not a surprise at all.
OT Marquis Lucas
- An interesting case due to his size, Marquis Lucas struggled to progress during the training camp, and never really stood out to the Bills. Even still, he seems to be a young, moldable player that could be worthy of a spot on the practice squad. I wouldn't rule out a return for him just yet.
DL Casey Walker
- A bit of a late add in the summer, Casey Walker actually put together some nice practices here and there. The trouble is, along the defensive line, he was facing an uphill climb against a stacked group at the position, and wasn't even the best player that was cut by the Bills. A big nose tackle, his positive results this preseason should warrant a look elsewhere.
DL Brandon Deaderick
- Along the same lines as Walker, Brandon Deaderick never really even had a chance to make the team in 2016. With so many in front of him, Deaderick wasn't added until halfway through training camp, and struggled to get any playing time during the preseason. A veteran player, Deaderick's release was expected.
OLB Max Valles
- The Bills first brought Max Valles on to the roster at the end of the 2015 season, which was one of the first moves that hinted that Rex Ryan would be returning to a full-time 3-4 defensive scheme in 2016. Valles, who has terrific size for the position, faded into the background all camp long, was outplayed by Bryson Albright, and really wasn't a serious candidate to make the roster after seeing his performances in training camp.
CB Sammy Seamster
- Seamster's summer unraveled in Detroit, where he struggled significantly in the 31-0 loss to Detroit. He was beat in coverage, he missed tackles, and he picked about the worst night to do it. He was at the bottom of the cornerback depth chart this summer.
WR Kain Colter
- Even though he made it a bit further than Greg Little, Kain Colter really didn't have a legitimate chance to make it as a wide receiver on the roster in 2016. He rarely got any legitimate chances during preseason games, and was well behind Walt Powell, Dez Lewis, and Jarrett Boykin in the race.
HB Boom Herron
- Boom Herron's best days in the NFL are seemingly behind him, finding his way to the bottom of the depth chart during the summer. Herron was brought on due to his familiarity of the offense, but he had a long way to go if he was trying to unseat any of the players ahead of him for a spot on the 53-man roster. Herron lacked a bit in explosiveness and was often stopped for little to no yardage on many of his attempts in the preseason. The Bills really didn't have a spot for another running back, even if he were to have pushed for a spot.