Following their first win of the 2017 season, the Buffalo Bills have made their first in-season transaction as well.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Bills announced the signing of linebacker Jelani Jenkins to a free agent contract. Terms of the deal were undisclosed, but Jenkins joins an already crowded linebacker room in Buffalo.
Jenkins was last with the Oakland Raiders, where he signed a free agent contract this offseason only to be placed on Injured Reserve ahead of the final cut down day in the NFL. The Raiders then reached an injury settlement with Jenkins on September 4, immediately making him a free agent.
Ahead of his summer in Oakland, the linebacker spent the previous four seasons with the Miami Dolphins, with whom he started a total of 34 games. Jenkins will now be one of four backup linebackers in Buffalo, joining rookie Matt Milano, rookie Tanner Vallejo, and special teams contributor Deon Lacey.
To make room for Jenkins, the Bills released cornerback Greg Mabin. With that move, the Bills now have only eight defensive backs on the active roster: four cornerbacks, and four safeties.
Additionally, the Bills announced the signing of wide receiver Malachi Dupre to the team’s practice squad. He replaces wide receiver Daikiel Shorts, who spent the entire summer with the Bills and was signed to the practice squad last week.
Joe B’s Take
Although the move down to only eight defensive backs is a bit perplexing, given their overall lack of depth at both cornerback and safety, this is a solid in-season pickup for the Bills. There are many reasons to like the signing, without expecting too much from Jenkins as he’s just starting off with the Bills.
First, there’s the experience. The Bills, after they cut ties with Gerald Hodges last week, have a severe lack of experience amongst their backup linebackers. With the trio of Matt Milano, Tanner Vallejo, and Deon Lacey, they hadn’t played in a single regular season game heading into the 2017 season — let alone start one.
With Jenkins, he’s got 34 starts to his name and a lot of time on the field to help the Bills out with their depth.
Second, his versatility is something the Bills have to really like for their roster. Jenkins has spent time and has been most successful, in a 4-3 defense. In his two NFL stops, Jenkins has played both the outside position and middle linebacker within a 4-3 scheme, which has to excite the Bills. Before Jenkins, the team’s contingency plan at middle linebacker for Preston Brown was to put the 34-year old Lorenzo Alexander in the middle — a role he has never played in his NFL career.
Third, his speed is an asset in the style of defense Sean McDermott runs. They need their linebackers to be quicker athletes and to cover a lot of area within a zone defense — otherwise, the middle of the field can become susceptible to a sustained short passing attack.
Jenkins reportedly ran a 4.65 40-yard dash at his college pro day in 2013. For a comparison, Bills starting middle linebacker Preston Brown ran a 4.86 40-yard dash at the 2014 NFL Combine.
Lastly, Jenkins is still only 25 years old — and with that much experience, there is some potential here if he takes to the Bills defensive scheme. However, it’s important not to expect too much, too early from Jenkins — or perhaps even to expect anything at all from him.
He sat in free agency and had to sign a low-level one-year deal with the Raiders in late March, which doesn’t exactly mean he’s in demand. However, at this point of the year, finding a potential solid backup is a nice job by the pro staff.