Buffalo Bills cut Jonathan Williams, two others and claim three off waivers

Posted at 3:09 PM, Sep 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-03 16:08:13-04

The Buffalo Bills continued on with their roster moves of the weekend, and they saved one of their most glaring moves as one of the last they would make.

The Bills have released second-year running back Jonathan Williams — a fifth-round pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, and a player that was competing to be LeSean McCoy’s primary backup.

The Bills have also released backup linebacker Gerald Hodges from the roster. He was slated to be the primary backup to starting middle linebacker Preston Brown. The team also released wide receiver Philly Brown.

Those three moves were necessary because the Bills claimed three players off waivers on Sunday. That includes rookie offensive lineman Conor McDermott, linebacker Deon Lacey, and tight end Khari Lee.

McDermott was a sixth-round pick of the New England Patriots in the 2017 NFL Draft and was released by the Bills’ division rival on Saturday. Buffalo also was awarded Lacey from the Miami Dolphins, and Lee was claimed off waivers from the Detroit Lions.

With the six total roster moves, the Bills roster remains at 53 players.

Joe B’s Take

There have been a lot of strong reactions over the release of Jonathan Williams on Twitter, and on the outside looking in, it doesn’t look like an ideal scenario.

Gone is a 23-year-old running back that showed promise in his second preseason in the NFL, and left is a stable of three backup running backs with an age range between 28 and 31. It’s been clear for weeks now, but this is just more supporting evidence of the fact that the Doug Whaley era is over, and the door has been slammed shut on it as well.

However, there was at least one notable sign that something could be amiss for Williams, who worked as the backup to LeSean McCoy for much of the summer programs. In the preseason finale, rather than getting the day off and resting for the start of the regular season — like most of the starters and important role players got — Williams not only played in the finale, but he was getting carries into the second half against the Detroit Lions.

On the flip side, Mike Tolbert — a favorite of head coach Sean McDermott’s from his time in Carolina — did not play a single snap against the Lions. Just by using hindsight, it seemed to pave the path to today’s news.

So, is this the right move for the Bills?

I’ll never advocate that getting rid of a young, talented player is the way to go — unless the team felt as though for some reason that the player just wasn’t a fit for what they were trying to establish as a team and as a locker room. That’s not to insinuate that Williams refused to “buy in,” or anything like that, but something in the situation from the outside looking in simply doesn’t make sense from a roster building perspective.

However, the Bills released a young running back — and if there is any position out there that could be deemed the most replaceable, it’s at backup running back. So even though the average age of the three backup runners for the Bills is pushing 30 at the time being, that does not restrict them from making a move to find a younger player at any point this year, and with how much they plan to use LeSean McCoy anyway, they can get by with the combination of Tolbert, Banyard, and Jones.

And if they can’t, they’ll look to acquire someone. Just look around the league — Mike Gillislee basically came from dust to be a solid backup runner to McCoy over the last two seasons. Those players can be replaced, and easily.

Some are asking why the Bills didn’t try to trade Williams. The answer to that goes right in line with the devaluation of backup running backs in the NFL.

Williams is a former fifth-round pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. The Buccaneers just cut their 2017 fifth-round pick and running back Jeremy McNichols on Saturday, the player went unclaimed on waivers, and is now on a practice squad.

While the Williams move is a tad head-scratching, the uproar over a backup at a replaceable position is even more perplexing. It’s just the way of the NFL, we shouldn’t be surprised by the lack of respect given by it to some of these positions.

As for the other moves, Hodges was a slight surprise, but by adding another young linebacker to the mix the Bills probably just want to see — in the event of an injury — which of these guys had enough game to push for a starting job down the line.

Philly Brown was the least surprising move, given that he was outplayed by a pair of undrafted free agents this summer. The addition of Kaelin Clay made him expendable.

Through waivers, the Bills added three developmental players to add to their depth and three that you’ll likely see on the inactive list on game day unless injuries start to pop up in 2017.

I’m especially intrigued by McDermott, who performed really well at the Senior Bowl during the pre-draft process. With the injury to Cordy Glenn and some historical data that Jordan Mills hasn’t always been a solid starter, McDermott could even see some time on the field this year.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia