The initial craziness of NFL Free Agency has subsided, as teams all around the league did their best to fill positions of need with experienced players.
With the first wave basically over, the rest of the NFL will now delve into the second and third-tier free agents that will mainly affect the bottom half of rosters around the league.
The Buffalo Bills had as busy of a week as you'd be able to find. They released eight players off the current roster, signed nine new free agents, and re-signed three of their own.
How did all 20 of those transactions impact the roster needs of the Bills? A look at the top five needs the Bills still have, as I currently see them:
1) Wide Receiver
- The Buffalo Bills took a substantial chunk out of their defensive needs through free agency, which makes wide receiver the most glaring remaining need. Sure, the Bills signed Philly Brown to add some much-needed depth -- and he could even factor into the normal rotation at wide receiver as a No. 3 or No. 4 option. However, the Bills are still shockingly thin at the position and would have to rely on the group of Brown, Walt Powell, Kolby Listenbee, and Dez Lewis to take meaningful snaps. That just isn't going to fly. Now with free agency winding down a bit, it makes the wide receiver spot into an outright favorite of a position to be selected at some point in the first three rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft. A complementary option to Sammy Watkins is essential if the Bills are going to give Tyrod Taylor a fighting chance to be "the guy" in Buffalo. They could even go outside the box and add an athletic tight end that can line up on the outside (as evidenced by some of their reported free agent interest in Martellus Bennett and Jared Cook). Even if Taylor isn't in their long-term plans, they still need to add someone capable -- and at the very least find more depth -- just for the sake of roster building.
2) Right Tackle
- Jordan Mills, even though he's been re-signed for the next two years, needs to be upgraded this offseason. He's shown he can step in and give you some starts, but over the last two seasons, he hasn't proven himself to be a viable permanent starter. Don't be fooled by the contract, either. An average of $2 million per season isn't much for a right tackle, and it's a contract they can easily get out of -- even as early as this summer, if they so choose. Think about it this way: Ryan Groy, who is a reserve offensive linemen for the Bills, was given a tendered contract of approximately $1.8 million. That should indicate just how little you should think of the Mills deal. Regardless, whether it be through free agency (Andre Smith visited on Monday) or in the draft, the Bills have to have a different plan at right tackle, or else it will continue to be a weakness that teams will look to exploit on a weekly basis.
3) Defensive Back
- This is open-ended and could either be a cornerback or a safety. At the current moment, the Bills have two potential starting cornerbacks in Ronald Darby and Kevon Seymour. They also have the versatile Micah Hyde, that can play both nickel cornerback and safety. And then there's Jordan Poyer, who is a safety through and through. That's four pieces to the core defensive back rotation, but five are needed when teams go to three-wide receiver sets. They can add a cornerback that can either push Seymour for a starting role or be the nickel corner -- which then makes Hyde a full-time safety. The situation that I believe to be most conducive to what Sean McDermott wants, is to pick up another safety that can provide even more flexibility. That way, they can utilize the strengths of Hyde as a nickel corner, and provide a capable safety along with Poyer on the back-end. On base sets, it would give the Bills the ability to choose between Poyer and that other safety to line up next to Hyde based totally on the matchup. Or perhaps, that safety could even slide down into the box to help on run downs and cover a running back or tight end. I was close to labeling this safety, but without an answer on Seymour as a starting player just yet, you can't rule out anything.
- Oh, you didn't think this would go away that easily, did you? The new contract signed by Tyrod Taylor showed two things: the Bills think they have a shot at the playoffs this year and there is nothing promised to Taylor past the 2017 season. Taylor's restructured deal allows the Bills to get away from his contract next offseason, essentially by shaving his hit on the salary cap in half. While yes, it would still cost the Bills approximately $8 million to not have Taylor on the roster, it's significant because the Bills have an out from the deal if they want it. That leaves quarterback -- and drafting one in the first few rounds in April -- very much on the table. If they draft one, having Taylor as the starter means that the rookie player doesn't have to be thrown into the fire in his first year, and can properly develop -- at least for 16 months, anyway. If the quarterbacks don't go as early as expected, the Bills sitting there at 44th overall could be an ideal spot to scoop up one of the top four quarterbacks.
- Whether it's an aforementioned safety that can also moonlight as a linebacker or a more standard one, the Bills need depth. We can only guess as to where the players that they have will line up, but I'd think that Lorenzo Alexander would be one of the outside linebackers, probably at the strongside backer spot. Between Preston Brown and Reggie Ragland, I think there is more upside -- and speed -- in putting Ragland as the middle linebacker, which would leave Brown as the weakside linebacker. It's not necessarily an ideal fit for Brown, but with only one year left on his deal, they owe it to themselves just to see if he can fit. Even if they don't replace Brown as a starter, they still need depth at linebacker. Right now, all they have is Ramon Humber and maybe Max Valles (depending on where he fits in the defense), which means they'll need to draft a more suitable first-man-in.