(WKBW) — Now that the 2018 season for the Buffalo Bills is officially over with, now begins one of the most important offseasons in recent memory for the organization. The last two years of contract cutting, trades, and dead money eating have landed the Bills in a spot where they're ready to create a core of their roster.
With salary cap room that could be over $90 million, if they take advantage of cap savings with underperforming players, the Bills have plenty of flexibility in the upcoming free agency period in March. And without any concern that they'll be undoing potential compensatory picks by signing so many free agents, general manager Brandon Beane will feel unencumbered to spend as he sees fit.
The trouble for the Bills is that the NFL season is still in full swing with the start of the playoffs on Saturday. The good news, for fans anyway, is there exists the opportunity to "scout" potential free agent targets of the Bills and how they might fit the team.
We already went through the names to keep an eye on Saturday, so on Sunday, here is a name of an upcoming unrestricted free agent for each team to keep your eyes on:
L.A. Chargers at Baltimore, 1:05 pm
L.A. Chargers - WR Tyrell Williams, No. 16 and DT Darius Philon, No. 93
- Considering the popularity among some fans with Tyrell Williams as a potential wide receiver target for the Bills, there would be an outright uprising had I not included him on this list. However, I could make a just as strong case for his teammate on the defensive side of the ball, Darius Philon.
We'll start with Williams, considering the Bills don't have a receiver like him on their roster. They tried it out with Kelvin Benjamin, and it just didn't stick which led to the former first-round pick's release ahead of the end of the 2018 season.
If they were interested in Williams, they'd be getting a player that could come in and form a top-three with Zay Jones and Robert Foster, without having to take a big swing in the NFL Draft at an increasingly difficult position to project. As a player, Williams is a go-up-and-get-it type with a great vertical leap and good speed considering his size (6-foot-4, 205 pounds).
I still have some questions about Foster and his sustained success, and which of those three would play in the slot considering the team's hesitance to put Jones there to a large degree. However, Williams seems to be a cost-effective complementary piece that would suit Josh Allen's style to let his receivers to make a play for him.
As for Philon, this is an ascending player that is still quite young that seems to be an ideal fit into Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier's defensive scheme. With Kyle Williams deciding to retire, and with Jordan Phillips as a pending unrestricted free agent, there now exists a gaping hole at three-technique defensive tackle.
At its best, the defense thrives on getting pressure from the interior and that's the strongsuit of Philon's game. The four-year pro turns just 25 later this month, which means he should be entering the prime of his career and at worst could be a solid rotational player behind the starter.
Even if the Bills were to re-sign Phillips, the Bills need two players that play that role for McDermott to continue the rotation along the defensive line that he so desires. Given Philon's lack of starting experience, I wouldn't think he costs too much on the open market, either.
Either player would be a fantastic fit for the Bills, and I wouldn't be surprised to see both being a target in free agency.
Others considered: CB Jason Verrett, WR Geramy Davis
Baltimore - TE Maxx Williams, No. 87
- Without question, the position to keep an eye on with Baltimore in totality is at tight end. The Bills have a crying need for a starting caliber tight end with some downfield potential, and the Ravens have two of them due to become unrestricted free agents in 2019.
Of the duo of Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle, the latter is the player that has taken over the starting role, even though the former was the higher pick by three rounds back in 2015. However, given his age and athletic ability, I'm more intrigued by Williams' skill-set regarding how Josh Allen and Brian Daboll's offense looked in 2018.
Williams has failed to recapture the success of his rookie season and suffered a season-ending injury in 2016, his second season. In 2018, though, Williams began to show some of the ability he flashed the effectiveness of his rookie season.
In the first five games of the year, Williams started four of them and racked up 14 receptions for 127 yards. While he didn't have a touchdown, he did offer big-play ability, by roping in four catches of 15 yards or more -- three of which were for 20-plus yard gains.
With Allen often choosing to go for a higher-yardage reception, having a receiving tight end that can make those plays down the field seems like a natural fit. Williams is still 24 years old, which paired with his athleticism could predict a bit of a higher price tag than you'd like given his production over four seasons.
However, if the cost isn't back-breaking all things considered, Williams would be a solid top-two tight end option with some upside. Even signing him, though, wouldn't take the Bills out of the market to draft a tight end as well.
Others considered: TE Nick Boyle, WR John Brown
Philadelphia at Chicago, 4:40 pm
Philadelphia - LB LaRoy Reynolds, No. 50
- Without many options on the offensive or defensive side of the ball, the only player on the impending Eagles' free agent list that seems both realistic and "worth it" to the Bills is linebacker LaRoy Reynolds.
If you've never heard of him, I don't blame you. After all, he didn't play a single snap on defense in 2018.
So then why, pray tell, would the Bills have interest in him? For the same reason that they fired Danny Crossman -- a desire to get better at special teams.
For the Eagles, Reynolds played on a ridiculous 82.7-percent of special teams snaps in 2018 according to FootballOutsiders.com. The same website has special teams metrics for units as a whole, and on punt and kick coverage, the Eagles ranked 6th and 7th best in the NFL respectively. The Bills, on the other hand, ranked 27th and 25th in those same categories.
As for his potential fit on the defensive side of the ball, I think Reynolds best projects to strongside linebacker in McDermott and Frazier's defense -- which would put him in a battle with Deon Lacey to be the team's backup and core special teams linebacker along with Julian Stanford.
It's not a wow signing by any means, but not every free agency move will get rave reviews. Reynolds could fill a role, be as cheap as you might find, and potentially help upgrade a sore spot for the Bills from the 2018 season.
Others considered: TE Richard Rodgers, G Chance Warmack
Chicago - RT Bobby Massie, No. 70
- When Mitchell Trubisky and the offense hits the field, make sure to keep a close eye on their starting right tackle Bobby Massie -- who is due to become an unrestricted free agent and could wind up being on the Bills' shortlist of free agent targets. The offensive line was a house of horrors at times in 2018 for Buffalo, which means a quick turnaround with that unit is of the utmost importance to help rookie quarterback Josh Allen.
Massie is about as experienced a starting offensive lineman as you'll find, and given his effectiveness in 2018 there aren't likely to be many better options on the open market. He turns 30 ahead of the 2019 season, so he isn't a long-term solution by any means, but his playing level can be a huge upgrade to what Jordan Mills has been potentially for the next two-to-three years.
Now, the cost could be considerable given his six years of starting experience and how good of a player he's turned into, but the Bills -- at least in the 2017 offseason -- showed they were willing to spend for a right tackle when they entered the Rick Wagner sweepstakes in that offseason. Now, that was also down without the presence of GM Brandon Beane as the Bills hired him after the 2017 NFL Draft.
However, the Bills have to place a priority on protecting their rookie quarterback so he can continue to develop as a pocket passer while helping to re-establish their rushing attack which became non-existent in 2018. The Bills could use at least one tackle, one guard, and one center in the offseason, so a player with a lot of starting experience and the ability of Massie requires attention.
Others considered: WR Josh Bellamy, G Eric Kush