The Buffalo Bills have their work cut out for them in the 2017 offseason. With only 44 players signed as of February 14, 2016, that means the team will need to replenish more than half of the roster they take to training camp in late July.
Adding to that overhaul, the Bills have a total of 34 free agents to have to make a decision on in the offseason. There are 23 unrestricted free agents, 8 restricted free agents, and 3 exclusive rights free agents.
Leading up to the start of free agency, 7ABC will take a look at each of the unrestricted and restricted free agents that the Bills will be forced to make a decision on.
Next up, the biggest free agent of the offseason for the Buffalo Bills, which would also create a huge hole in the defense:
CB Stephon Gilmore
Age: 26 (turns 27 in September)
2016 Stats: 15 games, 48 tackles, 12 passes defended, 5 interceptions
Career Stats: 68 games played, 226 tackles, 62 passes defended, 14 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles
The case for Stephon Gilmore
- Gilmore, mystifyingly, is a polarizing entity to Bills fans. While he's had average stretches of play throughout his five-year career with, most of those came during his first two seasons with the team. Really, over the last three years, Gilmore has been a strong starter for the team -- and to top it all off, had one of the strongest stretches of his career in his final six games of the 2016 season. Gilmore has the size, the length, the speed, the fluid hips, and now the statistical production (interceptions) to back up his desires of being one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the league. As it mostly goes with cornerbacks, really the only times you see them on a television broadcast are if they're getting beat, or if they make a great play on the ball. If they just cover their man the whole game through, they remain mostly anonymous from that perspective unless pointed out by the broadcast. Is he a shutdown cornerback? No, he isn't. But is any cornerback in the league really of the 'shutdown' variety anymore, or is that really just a buzz term that is actually a red herring? Gilmore is a good-to-great cornerback in the NFL entering the prime of his NFL career -- and those players (see: Janoris Jenkins in 2016) get paid quite well. There is an outside chance Gilmore becomes the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL on the free agent market. Spotrac, who does a great job with their market valuations based on recent contracts and statistical data, estimate that Gilmore will sign a five-year deal worth a total of $73.3 million -- $14.6 million per season. The biggest current cornerback contract is Josh Norman, who signed a five-year deal with Washington for $75 million. Gilmore is most certainly going to get paid. And losing him would create another major hole on the defense, where holes seem to be popping up everywhere you look.
The case against Stephon Gilmore
- There are three main sticking points for the Bills in re-signing Gilmore. The first: the Bills must ask themselves if Gilmore fits the team's new zone-based defensive scheme under head coach Sean McDermott. Gilmore has been a man-to-man corner since entering the league and has certainly developed his craft over the years into one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. Perhaps the Bills might just think they can find a corner in the draft that specializes in playing in a zone scheme. Secondly, is a cornerback that plays zone, predominantly, worth the type of money that Gilmore is likely going to command to keep on board? When McDermott was in Carolina last year, the Panthers went through a similar song-and-dance with Josh Norman and wound up -- surprisingly -- releasing him from his franchise tag, ridding themselves of the situation altogether. Maybe that's a precedent that, when considering the Bills, we shouldn't discredit in this upcoming decision. Thirdly, can the Bills sign Gilmore, and still fill all the other holes they have on the roster with a limited amount of cap room? As currently constructed, the Bills have just a shade over $21 million in cap space according to ESPN Stats and Info, and if they were to sign Gilmore at his valuation, that would eat up over two-thirds of their space. It would probably take the release of Tyrod Taylor to keep Gilmore on board, as that contract/and those cap savings essentially cancel one another out.
What should the Bills do?
- If the Bills elect to move on from Tyrod Taylor, I would bring back Stephon Gilmore. Looking at the defense, they already have holes at linebacker, safety, defensive tackle (depth and future starter), and defensive end (depth). By walking away from Gilmore, that would create another position to fill in the offseason -- which, if they have any hope for the playoffs, would effectively start to look like an attempt at bailing water from a boat with multiple holes. Even if the Bills were looking to rebuild the entire year in the hopes of landing a top-flight draft pick in 2018, Gilmore wouldn't stand in the way of that. He is, however, the type to build around. Normally, the decision to keep Gilmore around wouldn't be that much to think about, but given the Bills' poor management of the salary cap over the last few years, it doesn't lend itself to keeping both... unless a lot of restructuring and/or the cutting of unexpected players with a high cap number, gets them some more room under the cap.