BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The Buffalo Bills off-season moves continued with the re-signing of defensive back and special teams contributor Siran Neal on Wednesday. But Neal is just the tip of the iceberg; several key contributors from 2021 are no longer under contract.
7 News lists the seven biggest free agent decisions for the Buffalo Bills:
CB Levi Wallace:
The Alabama product has had to fend off competition to start at cornerback opposite Tre'Davious White year in and year out. A former first round pick, a former Carolina Panther, and a Bills draft pick have all failed to supplant him.
Wallace came back to the Bills on a one-year deal in 2021. After White's ACL injury on Thanksgiving, Wallce had to step into the CB1 role for the rest of the season. While he was serviceable, the Bills' lack of depth at cornerback behind him and 2020 7th-round pick Dane Jackson was glaring.
If the Bills can free up the cap space to bring Wallace back, the immediate need to address cornerback in the draft would subside. But in a pass-happy NFL, and with quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow on the Bills' 2022 schedule, you can never have too many cornerbacks.
DT Harrison Phillips:
The Bills' 2018 3rd-round pick enjoyed a breakout year in the final season of his rookie contract. Phillips had 46 total tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery in 14 games played in 2021 and became an integral part of Buffalo's defensive tackle rotation.
The key to bringing back Phillips, if Buffalo chooses to do so, lies with another defensive tackle in Star Lotulelei. While Phillips is unsigned, Lotulelei is under contract for two more seasons.
After opting out of the 2020 season, Lotulelei's underwhelming return to the Bills opened a window of opportunity for the Stanford product. Phillips has earned a pay raise; it's just a matter of whether or not the Bills choose to make room for it.
DE Jerry Hughes:
The longest tenured Bill has shown that he can still generate pressure on a regular basis, even if his sack numbers don't necessarily reflect it. While Hughes only had 17 total tackles and 2 sacks, he also racked up three pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
The 33-year-old's greatest value could actually be in the defensive line room. Hughes has been a guiding presence for all of Buffalo's young defensive linemen.
Between Ed Oliver (2019 1st round), A.J. Epenesa (2020 2nd round), Greg Rousseau (2021 1st round), and Boogie Basham (2021 2nd round), the Bills have invested a lot into the future of the defensive line. "Gary" brings enough both on and off the field to continue mentoring his young teammates and generating pressure on his opponents.
DE Mario Addison:
The Bills' other veteran defensive end is also another representative of the "Carolina Connection." Addison was among Buffalo's largest cap hits in 2021, but the 34-year-old's seven sacks look more worthwhile on the stat sheet.
Even when he wasn't dressed for practice, Addison could often be found mentoring the slew of young defensive linemen at One Bills Drive. He's even older than Hughes, yet he could attract more attention on the open market.
According to Spotrac, he is also due to make $2 million in "void money" against Buffalo's salary cap for 2022. As far as defensive ends under contract, there are only four: Epenesa, Rousseau, Basham, and Mike Love.
WR Emmanuel Sanders:
Had the 2021 Buffalo Bills accomplished their ultimate goal, Sanders likely wouldn't have been on this list. The veteran wide receiver told reporters he'd be "on a beach somewhere" if he captured another Super Bowl ring with Buffalo.
But the Bills fell short and Sanders has yet to announce future plans. It was feast or famine throughout the season; nearly two thirds of Sanders's yardage, and all four of his regular season touchdowns, came in the first six weeks of the season.
Sanders has shown that he can still be a deep threat. Like Hughes and Addison, his experience and leadership off the field could work wonders for any of the Bills' young offensive skill players.
WR Isaiah McKenzie:
The self-proclaimed "face of the franchise" became the face of one of the biggest games of the Bills' season. McKenzie stepped into Buffalo's slot receiver role in the absence of Cole Beasley and racked up 11 catches, 125 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots.
Outside of the game that saw the Bills take back the AFC East lead, McKenzie was relatively quiet. In Buffalo's first game against the Patriots, a costly muffed punt on special teams saw his role diminished.
McKenzie was actually Buffalo's longest tenured wide receiver. After joining the Bills in 2018, he's always found a way to stick around. Like Levi Wallace, his expired contract was a one-year deal for the 2021 season.
QB Mitchell Trubisky:
In this off-season's quarterback market, Trubisky likely has a chance to at least compete for a starting job elsewhere. The former Chicago Bear was looking for that a year ago, and couldn't find it.
If Trubisky can't land somewhere to fight for a job, Bills GM Brandon Beane has expressed a willingness to bring him back. Josh Allen's play style, and the competitive window Buffalo finds themselves in, demands a blue chip backup under center. It's just a matter of whether or not that's Trubisky again.
The new league year begins on March 16, 2022. For more on the Bills' off-season, you can watch sports director Matt Bove's discussion with The Athletic's Joe Buscaglia here.