Bills may look to buy on of­fense

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS -

By Jay Skurski

So far, the Buf­falo Bills’ off­sea­son has been dom­i­nated by a move they didn’t make. The team’s re­ported in­ter­est in a trade with the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers for star re­ceiver An­to­nio Brown never came to be, but it was a clear sign that Gen­eral Man­ager Bran­don Beane will be ag­gres­sive in try­ing to build tal­ent around quar­ter­back Josh Allen.

Beane gets the chance to do that start­ing to­day, when teams can start ne­go­ti­at­ing with the agents of pend­ing un­re­stricted free agents. While terms can be agreed to, con­tracts don’t be­come of­fi­cial un­til 4 p.m. Wed­nes­day, when the new NFL year starts.

This week’s mailbag serves as a free-agency pre­view. Let’s get to it ...

Buck Adams asks: How many guys do you think they’ll sign on day one of free agency, and what side of the ball?

Jay: Last year, the team signed five play­ers at the start of free agency — Star Lo­tulelei, Rafael Bush, Trent Mur­phy, AJ McCar­ron and Ju­lian Stan­ford. That was in a year that the team didn’t have any­where close to the cap space it does now. With that in mind, I’d take the over if I was bet­ting.

Last year, the Bills leaned to­ward de­fense dur­ing the first wave of free agency, but I ex­pect that will shift this year given the needs on the of­fen­sive side.

“The Wolf” asks: Who will be their big­gest com­pe­ti­tion in sign­ing a cen­ter?

Jay: Their AFC East ri­vals — the Jets. New York’s start­ing cen­ter last year was Spencer Long. He was cut after just one year of a four-year con­tract, and ul­ti­mately signed with the Bills. The Jets also have a boat­load of cap space, so it would not be a sur­prise to see them

not be a sur­prise to see them com­pet­ing with the Bills for free agents.

Scott Reed asks: Is a cen­ter re­ally worth $11 mil­lion per year?

Jay: It is when you’re a team like the Bills and need to do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to give your young quar­ter­back a chance to suc­ceed. Ad­mit­tedly, I didn’t think it would be as dif­fi­cult to re­place Eric Wood last sea­son as it ended up be­ing. A vet­eran cen­ter who can make the pro­tec­tion calls should take some off Allen’s plate.

Don­ald Par­rish asks: There are a lot of fans and me­dia who make a big deal out of “he’s the high­est-paid (in­sert po­si­tion) ever.” How much stock do you place in it? Does it re­ally mat­ter when salaries are con­stantly ris­ing?

Jay: It mat­ters in the sense that if you’re mak­ing a player the high­est paid at his po­si­tion, it’s an ob­vi­ous huge com­mit­ment. The ti­tle it­self doesn’t re­ally mat­ter, and you’re right that it will prob­a­bly only last for a year or two, but it’s still a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment.

Wil­liam Mark asks: What amount of money do you be­lieve the Bills will spend for this up­com­ing sea­son?

Jay: The team en­ters free agency with $75.9 mil­lion in cap space — fourth most in the NFL. With only 56 play­ers un­der con­tract, Bran­don Beane is go­ing to have to spend some of that money. The team cur­rently has 10 draft picks, which would bring that num­ber to 66 play­ers. A year ago, Beane signed a dozen un­drafted free agents. That would bring the to­tal to 78. If we bump that to­tal up to 14 this year, that’s 80 play­ers — leav­ing 10 spots for free agents. Of those 10, I’d ex­pect three or four high-pro­file ad­di­tions, a cou­ple mid-level sign­ings and the rest vet­eran-min­i­mum types.

Joseph Spinelli asks: Is there a chance we sign a de­fen­sive player cost­ing $10 mil­lion-plus per year?

Jay: There is a chance, but I’d clas­sify it as un­likely. The big­gest need on de­fense is prob­a­bly a cor­ner­back to com­pete with Levi Wal­lace for the start­ing job op­po­site Tre’Davi­ous White. There aren’t many cor­ner­backs who are likely to get eight-fig­ure con­tracts, and one of them — Ronald Darby — is a player the Bills pre­vi­ously traded.

A line­backer could be in the Bills’ plans, but pay­ing some­one at that po­si­tion $10 mil­lion or more would in­di­cate a three-down role, and the Bills al­ready have two play­ers in Tre­maine Ed­munds and Matt Mi­lano who do that.

The wild card here is a pass rusher. The Bills could cer­tainly use some more juice in that re­gard, but with Jerry Hughes, Shaq Law­son and Trent Mur­phy un­der con­tract, it’s hard to see how they fit in a big con­tract at the po­si­tion un­less they move one of those play­ers out, ei­ther by trade or re­lease.

An­thony An­grisano asks: Dur­ing free agency there is a ten­dency when play­ers visit and don’t sign on the dot­ted line, they usu­ally don’t cir­cle back if they leave. Do you feel it’s a must to sign them while the player is here or, if not, if he leaves is he gone for good?

Jay: It’s not 100 per­cent a must, but it’s a pretty good in­di­ca­tion that if a player does leave with­out a con­tract, the team doesn’t view him as some­one they can’t live with­out. So far this off­sea­son, tight end Dwayne Allen and cor­ner­back Kevin John­son have made vis­its and left with­out a deal. Allen went on to sign with the Dol­phins, while John­son re­mains with­out a team. Both of those play­ers can be con­sid­ered mid­dle tier free agents.

The sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent for the top free agents avail­able. Think back to the Mario Wil­liams saga. In that sce­nario, there was a real thought that if he left with­out a signed con­tract, he was gone. There isn’t a player like Wil­liams in this year’s class, but if Beane has one or two play­ers tar­geted — and there’s a good bet that he does — it would make sense to be ag­gres­sive in lock­ing them up. With the amount of cap space the team has, they can af­ford to make sure that hap­pens.

Daniel Rossi asks: What do you think of Cole Beasley and Adam Humphries to add at wide re­ceiver?

Jay: Humphries, yes. Beasley, meh. In my “GM for a Day” col­umn from Sun­day, I iden­ti­fied Humphries as a free agent I’d pur­sue. He’s young (26) and com­ing off a ca­reer sea­son (76 catches, 816 yards, five touch­downs). Beasley will be 30 by the time the

2019 sea­son starts, and his num­bers have gone down in each of the past two sea­sons after he set ca­reer highs with 75 catches for 833 yards and five touch­downs in 2016. When it comes to sim­i­lar play­ers — Humphries and Beasley do most of their work out of the slot — I’m opt­ing for the younger player. Humphries will cost more money, but the Bills have enough to spend. I agree with the idea that up­grad­ing the slot po­si­tion should be a pri­or­ity in free agency.

Ja­son Mitchell asks: Who are the big 2020 free agents we can start look­ing for­ward to when the “ju­di­cious” Bills still have a lot of cap space left over?

Jay: Are Tom Brady and Drew Brees big enough names? Of course, there isn’t much hope ei­ther of them ac­tu­ally makes it to free agency. There are other play­ers to con­sider, though, start­ing with Ben­gals re­ceiver A.J. Green. Think­ing about only the Bills, the key play­ers head­ing into the fi­nal year of their con­tract are LeSean Mc­Coy and Jerry Hughes.

Keep in mind that even though the Bills have a lot of cap space, they’ll want to keep a sig­nif­i­cant chunk of that free given that play­ers like Tre’Davi­ous White and Matt Mi­lano will be up for raises soon. Quar­ter­back Josh Allen can also be ex­tended after the 2020 sea­son, which isn’t too far away.

Peter Horn asks: Where do you think they’ll get the most bang for their cap bucks on of­fense: Of­fen­sive line or wide re­ceiver? I think they gain more by keep­ing Josh Allen up­right than they do chas­ing guys like An­to­nio Brown. Sta­bi­lize the line now with money and draft skill po­si­tions for the fu­ture.

Jay: I’m in agree­ment. If I had to choose be­tween the two, I’d in­vest heav­ily in the of­fen­sive line. Matt Par­adis is my No. 1 tar­get. After that, it wouldn’t be sur­pris­ing to see the Bills go after a right tackle — be it Carolina’s Daryl Wil­liams or Mi­ami’s JaWuan James. Nei­ther of those play­ers will come cheap, but they’ve got plenty of start­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. If the Bills can add at least two starters to the of­fen­sive line, it frees them up to tar­get re­ceivers in the draft.

IDon’tTrustThePro­cess asks: Doesn’t the Bills’ pur­suit of An­to­nio Brown sig­nal not only how weak they feel the free-agent wide re­ceiver group is, but how likely they are to get Josh Allen a weapon at No. 9 in the draft?

Jay: I don’t think the two are re­lated. In­stead, I be­lieve the Bills saw an op­por­tu­nity to get a pre­mier player at a bar­gain price. There isn’t any­one like An­to­nio Brown in free agency. A player of his cal­iber does not be­come avail­able very of­ten. The Bills know they need re­ceivers, but I don’t be­lieve Beane will aban­don his ap­proach to free agency to find one.

TNFP69 asks: Will we hear Mon­day that the Bills have an agree­ment with any play­ers? Or will they let the way-over­paid ones go by and not hear any­thing un­til the play­ers can put their sig­na­tures on the dot­ted line?

Jay: I do think with all the money they have to spend that the Bills will be de­cently ag­gres­sive early in free agency, which means we will hear about an agree­ment early in the week. As far as over­pay­ing, that’s what hap­pens in free agency. There is a good chance the Bills spend more on a player than you might think, which is what hap­pened when the team brought in Star Lo­tulelei.

Rick McGuire asks: Do you think it hurts the Bills when re­port sur­face that they are very in­ter­ested in a free agent be­fore the sign­ing pe­riod, like has hap­pened with Jesse James and Matt Par­adis? Could it drive up the price?

Jay: I don’t think it mat­ters all that much. No. 1, are we even sure that the re­ports are ac­cu­rate? No. 2, the mar­ket is set by more than one team. It’s not as if James and Par­adis are ne­go­ti­at­ing with only the Bills. They can take any of­fer from the Bills and use it as lever­age with an­other team, or vice versa.

Getty Im­ages

Tampa re­ceiver Adam Humphries, 26, could be an at­trac­tive tar­get for the Bills dur­ing free agency. He is com­ing off a ca­reer year.

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