The last time I looked at 2015 NFL Free Agents that could be potential fits with the Buffalo Bills, Doug Marrone and Jim Schwartz were calling the shots on offense and defense. A lot has changed since then, as new Head Coach Rex Ryan will bring his aggressive 3-4 defensive scheme with him, while new offensive coordinator Greg Roman will install a multiple “power” run game on offense.
These new scheme changes will require different “types” of players that are better suited to fit the new roles within them.
Salary Cap Situation
As of right now, the Bills have $113.38 million committed to the “Top 51” salaries on the team’s roster.. In 2015, the cap is projected to grow substantially now that the NFL’s new television deal is in the equation, with the rumored number being a $15 million hike that would set the cap at roughly $142 million.
So, when the Bills roll over their unused cap room they will be allowed to spend roughly $148 on their 2015 roster. They currently have committed $123.1 million to 2015 contracts, leaving Doug Whaley with about $34 million available to spend.
Key Team Free Agents
DE Jerry Hughes
Jerry Hughes has emerged as a top pass rusher in the National Football League, racking up 19.5 sacks in 27 games with the Bills. He’s a weak-side rusher that beats opposing tackles with speed, burst and relentlessness. The Bills already have a $100 million toy opposite Hughes in Mario Williams, and while Hughes won’t command that much money, it’ll be close.
Hughes is an impact player that the Bills need to ensure that they retain his services for the long-term.
Projected Contract: 5 years, $48.2 million
Comparable contract: Everson Griffen’s 5-year, $42.5 million with Vikings
RB C.J. Spiller
C.J. Spiller is an extremely talented running back, but his inability to stay healthy and the price tag he’ll command makes unlikely that he remains with the team in 2015.
LB Brandon Spikes
Brandon Spikes shouldn’t break the bank, due to the declining value of the run-thumping linebacker in the NFL. However, the Bills’ inside linebacker position is already crowded with Nigel Bradham, Kiko Alonso and Preston Brown. While his value to the team goes beyond the field in terms of leadership, it’s hard to see him wanting to remain at a position where he’ll have a minimal role.
Projected Contract: 2 years, $7.5 million
Comparable contract: Small raise from current one-year deal
S Da’Norris Searcy
Da’Norris Searcy has developed nicely into a reliable and versatile safety since he was the Bills’ fourth-round pick in 2011. He should be retained for a modest deal that works for both the player and team.
Projected Contract: 3 years, $12.5 million
Comparable contract: Glover Quin’s 5-year, $23.5 million deal with Lions
Marcus Easley and Chris Hogan are also free agents that should be retained relatively cheaply.
The Bills don’t have the player they imagined they’d have when they selected EJ Manuel with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, but following Kyle Orton’s retirement, he’s currently the team’s starter heading into the offseason. Jeff Tuel is the only other quarterback under contract, so the Bills will likely turn to the free agent market to find a veteran that will compete for the starting job.
Mark Sanchez, 28, Eagles
Mark Sanchez’ name is logically tied to the Bills’ quarterback vacancy, given his relationship and past success with Rex Ryan during their time with the New York Jets. Sanchez and Ryan went to the AFC Championship in both of their first two seasons with the Jets, despite Sanchez completing just 54.4% of his passes for 5,735 yards with 29 touchdowns, 33 interceptions and 19 fumbles in that span.
Sanchez had more success this past season with the Eagles, completing a career-high 64.1% of his passes for 2,418 yards while throwing 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, while adding 87 yards on 34 carries.
Sanchez isn’t an ideal target, given his turnover-happy style of play, but the Rex-connection is too strong to ignore.
Jake Locker, 26, Titans
Jake Locker was a highly touted quarterback prospect entering the 2011 NFL Draft, but after being selected by the Tennessee Titans with the No. 8 overall pick, injuries and a lack of a competent supporting cast de-railed his career. In his four years with the Titans, Locker appeared in just 30 of a possible 64 games, going 9-14 in his 23 starts. After a disastrous two-year start, Locker looked like he was putting things together in 2013, completing 60.7% of his passes for 1,256 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions to go along with 155 yards and two scores on 24 carries before he suffered another season-ending injury.
Like Sanchez, Locker isn’t the ideal player to lead a team to the playoffs, but he possesses the skillset that could potentially bring the Bills’ offense to average, which could be enough to earn a berth in the playoffs.
Vertical Threat w/ Size+Strength
The Bills have stockpiled their wide receiving corps with speedy, athletic pass catchers that have the ability to create separation and gain yards-after-the-catch. They traded for Mike Williams in order to bring some size and strength to the position. However, for unknown reasons he wasn’t able to see the field on gamedays and was subsequently cut, so the team needs to find that role for the offense.
WR Vincent Jackson, Buccaneers, 31
This is purely speculation right now, but it appears that Vincent Jackson will be released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following the season. The team drafted a similar player in Mike Evans and Jackson’s $11 million per-year salary is a bit high for a rebuild. Jackson is a huge, physical receiver that is truly “open when he’s not.” Jackson, at 31 is mature and just wants to win. He’d be an excellent presence in the Bills’ young wide receiver room.
In the past four seasons, Jackson has caught 258 passes for 4,392 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Julius Thomas is another basketball player-turned-tight end superstar to take the league by storm. After developing with the Broncos for two years, he burst onto the scene in 2013 catching 105 passes for 1,214 yards and 24 touchdowns in his last 24 games.
Peyton Manning will obviously inflate the stats of any player on the receiving end of his passes, but Thomas is a dominant player that has the strength to play on the line and block, while possessing the athleticism to be a weapon down the seam.
Luckily for the rest of the NFL, both Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas are unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, in addition to several other key players on their roster, so it’ll be hard to keep both.
If the Broncos don’t use the franchise tag on him, Orange Julius should be the Bills’ No. 1 target.
Jordan Cameron, 27, Browns
Jordan Cameron was a fourth-round pick of the Cleveland Browns after playing basketball at Southern California. The 6’5” 244 lb tight end has hauled in 124 of 206 targets for 1,567 yards (12.6 yards-per-reception) and 10 touchdowns over the last three seasons. Cameron is a big, athletic tight end that can attack the seam and stretch the field.
He’s suffered multiple concussions in addition to a broken collarbone, so he has some injury concerns, but if he clears medical exams, Cameron could be an instant upgrade to the Bills’ offense.
Offensive Guard/ OL Depth
The Bills allocated a ton of resources into reshaping the offensive line this past offseason, signing left guard Chris Williams to a multi-year contract and drafting three offensive lineman in Cyrus Kouandjio, Cyril Richardson and Seantrel Henderson. Kouandjio, a second-round pick, was expected to be a day one starter at right tackle, but seventh rounder Seantrel Henderson has been reliable there. Kouandjio hasn’t played a snap yet, but he’s still a talented player that’s worth developing. Cyril Richardson saw some time, but it was clear that he needed time to develop as well.
Kouandjio and Richardson definitely project more favorably to Greg Roman’s man/gap blocking scheme than Marrone’s zone blocking system, but finding a veteran interior linemen should be a priority for Doug Whaley.
G Mike Iupati, 49ers, 27
Mike Iupati was the No. 17 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and he’s been a dominant run blocker throughout his five-year career. He’s been a top 15 guard in all but one of his five seasons according to ProFootballFocus’ grades, and he ranked in the top five in terms of run blocking in four seasons.
Iupati fits the mold of what Doug Whaley covets in a guard —big, strong, physical athletes– and his success under Greg Roman makes him a logical target for Buffalo.
G/T Orlando Franklin, Broncos, 27
Orlando Franklin is another quality offensive lineman that the Bills may have interest in. A former second-round pick out of the University of Miami, Franklin seamlessly moved inside to guard this season after spending the previous three years at tackle. The 6’7” 315-pounder has graded out in the top 20 in overall grade and run blocking among guards, while ranking in the top 10 in pass blocking according to ProFootballFocus’ metrics.
Franklin is a different type of lineman than Iupati, who is more of a mauler. Franklin wins with great technique, using his length and technique to keep defenders in front of him.