2015 NFL Free Agents: Defensive Players The Buffalo Bills Should Be Targeting

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

cj spiller jetsC.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. He’s expressed interest in reuniting with former Bills’ Head Coach Chan Gailey, who’s now the Offensive Coordinator of the New York Jets.

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.

Team Needs

Defensive Line Depth

With Rex Ryan coming to the Bills, he’ll bring his hybrid scheme that uses three defensive tackles, meaning that Buffalo will need to acquire a player that can play the nose (zero or one technique) or tackle/end (three or five technique) while rotating with Stefan Charles.

Dan Williams, 27, Cardinals

Dan Williams was the Cardinals’ 26th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and due to his role as a two-gapping nose tackle, he doesn’t get the league-wide recognition that he probably should. He’ll never be a player that racks up sacks, but he does the dirty work at the zero-technique role where he takes on double teams and frees up space for his teammates to make plays.

Williams played just 40.7% of the Cardinals’ defensive snaps in 2014, but his 19 “stops” against the run ranked 16th at his position, while his “Run Stop Percentage” of 9.1 ranked 7th.

Leger Douzable, 27, Jets

legerMuhammed Wilkerson Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison gained notoriety as the “Sons of Anarchy” under Rex Ryan with the Jets, but Leger Douzable was quietly one of the more productive and efficient 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL over the past two seasons. At 6’4” 305 pounds, Douzable has the length and bulk requisite of the five-technique end position in a 3-4 front. Last year, he played just 322 snaps but graded out as ProFootballFocus’ No. 23 ranked 3-4 defensive end. His 12 run stops in 133 snaps against the run was 11th best at his position, while his 13 quarterback pressures ranked 21st.

Edge Rusher

Jerry Hughes will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, so if the Bills can’t re-sign him, they’ll need to find an edge defender that can disrupt opposing quarterbacks opposite Mario Williams. Manny Lawson had a solid year in the same defensive scheme with Mike Pettine, but he’s better in coverage and defending the run than rushing the quarterback.

Brandon Graham, 26, Eagles

Prior to the 2014 season, Brandon Graham, the No. 13 overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft had been labeled a bust. On the surface, his 2014 season wasn’t that great either, as he recorded just six sacks and 35 tackles while playing 43.4% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps. However, he was extremely effective when he did see the field. His 51 quarterback pressures in 225 pass rush snaps made him the most efficient 3-4 outside linebacker when rushing the quarterback on a per-snap basis. He was on the field for just 189 snaps against the run, but his 25 tackles and 12 “stops” earned him the fourth highest run stop percentage according to ProFootballFocus’ metrics.

Like Hughes did in 2013, Graham could serve as a situational pass rusher that wouldn’t be a liability against the run for a modest price.

Safety

Da’Norris Searcy has developed into a quality player in four years with the Bills, but with his contract expiring the team may look to free agency to find a veteran to complement Aaron Williams and Duke Williams.

Dawan Landry, 32, Jets

dawanWhen Rex Ryan went from the Baltimore Ravens to the Jets, he brought Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard, Ed Reed and Dawan Landry with him. When Mike Pettine was hired as the Bills’ defensive coordinator, he brought Leonhard and Jamaal Westerman with him to help install the scheme. This year, safety Dawan Landry seems like a logical acquisition that would provide experience and depth to a young and thin position in the Bills’ secondary.

Landry is 32, so he’ll be relatively cheap to sign as a reserve. He’s coming off of a 106 tackle, 1.5 sack season with the Jets and would provide some physicality in the back-end of Buffalo’s defense.