With free agency only a month away the Buffalo Bills are about to enter into uncharted waters with defensive end Jerry Hughes. Starting on Monday February 16th , and going until March 10th, the Buffalo Bills will be able to label Hughes with either a franchise or transition tag that would prevent him from hitting the open market and bringing him back for another year in Buffalo.
Recently Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports broke down the projected costs of the franchise tag and right now Hughes would be in line for a one year $14.68 million deal. The good news is that the Bills have close to $28 million in available cap space, the bad is that Hughes would severely hinder any other spending options as he would engulf about half of that available space.
If the Bills can’t come to an agreement with Hughes, they’ll have to find a replacement for him in free agency or the draft. With that in mind here are a couple of players the Bills could target to replace the valuable pass rusher.
2015 NFL Free Agency
He’s coming off another injury shorten season, his second in three seasons, only playing seven games and recording a half a sack. It’s a far cry from the beginning of his career when he played all 16 games and brought down the quarterback 11 times. Orakpo has recorded two seasons of double digit sacks with the last being in 2013. If the price (eight to nine million) and term (one to two years) works out in Buffalo’s favor they may be able to bring in a rejuvenated player looking to prove that he hasn’t lost a step.
Reed is more of a depth player, but in terms of age, value, and pass rush ability he may be a suitable replacement, though given a lesser player, if Hughes were to depart. Reed’s best season was his rookie year in 2011 when playing opposite of Mario Williams he recorded six sacks. He has averaged only three sacks a year and roughly 30 tackles in a part time situational role in Houston, but with more snaps and more players around him, Reed could fill in as a pass rushing compliment. This obviously isn’t ideal, but Reed is probably the best, and youngest, of the second wave of pass rushers.
The other route the Bills could turn to is the NFL draft. Lacking a first round pick the Bills will likely be unable to land any of the top pass rushers. So with that in mind here are two prospects that could fall into the middle rounds that the Bills may select.
Danielle Hunter, LSU
Hunter exudes potential as his athleticism stands out on tape. In fact many think he can increase his draft stock at this year’s NFL Combine as his physical skills will put on a show. The issue with Hunter comes down to technique and refinement. Standing 6’6 and weighing 240 pounds, Hunter could add some more weight to help increase his strength and girth at the point of attack, but what he excels at is speed and leverage. Hunter started 23 games in his three seasons at LSU and is only beginning to maximize his potential, at the same time his raw ability will knock him down on some draft boards to the middle round as teams looked for more plug and play prospects than the developmental gem Hunter can become. He is currently being compared to his former LSU teammate Barkevious Mingo, a sixth overall selection from two years ago.
Nate Orchard- DE Utah
Orchard is a player that is getting a lot of push in mock drafts, but remains undefined positionally. He amassed 18.5 sacks as a senior in Utah and played defensive end in their traditional 4-3 front, but may be better suited as a 3-4 linebacker in the NFL. The issue with Orchard is that he lacks fluidity, strength at the point of attack, and acceleration. It’ll be interesting to see where his shuttle time at the combine is as that could be an indicator on how well he’ll work within the tight space of the line of scrimmage. In either case Orchard is currently a player being mocked in the first round due to his high motor and smart play, but because of a shortage of explosive qualities he could fall into the second or third rounds.