Free Agency has settled down for the Buffalo Bills after handing out $92 million in guaranteed money towards new and restructured contracts, the highest total in the league. Now, with roughly $5 million in salary cap space after accounting for draft picks, Rex Ryan, Doug Whaley and Greg Roman will need to sit down and go over the roster to determine how they’ll attack the 2015 NFL Draft.
The Bills’ aggressiveness in free agency allowed him to fill various needs with proven and talented skill position players in LeSean McCoy, Charles Clay and Percy Harvin, but Whaley expressed disappointed that the team wasn’t able to acquire one of their two offensive line targets. On the other side of the ball, the Bills already have cornerstone pieces in place at valuable positions, so they can look for role player or take a flier on someone with potential that may need some refinement.
While the draft is used to acquire talent for the present, the rookie wage scale brought by the new CBA allows teams to take finances into account when selecting players. If a veteran has big cap numbers in the coming years, a team could opt to spend roughly $3-5 million per year on a first-round pick over $7-9 million on an older player. Filling out needs with mid-round picks is even more cost-effective, with deals ranging from $500k-$1 million per year.
So, let’s take a look at the Bills’ current roster by position, while looking at the monetary commitments they have to account for.
E.J. Manuel, Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor, Jeff Tuel
2015 Cap: $8.566 million
League Rank (22nd)
The quarterback position is the most glaring need on the Bills’ roster. Two years after being selected with the No. 16 overall pick, EJ Manuel is entering a make-or-break season. He’ll be competing with Matt Cassel, a veteran quarterback the team traded for who’s at the very least capable of managing the offense. Additionally, they signed Tyrod Taylor, a young, athletic dual-threat passer that’s spent the last four seasons backing up Joe Flacco with the Baltimore Ravens. Jeff Tuel has starting experience and practice squad eligibility, but the coaching staff has no ties to him, so his future status with the team is up in the air.
Running Backs/ Fullbacks (5)
LeSean McCoy, Fred Jackson, Boobie Dixon, Bryce Brown, Jerome Felton
Other: Corey Knox
2015 cap: $11.905 million
League Rank (6th)
The Bills traded for superstar running back LeSean McCoy and quickly awarded him a five-year, $40 million contract, showing their commitment to the run and the confidence that he could be an effective “bell-cow” in Greg Roman’s offense. After signing McCoy, rumors surrounding the potential release of Fred Jackson surfaced, but owner Terry Pegula stepped in, nixing the idea.
Boobie Dixon is a core special teamer that proved he could be more than a short-yardage back when given the chance last season, rushing for 432 yards on 105 carries. Doug Whaley traded a fourth-round pick for Bryce Brown last year, but he was inactive for most of the season before a huge fumble sent him back to the doghouse.
Doug Whaley stated that he wants the coaching staff to have “an open mind” regarding Brown, but Rex Ryan stated that he “wouldn’t learn his name until he can hold onto the ball,” so his role will be an interesting storyline to track throughout training camp. Jerome Felton is one of the best fullbacks in the National Football League, while Corey Knox is likely nothing more than a camp body right now.
Wide Receivers (10)
Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Percy Harvin, Marcus Easley, Chris Hogan, Marquise Goodwin
Other : Deonte Thompson, Marcus Thigpen, Justin Brown, Caleb Holley
2015 Cap: $14.822 million
League Rank (13th)
The Bills’ top three wide receiver spots are set in stone, with Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and the recently acquired Percy Harvin. Marcus Easley, a special teams ace, re-signed with the team on a multi-year deal, guaranteeing his role on the 53-man roster. Chris Hogan, who was a pleasant surprise as a slot receiver last year was tendered as a Restricted Free Agent at a relatively cheap deal, so he’s likely the fifth receiver.
Marquise Goodwin was a third-round pick in 2013 and possesses world-class speed to take the top off a defense so he’ll have a head up on Deonte Thompson, Marcus Thigpen, Justin Brown and Caleb Holley in training camp. However, with Greg Roman’s value on multiple tight ends and offensive linemen, it’s unclear how many receivers the team will go into the season with. The team may look for a receiving threat with size at some point in the draft.
Tight Ends (4)
Charles Clay, Marquies Gray, Chris Gragg
Other: Chris Manhertz
2015 Cap: $6.619
League Rank (18th)
Buffalo acquired Charles Clay by awarding him a five-year, $38 million contract that the Miami Dolphins couldn’t match after placing the Transition Tag on him. He’s expected to be an every-down player on offense, utilized in a variety of roles. Marquies Gray and Chris Gragg are both similar “move” tight ends- undersized for a traditional in-line role, but one will likely stay on as a reserve while Chris Manhertz is likely a camp body. The Bills will likely be targeting a more traditional “Y” tight end in the draft
Offensive Line (11)
Eric Wood, Chris Williams, Kraig Urbik, Cordy Glenn, Richie Incognito, Cyrus Kouandjio, Cyril Richardson, Seantrel Henderson
Other: Darryl Johnson, William Campbell, Alex Kupper
2015 Cap: $17.021
League Rank (23rd)
The Bills offensive line was an issue in 2014, particularly at the guard spots. Right guard Erik Pears wasn’t retained as an unrestricted free agent and the team signed former Pro Bowler Richie Incognito, who has experience at both right and left guard. This leaves Chris Williams, Kraig Urbik, Cyril Richardson and possibly Cyrus Kouandjio as the competitors for the remaining spot.
There have been rumblings about Cordy Glenn potentially sliding inside to guard, but it’s more likely that he and Seantrel Henderson are likely locked in as tackles. Eric Wood had a down year in 2014, but he’s probably the only member of the Bills’ offensive line who’s guaranteed to start at the same position in 2015.