The best franchises in the National Football League- those that make the playoffs and contend for division, conference and Super Bowl championships- typically build through the draft and use free agency as a way to acquire depth and role players to fill out the roster. The 2015 Buffalo Bills are entering a crucial point in their team-building efforts that will likely dictate the future success of the team. 2011’s No. 3 Overall pick Marcell Dareus, 2012 second-rounder Cordy Glenn and fourth-rounder Nigel Bradham are set to become unrestricted free agents following the 2015 NFL Season. Furthermore, the Bills will need to begin working on an extension with cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the No. 10 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. The team picked up his fifth-year option, which means they’ll pay him $11 million during the 2016 season before he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
According to the NFLPA’s Salary Cap Report, that’s updated daily, has the Bills with $6.245 million in salary cap space at the moment. But even with Dareus, Gilmore, Bradham and Glenn off the books in 2016, the Bills still only have $1.4 million in cap space due to Charles Clay’s $13.5 million cap hit. It’s likely that the team tries to restructure his deal, as he was signed to an offer sheet designed in a way that would prevent the Miami Dolphins from matching it. Percy Harvin’s $10 million cap hit is likely to be voided following the season, as his contract was structured in order for him to receive $6 million in up-front cash.
Doug Whaley mentioned that he wanted to extend Mario Williams in order to free up cap space for the upcoming deals, telling Vic Carrucci of The Buffalo News,
“He could free up the most and make it the most logical, because what we would do is not only restructure, but extend him similar to Kyle Williams, so these guys retire as Buffalo Bills,” Whaley said. “We want to set a precedent that we retain our own and we have them retire as Buffalo Bills. I think that’s a sentiment we’re trying to show the players on our roster now.”
By converting a portion of his $12.1 million base salary into a bonus, the Bills could create quite a bit of cap room for themselves.
So what can each of the Bills’ top upcoming free agents expect to earn on the open market? I went back and found the contracts given to defensive tackles, linebackers and offensive tackles in recent years in order to get a better grasp of what kind of deals Buffalo’s key players could earn this year.
Priority No. 1: DT Marcell Dareus
At just 25-years old, Marcell Dareus has established himself as one of the premier defensive players in the entire National Football League. Over the past two seasons he’s racked up 119 tackles, 17.5 sacks, forced two fumbles and batted down four passes. This kind of production is impressive for most edge rushers, let alone a player like Dareus that primarily plays nose tackle—where he consistently takes on double teams.
ProFootballFocus graded Dareus as the No. 1 run defender among defensive tackles in 2014, as his 33 tackles and 24 “stops” in the 228 snaps he defended the run was the third-most efficient rate at his position.
In the following play against the Detroit Lions, Dareus’ power, quickness and physicality is put on display. He fires off the ball, using his hands and brute strength to power through the center and bringing the running back down for a loss.
What makes Dareus so valuable is what he can contribute that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. In the next clip against the New York Jets, Dareus effectively takes on a double-team that provides enough space for the linebackers to make a tackle at the line of scrimmage. To finish the play, Dareus tosses the Jets’ guard Willie Colon to the ground with ease.
Dareus is just as effective getting after the quarterback as he is at stopping the run, which is incredible for a man of his size. Having a dominant interior defensive lineman like Dareus makes things easier for the entire front seven, in addition to limiting what opposing quarterbacks can do. He has the power to push offensive linemen backwards, collapsing the pocket and preventing the passer from stepping into their throws or forcing them to roll out.
In addition to being a ridiculously powerful man, he’s incredibly quick and uses his hands well when engaging opposing linemen.
Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Gerald McCoy to a seven-year, $98 million contract with $51.5 million in “likely to be earned” guarantees. In the 2015 free agency period, the Miami Dolphins awarded Ndamukong Suh a six-year, $114 million deal with $60 million fully guaranteed, including a $25.5 million signing bonus. You can be sure that both Dareus and Bills’ General Manager Doug Whaley are keeping those deals in mind when it comes to determining parameters for an extension. Here’s how Dareus stacks up against McCoy and Suh, from an analytics perspective.
I’d project him to sign a six-year extension worth roughly $105 million with about $55 million in guarantees. Based on these numbers, Dareus will be looking for a deal close to the $19 million Average per Year salary that Suh received, but there will be arguments that both Suh and McCoy did more with less supporting talent than Dareus did. Nonetheless, Dareus is already a top three defensive tackle in the NFL and at 25-years old, he’s just hitting his prime.
LB Nigel Bradham
The Bills picked up Stephon Gilmore’s fifth-year option, securing his rights through the 2016 season, making the team’s rising star linebacker, Nigel Bradham, the next priority to retain. Bradham was the team’s fourth-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and after serving as a rotational player throughout his first two professional seasons, he emerged as a consistent playmaker on defense in the 2014 season, racking up 104 tackles, two forced fumbles and an interception.
Bradham plays with energy and a ferociousness that fans haven’t seen for years on the Bills’ defense and it was clear that the game slowed down for the 24-year old last year, particularly when defending the run. According to ProFootballFocus, Bradham recorded 27 “stops” in 326 defensive snaps against running plays, the #12th most efficient rate among 4-3 outside linebackers.
In the following play against the Minnesota Vikings, Bradham is lined up over the “A” gap from an inside linebacker position in a 3rd-and-2 situation. Teddy Bridgewater hands the ball off to Jerick McKinnon out of a 3×1 shotgun formation and Bradham reads the run, scraping laterally before shooting the gap and blowing up the play at the line of scrimmage.
Bradham showed great spatial awareness, showing the ability to use his hands and athletic ability in order to fight through traffic and make plays. Here against the New England Patriots, he reads his keys immediately, identifies his target and explodes past the lead blocker to bring the running back down for a loss.
Due to his combination of speed, power, agility and change-of-direction ability, Bradham excelled in coverage last year, allowing the second-fewest yards surrendered per snap in coverage (0.60), trailing only teammate Preston Brown. He was targeted 48 times, the 11th highest total among 4-3 outside linebackers, but allowed just 236 yards (5th fewest) at a 6.9 yards-per-catch average (1stt) and didn’t give up a touchdown. His 72.9 passer rating-against was 2nd best at his position.
He’s got great change-of-direction ability that’s evident in the next play. Bradham drops into coverage with the tight end Andrew Quarless and is able to stay on him as the play breaks down. As Aaron Rodgers rolls out to the right, Bradham reads his eyes and breaks on the ball, getting a hand in front of Quarless to break up the pass.
Bradham is quick to react, showing excellent closing speed to make the tackle from a distance, preventing any yards-after-the-catch.
Nigel Bradham was sent as a third-down blitzer last season and was extremely effective, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ most efficient pass rushing 4-3 outside linebacker. While he only recorded 2.5 sacks, he generated six quarterback hits and nine hurries in 46 pass rush snaps, a disruption rate of about 37-percent.
Here against the Chiefs, Bradham is sent on a blitz through the “B” gap, between the tackle and guard. His speed is no match for the center, who gets turned around as Bradham delivers a shot to Alex Smith’s midsection as he just gets off the pass.
Nigel Bradham has only one season of full-time starting experience under his belt, so projecting a contract for him is a bit difficult. Adding more murkiness to the situation is the defensive scheme change that will move Bradham from a 4-3 outside linebacker to a 3-4 inside linebacker. Seattle Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright recently signed a four-year, $27 million deal that makes him the highest-paid 4-3 outside linebacker in the National Football League. Inside linebackers are currently compensated much better than 4-3 outside ‘backers, as there are eight players making more than Wright’s $6.75 million per-year average. In order to find comparable players, I used ProFootballFocus’ Signature Statistics to see what some of the highest-paid off-ball linebackers did in their contract years.
Based on the deals these players received, I think it’s fair to project a deal worth roughly $30 million over four years with roughly $10 million in guaranteed money if Nigel Bradham continues to build upon his play from the 2014 season.
LT Cordy Glenn
Cordy Glenn has been a solid contributor along the Bills’ offensive line ever since the 6’6″ 340 pound tackle was selected with the No. 41 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Despite questions regarding his potential as an offensive guard, Glenn has proven that he’s capable of handling himself on the edge.
After a near-dominant sophomore campaign in 2013, in which ProFootballFocus (Subscription Required) ranked him as the No. 13 tackle in the league, after grading out with a final score of +19.6 after allowing just two sacks, five QB hits and 23 QB hurries. In 2014, Glenn still graded out positively (+6.5) but fell to the No. 26 tackle per PFF’s grading metrics. He surrendered eight sacks, allowed four QB hits and 18 QB hurries. Now, the sack totals are obviously a concern, but when you consider the fact that he played next to three separate players throughout the course of the year, some slack has to be cut.
Glenn has quick feet and a strong base that allows him to match up with just about any edge rusher he faces off against. He’s tough and consistently uses his size and length to his advantage– creating distance between himself and defenders, while showing the ability to sink his hips and anchor against the rush.
Glenn is a powerful tackle that can bulldoze defensive linemen in the run game. He’s got incredible strength and once he gets moving downhill, he’s a tough man to immobilize.
While many pundits believe that Cordy Glenn would be best suited as a guard or at right tackle, he’s got quality film at left tackle- a premier position that holds big value in the National Football League.
Here are some of the notable contracts signed by offensive tackles– with similar ability to Glenn–in the last three years.
Let’s see how Glenn’s 2014 season compares to the contract years of the group with some help from ProFootballFocus’ pressure statistics and NFL.com’s tracking of rushes by direction.
By all accounts, it seems like Glenn is a better fit for new offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s scheme than he was in Doug Marrone’s, so if Glenn can rebound from his less-than-stellar 2014 campaign, I’d predict him receiving a five-year, $38 million deal with about $14 million in guaranteed money.
The Bills have a handful of up-and-coming players at premier positions that are set to become free agents within the next year or two. If the team wants to continue moving in the right direction, they’ll need to find a way to retain these young cornerstones. Stay tuned to BillsMafia.com, as I’ll be highlighting a potential contract for Stephon Gilmore within the next week.