State of the Buffalo Bills: Linebackers

Photo of LB Lorenzo Alexander from NewYorkUpstate.com.

A loss to the New York Jets on Sunday means that any fan who was holding out hope for an unlikely playoff push can join the rest of us focusing on the future now that the Bills are officially out of the playoffs. While the defense played admirably against the Jets, it was obvious that there are still some things that need to be addressed in the offseason. The linebacker group is next up for my ‘State of the Bills’ series.

Linebackers

Returners

Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Julian Stanford, Deon Lacey

Bills Free Agents

Lorenzo Alexander

Draft Pulse

Possibly a mid-late round flyer for depth purposes

Free Agent Tracker

Anthony Barr, Dee Ford, Za’Darius Smith, Elijah Lee

The Bills defensive front seven is the core of their team right now. Coach McDermott found a diamond in the rough when he drafted Matt Milano in the fifth round of the 2017 draft. Milano is having a pro bowl season for Buffalo and has taken a giant step forward in year two.

Brandon Beane came in to the 2018 draft and pounced on the opportunity to move up and select promising middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds with the 16th overall pick.  Bills fans have every reason to be excited about the potential of this young duo.

Photo of MLB Tremaine Edmunds from 10yardpenalty.com and USATODAY.com.

Tremaine Edmunds, one of the youngest players in the NFL, has shown flashes of brilliance this season.  He’s also been a liability on the field at times.  This is something the Bills brass likely expected coming into this season, but they’re going to be banking on a big jump in year two.

Lorenzo Alexander continues to be a reliable force out on the field.  More importantly, his veteran leadership in that locker room cannot be overstated.  He, like Kyle Williams, deserves to be brought back if he decides he has more football left in him.

Alexander’s play on the field this season certainly suggests that he does. His role could continue to diminish, especially if they look to make an addition through free agency, but his voice in that locker room is reason enough to resign him this offseason.

The 2019 free agent class could offer some intriguing options.  Anthony Barr has been a disappointment this season, but still possesses elite athleticism and upside. Dee Ford is having a tremendous season. He is putting pressure on the quarterback at an impressive clip. That said, Ford is the most obvious candidate for the franchise tag in Kansas City if they cannot come to terms on a long-term deal.

Photo of Ravens’ OLB Za’Darius Smith from alchetron.com.

Za’Darius Smith is a player that might be worth making a run at this offseason. The linebacker from Baltimore is having the best season of his career. The Ravens front office would probably love to bring him back, but there are a number of other players on that side of the ball who are up for a new contract.  If they choose to keep C.J. Mosley, Smith could become available. The former fourth round pick out of Kentucky has 6.5 sacks this season.

Elijah Lee is a young player that San Francisco can probably bring back at an affordable cost. If for some reason he becomes available, Buffalo should absolutely make an offer to try and add the undersized, but versatile, linebacker.

Overall this group for the Bills is in good shape. They should continue to make a positive jump forward just based on natural player progression. They will be significantly better at the position if Tremaine Edmunds can continue to clean up some of the inconsistencies in his game. If he does that, Edmunds has the potential to be one of the game’s elite middle linebackers. He and Milano should be two of the cornerstones of this franchise for years to come.

Editor’s babble: It will be interesting to see how the Bills decide to fortify the linebacking corps. Will it be through free agency or the draft? Thanks to Joe Geniti for his terrific contributions to our blog. You can find Joe on Twitter @JoeGeniti.