The Buffalo Bills reached a contract agreement late Friday with New England Patriots free-agent linebacker Brandon Spikes.
The deal capped an overhaul of the team’s linebacking corps.
Keith Rivers, newly signed from the New York Giants, was introduced Friday morning as Buffalo’s new starting strong-side linebacker. Kiko Alonso, as anticipated, will move from the middle to weak-side linebacker in the 4-3 scheme of new coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Between those two will be the imposing Spikes, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound, four-year veteran.
Spikes, 26, agreed to terms on a one-year deal, a source told The News, confirming an Associated Press report. It’s worth $3.25 million, according to ESPN. He’s a significant addition in the Bills’ quest to improve a defense that ranked 28th against the run last season.
Spikes has been one of the best run-stopping inside linebackers in the NFL the past two years. The Bills have felt his hard-hitting presence.
Spikes was fined $25,000 for a hit two years ago that knocked the helmet off Ryan Fitzpatrick, then the Bills quarterback. Fitzpatrick called Spikes a “punk” and “not one of my favorite players.”
Spikes is viewed as a two-down linebacker, and a guy who can be exploited in space when he’s covering the pass. Like a lot of big NFL middle linebackers, he came off the field in obvious passing situations. However, the Patriots did use him in their nickel defense some of the time. Spikes played 53 percent of the snaps in 2013 (despite playing through a sore knee) and 66 percent of the snaps in 2012.
New England has three quality linebackers and did not have a need to give Spikes a pay raise. There also have been numerous reports that the Pats grew tired of the fact that Spikes did not march to the coaches’ drums as much as the team wanted.
Spikes did not endear himself to the Pats’ coaches last offseason after being the only player on the team who did not show up for any of the offseason workouts.
The Bills no doubt have a good read of Spikes’ attitude off the field and in the locker room. Buffalo’s new defensive line coach, Pepper Johnson, was Spikes’ position coach the last two years with the Patriots.
In Rivers, the Bills think they have an elite athlete who can run, chase and make plays on the side of the field opposite from Alonso.
“Productive, versatile and athletic,” Bills General Manager Doug Whaley said of Rivers. “He’s going to be what we say is a three- to four-down linebacker.”
Rivers was the ninth overall pick of the draft in 2009, but he has not lived up to his draft stature. He spent the past two years as a part-time player with the New York Giants, coming off the field in passing situations. He has received passable reviews overall, but has not been an impact player. He has two career interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. The Giants opted not to strongly pursue his return.
Whaley said he sees a lot of value in a guy who moves so well and has 48 career starts.
“He can stay in on third down and cover because he’s got athletic ability, and then he can contribute on teams,” he said on WGR Radio. “So this goes back to our mantra of getting value guys.”
Rivers, an All-America at the University of Southern California, thinks he can help the Bills’ run defense.
“Since my days at SC, I’ve always been a sideline to sideline type of player,” he said. “But at the same time I’m not afraid to play in the phone booth.”
“I think that’s always been kind of been my specialty, playing the run since Cincinnati and in New York this past year,” Rivers said. “It’s something I take pride in doing.”
Rivers played 37 percent of the snaps for the Giants last season. New York opted to use lighter linebacker Jacquain Williams instead of Rivers for coverage on passing downs.
“I’m definitely excited to work back in to that role,” Rivers said of third downs. “They had a guy in Jacquian who they liked better in cover matchups, for whatever reason, but I’m excited to get out there and show you guys what I can do on third down.”
Meanwhile, free-agent running back Anthony Dixon also agreed to terms on a contract, he announced on his Twitter feed.
He’s a 6-1, 239-pounder who could provide a power-running option behind C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Dixon spent the past four years as a backup in San Francisco. He has 148 career carries for 458 yards and eight TDs.