Any worries about how Lorenzo Alexander might fit into the Buffalo Bills’ new defense are evidently not shared by the team’s coaching staff.
That point became crystal clear Saturday, when the Bills re-signed the veteran linebacker to a two-year contract worth up to $9.1 million, according to a league source.
Alexander, who will be 34 at the start of next season, was one of the best stories in the NFL last year. He came into 2016 with 9 career sacks, but blew that away in his 10th full season, finishing with 76 tackles, 12.5 sacks, six passes defended, three forced fumbles and one interception.
He capped things off by being named defensive MVP of the AFC team at the Pro Bowl, sealing his team’s win with an interception. Alexander’s 12.5 sacks ranked as the most by a member of the Bills in their first season since Bryce Paup had 17.5 in 1995.
Because of that success, and the Bills changing from Rex Ryan’s 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 defense under new coach Sean McDermott, there were some questions as to whether Alexander would be back. Those were answered Saturday.
“I definitely want to be settled in one spot and Buffalo being the great football city that it is – obviously the fan base and the whole community embraced me last year – I definitely wanted to come back here,” he said Saturday on a conference call. “I really appreciated the Pegulas, Doug Whaley and Sean McDermott expressing their feelings about me as a player on and off the field. Anytime you have a relationship that you do like that, you definitely want to come back and finish it off.”
Alexander said his new contract will ideally be his last.
“Hopefully I can win a championship in the next two years,” he said. “Obviously, we say that and looking at what we did the last 17 years, nobody sees that in the cards. But I don’t see anybody who saw me getting 12.5 sacks last year, either. If I’m able to do that and by the end of the time my deal is up, I’ll definitely be able to walk away from this game feeling fulfilled.”
As to how he fits in the new defensive scheme, Alexander pointed to a player who has had a great deal of success under McDermott in Carolina.
“I’ll probably be off the ball playing ‘SAM’ or under front as I walk up to the line and over front, I’ll be stacked up – which I did, actually, last year in several of our games especially at the end of the season,” he said. “It was very effective and impactful, still. And then on third down, usually under center – much like how they used Thomas Davis, kind of looking at the way he was used in Carolina. Having that similar role, obviously on the field and in the locker room.”
Alexander, at 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds, is slightly bigger than the 6-1, 235-pound Davis, who has five straight seasons of 100-plus tackles for the Panthers.
Davis and Alexander entered the NFL together with the Panthers in 2005, and have maintained a close relationship ever since. When McDermott was hired as coach, Alexander reached out to his friend for a scouting report of sorts.
“I have a lot of respect for him, as far as who he is and he put his name on Sean,” Alexander said. “Sean doesn’t have anything to prove to me, once Thomas told me that.”
“Seeing his defenses, seeing how they’ve produced, seeing the type of man he is and how he coaches – just from talking to guys around the league – I know that we’re going to be successful. We just have to have buy-in, and that’s part of my job as well, being one of the leaders, is getting guys, forcing guys, whatever I got to do – each guy is different – to make sure I get them to buy-in and take their game to the next level.”
That attitude is another similarity Alexander has with Davis, who was the NFL’s 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year. By re-signing Alexander, the Bills have the type of leader any NFL team would value.
“We want to be able to change the culture around immediately and get moving in the right direction,” he said. “Whatever that looks like, so that we can be a successful football team because, like I said, I only have two years at the most that I’ll probably still be playing and I don’t want to go out and not be in the playoffs, not win football games, and I understand we have to have everybody from a Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, all the way down to the last guy that’s fighting for a roster spot on this team, to be moving in the same direction if we want to find ourselves where we want to be.”
There can be a tendency among media and fans to overcomplicate football. It’s easy to drown in the sea of terminology. So to hear the following from Alexander is refreshing.
“I’m a football player, and 4-3, 3-4 – it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Just show me where the ball is and I’m going to try to go get it. Play hard, play tough, and when you have 11 men playing like that, you’re going to have a lot of plays being made. We have a lot of other great guys on this team that are going to open up stuff for me and hopefully I’m able to do things for them so that they can be successful.”