This is the eighth in a series examining potential free agents at positions where the Buffalo Bills have a need.
In the first free-agent plunge of the Sean McDermott era, the Buffalo Bills last year made their secondary the highest of priorities.
To say they hit the bull’s-eye would be an understatement.
The Bills found a pair of starting safeties, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, who proved to be not only the strength of their defense but also as good a pairing at the position as any in the NFL. And their defensive backfield became even stronger with the impact of cornerback Tre’Davious White, their first-round draft pick.
Now the question is whether McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane can make it back-to-back offseasons of secondary enhancement.
They already made one significant addition with the recent free-agent signing of cornerback Vontae Davis. He’s likely to end up replacing E.J. Gaines, who is expected to get play in the free-agent market, as the starter opposite White.
To help ensure that they remain as solid at safety as they were in 2017, the Bills would figure to be looking into free agency for some quality depth.
Perhaps two of the better safety values could come from AFC East opponents.
One is Michael Thomas, 27, of the Miami Dolphins. He has been the Dolphins’ special teams captain the past two years and would figure to give a welcome boost to the Bills’ kick coverage. However, the 5-foot-11, 201-pound Thomas also has done well when he has filled in at safety.
In five NFL seasons – after spending 2012 on the practice squad of the San Francisco 49ers, who signed him as an undrafted free agent from Stanford – Thomas has 191 tackles, three forced fumbles and an interception.
Thomas, who has knelt for the national anthem the past two seasons and is among the NFL players trying to advocate change in social justice in America, began an internship last month for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“It’s not every day you get to learn from hands-on experience at this level of politics,” Thomas told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “I am afforded this opportunity, and I am here to learn as much as I can while representing those who may feel voiceless in our communities.”
Another safety in the division worth a look is Terrence Brooks of the New York Jets. He saw limited action last season behind the Jets’ starting rookie duo of Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye.
That shouldn’t be counted too heavily against the 26-year-old Brooks, who has generally made the most of his opportunities to play. After joining the Baltimore Ravens as a third-round draft pick in 2014, he suffered a torn ACL at the end of his rookie year and released late in the 2012 season. The Philadelphia Eagles picked him up, then traded him to the Jets last summer.
The 5-11, 205-pound Brooks performed well enough at safety against the Dolphins in Week 3 to be named AFC Defensive Player of the Week.
“Winning the award is definitely a great accomplishment on my end, especially after everything I’ve went through to get back on the field,” Brooks told the New York Post. “A lot of coaches didn’t want to give me a chance. Now I’m getting a chance.”
Steven Terrell of the Kansas City Chiefs also didn’t play a whole lot last season. He isn’t a starting-caliber player, but he did a nice job in the time he did see the field.
On the assumption they lose Gaines and Leonard Johnson in free agency, the Bills could also be looking for a slot cornerback.
Here are a couple of candidates: Aaron Colvin of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Terrance Mitchell of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Colvin’s stock in the 2014 NFL Draft plummeted because of a torn ACL. He has done a superb job in the slot for the Jaguars. Colvin, 26, was instrumental in the defensive strength that keyed their impressive playoff run last season.
Mitchell struggled last season, but so did pretty much everyone else on the Chiefs’ defense. What’s worth noting is that he played well late in the 2016 season and he’ll be 26 in May, which means there is plenty of time for him to recapture that form and elevate his game.