The Buffalo Bills added some flexibility and insurance on their defensive line Monday by signing Seattle Seahawks free agent Alan Branch to a one-year contract.
Branch is a 6-foot-6, 324-pounder from the University of Michigan who gives the Bills a player with starter credentials to join Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams in their 3-4 defensive front. When the Bills use a four-man line, he’s another big body who can spell Dareus or Williams in the middle.
The Bills hope his big frame can be another piece in the puzzle new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine uses to improve a run defense that ranked 31st in the NFL last season.
“I fit every single spot on the defensive front,” Branch said at One Bills Drive after signing a contract worth $3 million. “I have experience playing every single spot they have on this team. I’ve played defensive end, nose and the 3-technique. So wherever they want me to be, basically I’ll be there.”
Branch, 28, played 55 percent of the snaps the last two seasons for a strong Seattle defense. He played more on first and second down. He gave the Seahawks outstanding play in 2011, making 34 tackles and three sacks. He was effective but not quite as noticeable in 2012, making 29 tackles and one sack.
Branch’s game isn’t about statistics. It’s about eating up space and disrupting blockers. He gives the Bills someone who can play the 3-4 defensive end or the nose position on the defensive line.
“I like the fit for any team that’s had some difficulty stopping the run,” said Branch’s agent, Blake Baratz, from his Minneapolis office. “Alan is a big, athletic body that I think can come in and help a lot. He still has a lot to prove, and he’s hungry. I think he’s unselfish, team-oriented guy. … There’s a lot of things that players do that don’t go in the statistical categories but actually have a lot to do with a team being victorious.”
Competing with Branch for playing time will be fourth-year man Alex Carrington, a 301-pounder who played 31 percent of the snaps last season. If big Torell Troup can make it all the way back from a back surgery that wiped out his entire 2012 season, then the Bills will be five-deep in big bodies in the middle of the defense.
Seattle had some interest in retaining Branch but had bigger priorities. The Seahawks had to revamp their defensive end position and spent big money on edge rushers Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Seattle then signed Miami backup DT Tony McDaniel to a one-year deal, believed to be for less than Branch got.
Branch entered the league as the 33rd overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2007. He was a backup his first four years before emerging with the Seahawks.
“Playing time was the main thing,” Branch said of his Arizona tenure. “When I’m on the field I can actually make plays. I feel like I made some plays in Seattle. Up here, with the scheme they have and the players they have, there’s more on the filed for me to go get. So I think I’m going to fit in well with this scheme.”
Branch said he hopes to tie up blockers to allow Mario Williams, playing stand-up rush end in Pettine’s defense, to make more plays.
“My goal is to try to get them to double-team me so he can go ahead and get some food on his plate to eat, too,” Branch said. “Hopefully all of us eat, all of us go out there and play ball.”
Branch said he played a majority of his snaps in Seattle at the 3-technique position, lined up across from the outside shoulder of a guard. That’s where Kyle Williams sees most of his action, and Dareus probably is better at the 3-technique spot than Branch, too.
“But I was a backup on every other spot,” Branch said. “I was backup nose, backup end, everything except the Leo position they have out there. I’m kind of a jack of all trades. I do it all.”
(The Leo is the weak-side edge rusher in Seattle’s defense.)
Branch said Pettine sold him on the idea he will fit well with the Bills.
“His scheme definitely had me intrigued,” Branch said. “I like the way they viewed the defensive line ball. It’s not robotic. I like to be turned loose and go ahead and cause some havoc back there.”