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Bills roster rundown / Defensive backs: Lock-down mode lessons need to be learned

Signed, with cap hit in parentheses: CB Ron Brooks ($760,135), S Deon Broomfield ($435,000), CB Mario Butler ($585,000), CB Ross Cockrell ($626,888), CB Stephon Gilmore ($3.845 million), CB Corey Graham ($4.3 million), CB Jonte Green ($585,000), S Kenny Ladler ($510,000), CB Leodis McKelvin ($4.9 million), S Jonathan Meeks ($634,500), S Bacarri Rambo ($585,000), CB Nickell Robey ($587,334), CB Rod Sweeting ($510,000), S Aaron Williams ($3.9 million), S Duke Williams ($702,563).

Pending free agents: S Da’Norris Searcy (unrestricted).

What went right: Enough to say that the Bills’ secondary did a fairly decent job of complementing one of the NFL’s better front sevens. How much did Buffalo’s defensive backs benefit from the play of a dominant line and solid linebacking corps? Plenty. But they had some good performers of their own. McKelvin was playing as well as he has at any point in his seven NFL seasons until he suffered a season-ending fractured ankle on Nov. 13 against Miami. Graham was solid in his place at left cornerback the rest of the way. Gilmore, who started most of the season at right cornerback, showed progress, but needs to make more. The safeties played well, doing some of their best work against one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.

What went wrong: None of the cornerbacks showed the truly consistent lock-down skills that will be necessary in the defensive scheme new coach Rex Ryan, who will frequently put his corners in single coverage. A week after a spectacular showing against the Packers, the entire secondary, but especially the safeties, had a massive letdown at Oakland that contributed heavily to the most disappointing loss of the season. The constant rotating that former Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz did with members of his secondary was often problematic because it would cause players such as Graham, when he wasn’t starting, to miss large chunks of action when he clearly should have been on the field. The same thing happened, but to a lesser degree, with the defensive line. The good news is that in Ryan’s defense, anyone who regularly plays at a high level is going to stay on the field if he’s healthy.

Where they go from here: There has been plenty of speculation that, if the New England Patriots don’t exercise Darrelle Revis’ $20-million option for next season, he would be the Bills’ top target in free agency because he played for Ryan with the New York Jets and is one of the very best cornerbacks in the game. To make the major investment required to obtain Revis, who will be 30 when training camp begins, the Bills would likely be inclined to unload the cornerback with the largest cap number for his position on the team, McKelvin, who is going to be 30 when the season begins. Graham’s number isn’t far behind and he’ll also be 30 when training camp starts, but the length of his deal and resulting cap acceleration make it harder for the Bills to cut ties with him. Searcy had his best season in 2014, but the Bills’ heavy investment in Aaron Williams would make it a challenge to re-sign Searcy if his price gets too steep. And if they don’t re-sign him, Duke Williams is showing steady enough improvement through two seasons to take Searcy’s place. The Bills wouldn’t seem to do any heavy free-agent shopping for their secondary (unless Revis becomes available), nor does it appear as if they’ll look hard for defensive back help in the draft.


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