The Buffalo Bills can't address all of their needs on defense in the NFL Draft. So, despite salary-cap constraints, they signed free agent safety Robert Blanton to a one-year deal on Friday.
Blanton will likely be penciled in as the team's No. 3 safety behind starters Aaron Williams and Corey Graham, and serve as insurance if Williams (neck) is unable to continue his NFL career this summer. His deal is worth $840K with an $80,000 signing bonus, per USA Today. Buffalo basically decided to roll with Blanton over last year's Plan B, Bacarri Rambo. The front office didn't tender the restricted free agent Rambo, who's now an unrestricted free agent.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Blanton, a 2012 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame, has spent all four of his pro seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. He finished with 34 tackles (28 solo) and three pass break-ups in a reserve role last season. The year prior, his lone season as a starter, Blanton finished with 106 tackles (72 solo), two pass break-ups and an interception. His lone career interception came against ex-Bill quarterback Kyle Orton.
Considering the Bills will still likely address defensive line (where Mario Williams was released), inside linebacker and/or outside linebacker, they needed to dip into free agency to some extent. His old team decided to move on at safety in signing Michael Griffin (Tennessee) and Travis Lewis (Detroit).
Aaron Williams' future still remains unknown. Despite the optimism of Rex Ryan and Doug Whaley, who both said this offseason that Williams has been cleared, Williams said himself he must see how his neck responds to contact in training camp after his scary ordeal in 2015.
Despite the numbness, the tingling, the scary scene in Week 2 and then his return at Tennessee, Williams has said he has "no doubt" in his mind about playing. Buffalo sure could use its emotional defensive leader back, on and off the field.
“There’s never been a question," said Williams, who came into his own through 2013 and 2014 with 82 and 76 tackles, 16 total pass break-ups and five interceptions. "The thing was do I feel comfortable enough to come back? I told myself we’ll figure it out after next year's training camp. After that first hit, if you feel like you can sustain those hits week in and week out, then continue to keep playing. But if it’s one of those where I hit it and it’s just like, ‘Man, this doesn’t look good,’ then I’ll have to reconsider.”
Thus, Blanton would be the fallback option next to Graham if Williams must indeed "reconsider." He could potentially offer the ability in coverage that Rambo could not.
While Rambo won the Bills a game at New York with three turnovers --- always eyeing a big hit --- he struggled deep in the secondary as the season progressed. Blanton was a cornerback in college and clocked in at 4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his NFL Combine with a 34-inch vertical leap and 12 reps at 225 pounds on the bench. He must've impressed coached on his visit to One Bills Drive Friday on the white board. Multiple defensive backs cited "miscommunication" as an issue in 2015.
Buffalo also has Duke Williams, Jonathan Meeks and Jonathan Dowling on the roster with Williams the most experienced of the bunch, showing promise in Jim Schwartz's defense during the 2014 season. The new coaching staff, however, seemed reluctant to play him from the get-go. He was a back-up from Day 1 of training camp and then played only 26 percent of the snaps last season, as Meeks saw only 16 snaps all year.
Blanton now gets his shot.
Earlier this week, the Bills also signed tight end Jim Dray and invited running back Joique Bell and wide receiver Jeremy Kerley in for visits. Neither Bell nor Kerley have signed yet.