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Bills make surprise move in releasing Jonathan Williams

After mostly predictable moves Saturday, the Buffalo Bills came up with a bit of a shocker Sunday by releasing running back Jonathan Williams.

The Bills also waived linebacker Gerald Hodges and wide receiver Philly Brown to make room for three additions made earlier Sunday via waiver claims: rookie offensive tackle Conor McDermott (from the New England Patriots; he is no relation to coach Sean McDermott), linebacker Deon Lacey (from the Miami Dolphins), and tight end Khari Lee (from the Detroit Lions).

The moves came less than 24 hours after the Bills made a series of transactions to trim their roster before Saturday's deadline to be at the NFL maximum of 53.

The release of Hodges was somewhat surprising, but the decision on Williams seemed to catch a good number of Bills fans and close observers of the team off-guard.

Williams, who joined the Bills as last year as a fifth-round draft pick from Arkansas, appeared to be a lock to fill the No. 2 spot behind 29-year-old LeSean McCoy. He had had a solid training camp and strong preseason, which he ended with a 21-yard touchdown run against the Lions last Thursday night.

As a rookie, Williams carried 27 times for 94 yards (an average of 3.5 yards per carry) and a touchdown, with his longest run covering 20 yards. He also lost two fumbles, and ball security was something Sean McDermott questioned publicly about the running back. But Williams seemed to be putting in extra time and effort to resolve it.

Williams thanked Bills fans for their "time" via Twitter.

The Bills are keeping Joe Banyard and Taiwan Jones, each of whom performed solidly this summer, as their reserve running backs. Their backfield depth chart also includes 31-year-old fullback Mike Tolbert, who will serve as a short-yardage and goal-line runner, and blocking fullback Patrick DiMarco.

By cutting Williams, the Bills are down to six players drafted during the regime of previous General Manager Doug Whaley: linebacker Preston Brown, offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, guard John Miller, tight end Nick O'Leary, defensive end Shaq Lawson, and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington.

Hodges, signed as a free agent, seemed to have a good camp and preseason, and figured to be secure with his versatility to be a backup at both outside and inside linebacker. The Bills now have six linebackers on their active roster: starters Lorenzo Alexander, Preston Brown, and Ramon Humber, to go along with Lacey and rookie reserves Matt Milano and Tanner Vallejo.

Brown, also signed as a free agent, was thought to have an in because he formerly played for the Carolina Panthers, where McDermott had been defensive coordinator and GM Brandon Beane was assistant GM. Brown's departure leaves the Bills with five receivers on their active rosters: Jordan Matthews, Zay Jones, Andre Holmes, Brandon Tate, and newly acquired Kaelin Clay. Walter Powell is due to serve a suspension, and does not count against the 53-man roster.

The Patriots made the 6-foot-8, 307-pound McDermott a sixth-round draft pick from UCLA. His older brother, Kevin McDermott, is the long-snapper for the Minnesota Vikings.

The Bills have three other tackles on their active roster: Cordy Glenn, Jordan Mills, and rookie Dion Dawkins. Seantrel Henderson, who must serve a five-game suspension at the start of the season, doesn't count against the 53.

The 6-2, 230-pound Lacey signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted rookie from West Alabama in 2013. After being released at the end of their training camp, he made strong contributions on special teams and at linebacker for the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League from 2014 to 2016, before signing a futures contract with the Dolphins last January.

The Houston Texans signed the 6-4, 235-pound Lee as an undrafted free agent from Bowie State in 2015. The Texans traded him to the Chicago Bears just before the start of his rookie season. A year later, the Bears waived him and he was signed by the Lions. He has one career pass reception for seven yards.

Lee gives the Bills four tight ends, joining Charles Clay, Nick O'Leary, and Logan Thomas.

The Bills also re-signed seven players, who were released Saturday, to their practice squad: wide receivers Brandon Reilly and Daikiel Shorts, offensive lineman Jordan Mudge, defensive end Ian Seau, cornerback Marcus Sayles, safety B.T. Sanders, and defensive tackle Marquavius Lewis.

In another development, the Bills reached an injury settlement with linebacker Sam Barrington and released him off of their injured-reserve list.

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In the midst of all of their roster moves Sunday, the Bills took a look at free-agent veteran quarterback Joe Webb, according to ESPN's Field Yates. Webb spent the past three seasons as a backup with the Panthers, so McDermott and Beane are familiar with him.

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