The free-agent signing of Phillip Gaines from Kansas City was an acknowledgement by the Buffalo Bills that they needed to get a little longer and more athletic at the cornerback position.
Gaines, a third-round pick of the Chiefs in 2014, brings an intriguing size and speed combination. He enters training camp as the top candidate for the slot cornerback job.
The Bills opted not to bring back last year's slot corner, Leonard Johnson, and he remains unsigned on the free-agent market, which is all you need to know about how he is viewed by the rest of the league's talent evaluators.
It's a testament to Johnson's smarts and savvy that he has played 77 NFL games over the past six seasons. He's 5-foot-9 7-8ths, with 28 3-4 inch arms, and he ran a 4.65 time in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine. All of those are below average numbers.
Johnson struggled at times in defending bigger slot receivers.
Gaines is 6-0 3-8. His arms are 31 7-8 long. He ran a 4.38 40 out of college (although most scouts didn't think he quite played to that speed coming out of college).
Gaines' top competition for the slot cover job is fourth-round draft pick Taron Johnson. He's 5-11 with 31-inch arms and ran 4.50 in the 40.
So it's obvious the Bills are bringing more physical tools to the slot position this year.
"He’s long," said Bills coach Sean McDermott. "He’s got some experience there, so he’s a smart player that I’ve been impressed with to this point."
Of course, it's also obvious that the Chiefs decided they wanted to do better than Gaines. Chiefs coach Andy Reid found the opportunity when he shopped quarterback Alex Smith on the trade market. Reid dealt Smith to Washington for Kendall Fuller, who faced the most slot coverage snaps in the NFL last season and was top rated out of the slot by Pro Football Focus.
"He ended up developing into the best inside pass defender in the league," Reid said in acquiring Fuller.
Gaines can be seen using his long arms to execute good press-man technique at times with the Chiefs. He can be seen in good trail position in zone coverages. But it's apparent the Chiefs wanted to see more play-making out of him, and they were expecting he would develop into a starter, given the third-round pick they invested.
Injuries were one issue for Gaines. He tore an ACL in Week 3 of the 2015 season. As is common, it still affected his consistency in 2016. He also dealt with a couple concussions and an elbow injury. Still, he lost starting opportunities with the Chiefs to less heralded players like Terrance Mitchell and Steven Nelson.
It was time for the Chiefs to move on from Gaines, but he had suitors. In addition to Buffalo, he visited Indianapolis Colts, whose general manager, Chris Ballard, came from Kansas City and advocated for the drafting of Gaines.
Gaines has the tools to be an upgrade over Johnson. We'll see if a change of scenery does him good.