The New England Patriots are going to look quite a bit different in 2019.
A whopping 18 members of the team are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March. New England is projected by spotrac.com to have just the 23rd-most salary-cap space next season, $16.63 million. That puts the Buffalo Bills in a situation in which they can potentially poach a player or two from their divisional rival, similar to what the Patriots have done in the past with players such as Chris Hogan, Mike Gillislee and Stephon Gilmore.
On the NFC side, the Los Angeles Rams are in a better cap situation, with a projected $32.44 million in space, which ranks 15th in the NFL (the Bills are fourth with $78.92 million in space and the Colts are first with a whopping $110 million). The Rams have 13 pending unrestricted free agents.
Here’s a look at 10 players, five from each team, who could be of interest to the Bills in March if they hit the open market:
Patriots DE Trey Flowers (age 26): He’s had at least 6.5 sacks in each of the past three seasons, and in 2018 recorded a career-best 7.5 sacks, along with three forced fumbles. Given the need for edge rushers around the NFL, Flowers is in line for a monster contract. The Bills have the space to make that happen if they want to.
Patriots WR Chris Hogan (30): Buffalo sports fans always love a reunion. Over the past five years, Hogan has made between 34 and 41 catches each season, ranging in yardage from 426 to 680 and touchdowns from two to five. The first two of those seasons came in Buffalo. Since going to New England, Hogan has continued to be a steady, but not spectacular, contributor. He likely won’t command a huge salary.
Patriots WR Cordarrelle Patterson (28): He can do a little bit of everything on offense, making 21 catches in the regular season for 247 yards and three touchdowns and also rushing 42 times for 228 yards and another score. Patterson’s biggest value, however, might be as a kick returner. He ranked third in the NFL with an average of 28.8 yards per return in the regular season. That’s a position the Bills have long struggled to fill.
Patriots P Ryan Allen (29): A punter? Hey, why not? The Bills will have another former Patriot in Corey Bojorquez back next year, but perhaps they want to add some competition. Allen has a career net average of 40.4 yards per punt in six seasons, and has had just one punt returned for a touchdown.
Patriots DT Malcom Brown (25): The Bills need to replace Kyle Williams in the middle of their defense. Brown is a former first-round pick who started 14 games in the regular season, making 39 tackles. He didn’t have a sack for the first time in his four-year career, which is a concern.
Rams DT Ndamukong Suh (32): If the Bills want to aim higher for a Williams replacement, Suh would fit the bill. He’s a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro who has 56 career sacks, including 4.5 in 2018. A short-term contract at a big salary might be something that would interest both sides.
Rams G Roger Saffold (31): He’s a little older than a team might prefer, but Saffold was a second-team All-Pro in 2017. He’s also put injury concerns from earlier in his career behind him, playing all but two games over the past three years. He’s played some tackle, but the Bills would likely want Saffold inside at guard, where John Miller is a pending unrestricted free agent and Wyatt Teller isn’t guaranteed a starting job.
Rams DE Dante Fowler Jr. (25): The third overall pick in 2015 by Jacksonville is a pass-rush specialist. The Rams acquired him from the Jaguars in a midseason trade, giving up third- and fifth-round draft picks. He had two sacks in eight games in the regular season. He also has plenty of off-the-field concerns, including an arrest in 2017 for hitting a 55-year-old man. During training camp with the Jaguars last year, Fowler was suspended by the team for a week following a fight.
Rams DT Dominique Easley (26): A Patriots' first-round pick in 2014, Easley comes with big injury concerns. He played in just three games in the regular season because of a knee injury, and missed all of 2017 because of a torn ACL. He did have 3.5 sacks in 2016, playing next to Aaron Donald.
Rams CB Sam Shields (31): It makes sense for the Bills to bring in a veteran cornerback to compete with Levi Wallace for the starting job opposite Tre’Davious White. Shields, who previously played for the Packers, comes with plenty of playoff experience, which is something the Bills don’t have much of.