The Buffalo Bills won’t play a football game that counts for another four-plus months.
That’s a good thing, because it might take that long to sort out who should be on the final 53-man roster.
"I don't know the order how a lot of these positions – whether it's O-line, receiver, tight end, running back – I don't know how it's going to shake out,” General Manager Brandon Beane said. “In time, we'll figure that out.”
Dating back to the start of unrestricted free agency and continuing through last weekend’s NFL draft, Beane has acquired a whopping 26 players. Most, but not all, have a good chance to make the team.
“We’ve added players that we feel are improvements to our roster,” the GM said. “But it’s not just accumulating talent, it’s building a team. We like what we’ve added. Now, it’s trying to build this thing and getting these guys in here. Now that we’ve added these rookies, it’s a new group that we have to get to know what they do well. … Still a long way to go. I think I’ll have a better idea of how we look in about a month.”
What fun is waiting, though?
Here is The Buffalo News’ first 53-man roster projection of the spring:
Quarterbacks (3): Josh Allen, Matt Barkley, Derek Anderson.
Analysis: The expected signing of UB quarterback Tyree Jackson as an undrafted free agent – those won’t be officially announced until next week – makes this position a little more interesting. If Jackson impresses in the spring through training camp and the preseason, it’s conceivable the Bills would be worried about cutting him and trying to sneak him onto the practice squad. For now, though, the returning three quarterbacks stand the best chance of again making up the depth chart at the position.
Running backs/fullbacks (5): LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon, Devin Singletary, Patrick DiMarco.
Analysis: Here’s where it starts to get difficult. We’ll take Beane at his word that McCoy is still the starter at the position, although it’s hard to completely discount the idea that his roster spot might be in some jeopardy. He's in the final year of his contract, and the Bills would save more than $6 million against the salary cap with his release or trade. Either way, the additions of Yeldon and Singletary make for some tough decisions. In this projection, the Bills would cut free-agent addition Senorise Perry – who was signed primarily for special teams – as well as Marcus Murphy and Keith Ford.
Wide receivers (5): Zay Jones, Robert Foster, John Brown, Cole Beasley, Andre Roberts.
Analysis: The toughest cut here is Isaiah McKenzie, but with Roberts’ addition as the primary return man, the former’s value is not as great. Plenty of fans are intrigued by the addition of Duke Williams, the CFL’s leading receiver, and it’s true his size (6-3, 225) would be a welcome addition to this group. Williams, though, first has to show something in the spring and summer. Ray-Ray McCloud, a 2018 sixth-round draft pick, is also on the outside looking in.
Tight ends (4): Tyler Kroft, Dawson Knox, Jason Croom, Jake Fisher.
Analysis: The additions of two tight ends in the draft brings, you guessed it, competition to the position. Kroft and Knox are secure, which leaves Croom, Fisher and seventh-round draft pick Tommy Sweeney to compete for one or two spots. We’ll keep four here, which would allow the Bills to bring Knox along slowly.
Offensive tackles (4): Dion Dawkins, Ty Nsekhe, Cody Ford, LaAdrian Waddle.
Analysis: Ford’s addition in the draft sets up an interesting conversation with regards to Nsekhe. Do the Bills shift him over to the left side to compete with Dawkins? Even if that happens, the depth chart here looks close to set.
Interior offensive line (5): Mitch Morse, Jon Feliciano, Spencer Long, Quinton Spain, Wyatt Teller.
Analysis: The Bills have somewhat surprisingly kept Russell Bodine and Vlad Ducasse on the roster even after the additions of Morse, Feliciano, Long and Spain in free agency. Morse will be the starting center, with Long his likely backup. Long might also compete with Feliciano for the starting job at right guard, leaving Spain and Teller to battle for left guard.
Defensive ends (4): Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson, Trent Murphy, Darryl Johnson.
Analysis: The addition of Johnson in the draft bumps Eddie Yarbrough – who has been with the team the past two seasons – off the roster. Eli Harold, a free-agent addition, is also a tough cut at the position. He could force his way onto the roster with a strong performance on special teams.
Defensive tackles (4): Star Lotulelei, Ed Oliver, Harrison Phillips, Jordan Phillips.
Analysis: This feels like the easiest position on the roster to project. Oliver replaces Kyle Williams and the other three are returning players.
Linebackers (6): Lorenzo Alexander, Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Vosean Joseph, Maurice Alexander, Julian Stanford.
Analysis: Special teams will be the key to the final roster spots here. That’s why Alexander and Stanford make the cut. Joseph, a fifth-round draft pick, has a great opportunity to learn from Alexander in the veteran’s final season.
Cornerbacks (5): Tre’Davious White, E.J. Gaines, Kevin Johnson, Taron Johnson, Levi Wallace.
Analysis: Lafayette Pitts and Ryan Lewis, both of whom were on the active roster last year, are squeezed out by the additions of Gaines and Johnson in free agency. The Bills chose not to add a cornerback in the draft, but there is still adequate depth at the position. Who starts opposite White will be one of the most interesting battles of training camp.
Safeties (5): Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Rafael Bush, Siran Neal, Jaquan Johnson.
Analysis: Hyde and Poyer remain one of the best duos in the NFL. Behind them, Bush served a valuable role, even playing some cornerback. He’s not a guarantee for the final roster, however, as the Bills have Johnson, Siran Neal and Dean Marlowe to compete with him. Neal didn’t show much during his rookie season, but the Bills kept him around for a reason. Johnson, a sixth-round pick from Miami, has plenty of experience on special teams, which will help build his case. Marlowe falls victim to the numbers game after playing well in place of the injured Hyde last year.
The final spot in this projection comes down to a sixth running back (Perry) or receiver (McKenzie), a fifth defensive end (Harold) or a fifth safety, with Neal being the choice.
Specialists (3): Stephen Hauschka, Corey Bojorquez, Reid Ferguson.
Analysis: The only real competition here is between Bojorquez and Cory Carter for the punting job. We’ll go with the incumbent, who was having a fine rookie season before injuring his shoulder last year.