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Bills go heavy along offensive line, at tight end on initial 53-man roster

LeSean McCoy stole all the headlines, but he was one of just 31 players released Saturday as the Buffalo Bills reduced their roster to the league-mandated 53 players.

After McCoy, the biggest move in terms of fan interest was the team’s decision to release wide receiver Duke Williams. The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder came on strong toward the end of the preseason, but fell short in his quest to land a roster spot. The Bills kept six receivers: Zay Jones, Cole Beasley, Robert Foster, John Brown, Andre Roberts and Isaiah McKenzie.

Williams, 26, led the Canadian Football League in 2018 with 1,579 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns in his second season with Edmonton. If he clears waivers, he would be eligible to sign with the Bills’ practice squad. More on that later, but first here’s more on some of the other notable players released by the team Saturday, and updates on some who did make the list:

Safety Kurt Coleman: The veteran is familiar with Sean McDermott’s defensive scheme, having previously played for him in Philadelphia and Carolina. Coleman was thought to be the team’s third safety behind starters Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, but the team instead went with young players Dean Marlowe and Jaquan Johnson, a sixth-round draft pick. Coleman’s unemployment might not last long, however, as NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Bills plan to put tight end Jason Croom on injured reserve and re-sign Coleman – provided another team doesn’t beat them to it.

Quarterback Tyree Jackson: It’s not a big surprise that the Bills elected to release Jackson. The former University at Buffalo star struggled in the preseason. That leaves the team with just two quarterbacks – starter Josh Allen and backup Matt Barkley. The question now is whether Jackson showed enough to earn a spot on the practice squad. The Bills will definitely want a young quarterback in that role. Fellow UB product Cam Lewis, a cornerback, was also among the Bills’ cuts.

Linebacker Deon Lacey: A special-teams stalwart the last couple of seasons, Lacey lost out on the reserve spots to Maurice Alexander, Corey Thompson and Julian Stanford. Rookie fifth-round draft pick Vosean Joseph was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, ending his season.

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn: Another former Carolina Panther with experience in the Bills’ defense, Munnerlyn looked as if he might have secured a spot when he didn’t play in the fourth preseason game. That turned out not to be the case, though, as the Bills went with second-year veteran Siran Neal as the fifth cornerback behind Tre’Davious White, Levi Wallace, Kevin Johnson and Taron Johnson. Neal is listed as a safety on the roster, but he’s expected to back up Taron Johnson as the team’s slot corner. The Bills also released cornerback Lafayette Pitts, who has been a special-teams contributor the past two seasons.

Running back Christian Wade: It was a long shot for the former professional rugby player who didn’t start playing football until January, but he captured the imagination of fans with a pair of big gains in the team’s first two preseason games. Wade’s time might not be done with the Bills, though. (More on that below.) Running back Marcus Murphy was also released, while running back Senorise Perry was placed on injured reserve. A league source told The Buffalo News that Perry is only expected to miss a couple of weeks, and that the team and player should soon reach an injury settlement.

Defensive end Eddie Yarbrough: A third-year veteran, Yarbrough appeared in 31 games over the past two seasons, but he was beaten out for the fourth defensive end spot by rookie seventh-round draft pick Darryl Johnson.

Heavy at tight end and along the offensive line: For now, the Bills have five tight ends on the 53-man roster – an unusually high number. They are Croom, Tyler Kroft, Dawson Knox, Lee Smith and Tommy Sweeney. Kroft was activated to the 53-man roster from the active/physically-unable-to-perform list, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be ready to play by Week 1 against the New York Jets on Sept. 8 after not practicing throughout the spring and summer because of a broken foot. It’s possible the Bills go into that game with Knox, Smith and Sweeney as their three tight ends, with Kroft as one of their required seven inactive players.

The Bills kept 10 offensive linemen, which was more than most projections. The projected starting lineup is left tackle Dion Dawkins, left guard Quinton Spain, center Mitch Morse, right guard Cody Ford and right tackle Ty Nsekhe. They are joined on the roster by tackle Conor McDermott, guards Spencer Long, Jon Feliciano and Ike Boettger, and rookie Ryan Bates, who has played multiple positions.

Spain is dealing with an ankle injury, which could explain why the Bills went so heavy on the position. Keeping McDermott also could be an indication the Bills are planning to use Ford at right guard. At the start of training camp, Ford was at right tackle, but the second-round draft pick out of Oklahoma eventually shifted inside.

What happens next?: Players who were released Saturday who have four years or more of NFL service time are not subject to waivers and immediately become unrestricted free agents eligible to sign with any team.

Those cut who have three years or less of service time, however, are subject to waivers. With about 1,200 players being released Friday and Saturday, that creates a situation similar to another draft. The Bills, or any other NFL team, are free to claim as many players off waivers as they like, inheriting that player’s contract.

The waiver order is the same as this year’s draft order, which means the Arizona Cardinals have the first priority, and will be awarded any player they claim. The San Francisco 49ers have the No. 2 priority, and would be awarded any players they claim who were not claimed by the Cardinals. That process then repeats itself. The Bills are ninth on the priority list. After the first three weeks of the regular season, the rules for waivers switch to the current year’s standings, with the worst team having top priority.

Teams have until noon Sunday to make waiver claims. If successful, those players join the 53-man roster. Once the waivers process is complete, teams can begin building their 10-man practice squads. Typically, those are made up of rookies or other young players who were recently cut by the team. Each team can carry up to four veterans who have no more than two accrued NFL seasons (defined as six or more games on a 53-man roster in a given season) on the practice squad.

Wade, as part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway program, is eligible to be an exempt, 11th member of the Bills’ practice squad. If he signs in that capacity, he will not be eligible to be on the Bills or any other team’s 53-man roster this season.

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