This is the second of a series of stories previewing NFL free agency, which starts March 18. Today's installment: defensive line. Part 1.
Given their two highest-profile players headed for free agency – Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips – are defensive linemen either in or destined for reserve roles in 2020, it's fair to speculate the Buffalo Bills won't pursue big names at the position when the open market begins next week.
Therefore, it might be unrealistic to expect the Bills to bid for the services for edge rushers Yannick Ngakoue of Jacksonville, assuming the Jaguars don't use a franchise tag on him, Matt Judon from the Baltimore Ravens, Shaq Barrett of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jadeveon Clowney from the Seattle Seahawks and Bud Dupree of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Each figures to seek a deal ranging from $17 to $20 million per year – or higher.
Lawson is far from that category, and as well as he played while backing up Trent Murphy last season, his departure wouldn't make a whole lot of impact on the Bills' plans for free agency or the draft, which has some quality edge-rushing talent.
As impressive as Phillips' team-leading 9.5 sacks from his starting defensive tackle position was, it doesn't change the fact he'd return next season to backing up Ed Oliver, the 2019 first-round pick he replaced as a starter in the second half of the season.
Consequently, don't look for the Bills to have their checkbooks out for defensive tackles looking for massive paydays: Chris Jones of the Kansas City Chiefs, D.J. Reader of the Houston Texans, Arik Armstead of the San Francisco 49ers and Javon Hargrave of the Steelers.
The more likely scenario is that the Bills will go after free-agent ends and tackles who fall into the category of solid, but reasonably priced, options.
Among the ends, the name that could very well be at the top of the list is Robert Quinn of the Dallas Cowboys. As an edge rusher from a 4-3 base scheme, he looks like a good fit for the Bills' scheme. Quinn, who turns 30 in May, had 11.5 sacks last season after averaging six sacks the previous four seasons.
Another possibility is Mario Addison. Having played for the Carolina Panthers, he has history with Bills coach Sean McDermott, the Panthers' former defensive coordinator, and General Manager Brandon Beane, a former Carolina team executive. Addison, who turns 33 in September, has had nine-plus sacks four years in a row.
Whether the Bills would consider pursuing Vic Beasley of the Atlanta Falcons is debatable. On one hand, his production makes him worthy of interest; he has 37.5 career sacks and made eight last season. On the other, the fact the Falcons are allowing Beasley, who turns 28 in July, to walk is curious.
Emmanuel Ogbah of the Chiefs and Vinny Curry of the Philadelphia Eagles would, at best, be last-resort options at end.
Assuming the Bills don't meet Phillips' demands to be among the top-paid defensive tackles in the NFL, they'll probably look for a reserve three-technique. That also assumes they wouldn't be inclined to spend heavily for a nose tackle after the restructuring deal that made Star Lotulelei more affordable to keep for another season or two.
Here are some candidates:
Vernon Butler, Carolina. Beane was involved in the Panthers' decision to make the 6-foot-4, 330-pound Butler a first-round draft pick from LSU in 2016. The Panthers declined to pick up his fifth-year option. Although Butler has only eight career sacks, he's considered a decent pass-rusher.
Maliek Collins, Dallas. The most intriguing thing with him is his upside. He's only going on 25. That would figure to give him some negotiating leverage, although he only had four sacks in 2019 after having only three in 2018.
Andrew Billings, Cincinnati. The Bengals made him a fourth-round pick from Baylor in 2016. A torn meniscus sidelined him as a rookie, but he battled back and saw a good deal of playing time last season. The 6-1, 328-pound Billings excels against the run and does a nice job of rushing the passer.
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Bills' possible D-line free-agent targets
Robert Quinn, DE, Dallas
Mario Addison, DE, Carolina
Vic Beasley, DE, Atlanta
Vernon Butler, DT, Carolina
Maliek Collins, DT, Dallas
Andrew Billings, DT, Cincinnati