The Buffalo Bills are on the board in free agency.
A league source told the Buffalo News on Monday night that the team has agreed to a three-year contract with linebacker A.J. Klein. The deal can't be made official until the start of the NFL's new league year, which comes at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Adam Caplan of SiriusXM NFL Radio was first to report the agreement.
Klein is a known commodity to Bills General Manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott. The veteran linebacker is a former fifth-round draft pick of Carolina in 2013 when Beane was a member of the Panthers' front office and McDermott was the team's defensive coordinator.
After four years with Carolina, Klein has spent the past three seasons with New Orleans Saints. The 28-year-old (he turns 29 on July 30) is coming off a season in which he finished with a career-best 45 solo tackles (67 total), 2.5 sacks, five quarterback hits and one interception, which he returned for his first career touchdown. He also had one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Klein, 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, never started more than eight games in a season with the Panthers, but he started at least 12 games in each of his three years with New Orleans. He figures to step into the Bills' starting lineup in the spot vacated by the retirement of linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. Klein, who played mostly strong-side linebacker during most of his time with New Orleans, played 753 defensive snaps in 2019, which was 71% of the Saints' total. Alexander played 495 snaps, 48% of the Bills' defensive total.
Klein was not a favorite of analytics website Pro Football Focus. He finished 2019 with an overall grade of 48.4, which ranked 50th among 58 linebackers who played at least 597 defensive snaps. His run-defense grade was 49.2, while his pass-rush grade was 66.9 and his coverage grade was 46.3. Klein gave up 44 catches on 54 targets, according to PFF, allowing 465 yards and four touchdowns.
With Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano on the roster, it's doubtful Klein will be asked to play as much coverage with the Bills. Alexander was the first linebacker to come off the field when the team went to its nickel defense. Klein played a good deal in New Orleans' nickel package in 2019, which explains why he was in coverage so much.