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Inside the Bills: 10 remaining free agents who may be of interest to GM Brandon Beane

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J.C. Tretter (copy)

Former Cleveland Browns center J.C. Tretter (64) is an Akron High School graduate. He remains an unrestricted free agent.

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Brandon Beane frequently mentions how free agency never really ends in the NFL.

Instead, it goes in waves. The first comes in March, at the start of a new league year. That lasts a week or two, followed by a second wave. The third wave comes soon after that, and then the fourth arrives after the NFL draft, when teams have potentially replaced older, more expensive players with eager new ones.

That bring us to the present day, and a fifth wave. Players still on the open market fall into a few categories. There are injured players whose availability for the upcoming season remains in question. There are veterans who might not continue playing – either by their own choosing or a general lack of interest from teams around the league. Then there are those younger players who would sign tomorrow, should a team show interest.

That’s why Beane, the Buffalo Bills’ sixth-year general manager, is always looking. The Bills don’t have a lot of room on their 90-man roster – just one spot, to be exact – but several veteran players who remain available could be of interest. The following list contains an interesting mix of players who, for various reasons, are still without a team. As of Saturday, the Bills have $8.2 million of space under the salary cap, according to records from the NFL Players Association, so they do have room to make an addition if prudent.

WR Odell Beckham Jr.

Shoot big, right? Beckham likely won’t be able to play at the start of the 2022 season after he suffered a torn ACL in the Super Bowl for the Rams. Still, adding him to the Bills’ roster, even if only for the second half of the regular season and playoffs, would be an absolute embarrassment of riches for a loaded Buffalo offense. The Bills already lured Von Miller away from the Rams this offseason, and while it seems unlikely Beckham would leave Los Angeles, we said the same thing about Miller. It’s worth noting the Bills haven’t signed an obvious replacement for veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The expectation is Gabriel Davis will slide into the No. 2 receiver role opposite Stefon Diggs, but the depth at outside receiver is relatively young. As it stands, Jamison Crowder is the projected starter in the slot. That leaves Isaiah McKenzie as the No. 4 receiver, but he’s also best in the slot. Jake Kumerow is the No. 5 receiver, but he’s mostly a special-teams contributor. Then, it’s Marquez Stevenson and Khalil Skakir, an unproven second-year veteran and rookie, respectively. Beckham’s not a depth signing by any means, but he would give the Bills more experience and another dynamic playmaker for quarterback Josh Allen. Beckham showed during the Rams’ championship run that he has plenty left. He posted 21 catches for 288 yards and two touchdowns in four postseason games, including two catches for 52 yards and a touchdown before getting hurt in the Super Bowl.

WR Julio Jones

Basically all the reasons listed above for Beckham would apply for Jones, who was released by the Titans earlier this offseason. Jones is coming off a disappointing, injury-filled year. He produced just 31 catches for 434 yards and one touchdown in his only season with the Titans, and at age 33, there is a significant concern about just how much he has left in the tank. The difference between Jones and Beckham, though, is the former will likely come at a much cheaper price. If Jones is healthy and interested in chasing a championship, a one-year deal with the Bills could make sense for both sides. It would be a low-risk signing for Buffalo.

WR Will Fuller V

Noticing a trend here? Fuller is another veteran receiver coming off injury. He had an eventful 2021 season, to put it kindly, playing in only two games and missing time because of an NFL suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, a personal matter and a broken finger. It’s possible those red flags are bright enough that the Bills steer clear, but Fuller does have elite speed and would be a vertical threat.

C J.C. Tretter

The Akron native was a surprise release by the Browns. The president of the NFL Players Association, Tretter has played at least 1,000 snaps in each of the past five seasons, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus. If he was interested in coming home in a reserve role, he would provide excellent depth on the interior of the offensive line. It’s unclear how Tretter would fit at guard, which might be the key to any potential interest the Bills have in him. If he could back up all three interior offensive line positions, Tretter would be a great add at this point in the offseason.

TE Rob Gronkowski

We’ll include the Amherst native here out of obligation because of his local ties, but it remains unlikely that Gronk will play anywhere other than Tampa if he does decide to continue his career. Entering his age-33 season, Gronk would have been an intriguing fit for the Bills, but that was before Beane signed another former Bucs tight end, O.J. Howard, in free agency. That likely closed the door on any homecoming for Gronk. Returning to Tampa on a one-year deal makes the most sense.

CB Joe Haden

Miller said he’s been recruiting Haden to come join him in Buffalo. Beane mostly shrugged off that comment, and the addition of Kaiir Elam in the first round of the draft lessened the need at cornerback. It’s not totally erased, though, especially if the Bills determine that Tre’Davious White might not be 100% at the start of the 2022 season as he continues his recovery from knee surgery. It seems like every year the Bills’ depth at cornerback is a question mark. In the past, Beane has favored signing a veteran corner to a one-year contract to provide competition. Haden could provide that, giving the team a security blanket of sorts as Elam learns on the fly and White gets healthy.

CB Kevin King

The big difference between Haden and King is age. At 33, Haden has to know he’s likely looking at a one-year contract. King is 27 and might be holding out in hopes a team offers him a long-term deal. That’s probably not happening in Buffalo, but if he does come around on the idea of a one-year contract, the Bills might possibly want to get in the mix for the same reasons they might be interested in Haden. Injuries have been a constant problem for King, including last year when he missed time because of hip and knee problems.

CB Kyle Fuller

He made $9.5 million last season for the Broncos and likely won’t command anywhere near that on the open market this year, but Fuller has had a good, if inconsistent, career. He has 16 career interceptions, but didn’t have any last season – his first in Denver after six years with the Bears. He was Chicago's first-round draft pick in 2014.

LB Dont’a Hightower

He’s a liability in pass coverage, but the 2012 first-round draft pick of the Patriots would provide plenty of experience and leadership. Hightower had 64 tackles and 1.5 sacks last year for New England. After releasing A.J. Klein in a move to free up cap space, the Bills project to be rather inexperienced at linebacker behind starters Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. With 114 career starts, Hightower, 32, has plenty of that, as well as familiarity playing in the AFC East.

LB Anthony Barr

Known in Buffalo as the player Josh Allen hurdled in his first career start, Barr had a great career for the Minnesota Vikings, but injuries have caught up with him. The No. 9 overall draft pick in 2014, he played just two games in 2020 because of a torn pectoral muscle and only six games last year because of knee and hamstring injuries. He’s still just 30, though, and did make four consecutive Pro Bowls from 2015 to 2018. He’s probably not getting back to that level again, but might be able to provide a short-term option if something were to happen to Milano or Edmunds.

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News Sports Reporter

I started at The Buffalo News in 2009, and have previously been honored as one of the top 10 beat writers in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors for my coverage of the Bills. I live in Amherst with my wife, Melissa, and son, Elliott.

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