The Buffalo Bills’ list of team needs is dwindling.
As he was a year ago, General Manager Brandon Beane has been aggressive in the two-day negotiating window that precedes the official start of NFL free agency, which came at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Beane’s attention has primarily been on defense. He’s agreed to contracts with six players, including cornerback Josh Norman, whose one-year deal was made official by the team Thursday.
The other agreements are with defensive linemen Vernon Butler, Mario Addison and Quinton Jefferson as well as linebackers A.J. Klein and Tyler Matakevich. The team has also lost defensive end Shaq Lawson to Miami and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips to Arizona.
Of course, Beane’s biggest acquisition is on the other side – an agreed-to trade with the Minnesota Vikings will send Stefon Diggs to the Bills, filling the team’s need for a No. 1 wide receiver. Beane also made a move with the intention of shoring up special teams – reuniting with running back Taiwan Jones.
So what else might be on his list ahead of the draft? Here are some possibilities:
Running back: Veteran Frank Gore, who served as the No. 2 running back behind Devin Singletary last year, remains unsigned and is not expected back. Gore actually led the Bills with 166 carries last year, although that likely would have been different had Singletary not missed four games. Nevertheless, the No. 2 running back can be expected to be a big part of the offense. Maybe the job ends up going to T.J. Yeldon – the Bills liked how he handled himself last year even when he wasn’t active on game days. There is no question Yeldon has talent. He’s particularly good coming out of the backfield as a receiver. The big issue for him last year was fumbling.
The Bills might be aiming for an upgrade, though, and there are a couple of noteworthy players still on the open market. That list starts with the Chargers’ Melvin Gordon. He held out last season in hopes of landing a big-money contract extension, and the decision backfired. Austin Ekeler showed what he could do with Gordon out of the lineup and eventually got a contract extension, instead. Gordon played 12 games for the Chargers in 2019, finishing with 162 carries for 612 yards and added 42 catches for 296 yards. He had an impressive nine total touchdowns. Gordon likely has his sights set on a feature-back job. Is there one out there, though? There isn’t in Buffalo. At best, he would be part of a timeshare with Singletary. On paper, that would look pretty darn good. Do the Bills want a true timeshare, or are they looking for someone to simply give Singletary a rest now and again? The answer to that question will likely guide Beane in the team’s pursuit of a running back.
Gordon figures to be the most expensive option remaining on the market. A cheaper alternative could be Houston’s Carlos Hyde. He carried 245 times for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns last season. The player he replaced, Lamar Miller, is also a free agent. Miller missed all of last year because of a torn ACL, which led to the Texans' acquisition of Hyde.
Cornerback: The Bills’ depth at outside cornerback was tested at the end of last year when Levi Wallace suffered a sprained ankle in the regular-season finale. That left Kevin Johnson and Tre’Davious White as the only outside cornerbacks for the playoff game against Houston. They were able to make it through that game, but depth remains a concern. So far this offseason, the Bills have brought Wallace back and replaced Johnson with veteran Josh Norman. Johnson agreed to sign with the Cleveland Browns on Thursday. The most noteworthy remaining free agents are on the older side. They include Baltimore’s Jimmy Smith, Chicago’s Prince Amukamara and Kansas City’s Bashaud Breeland. After the initial wave of free agency last year, the Bills signed E.J. Gaines, so it seems likely that Beane isn’t finished addressing the position.
Safety: The Bills have one of the best starting duos in the NFL with Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, but as of now, the only backup safety on the roster is second-year veteran Jaquan Johnson (Siran Neal is listed as a safety, but mostly played nickel cornerback in 2019). Both Kurt Coleman and Dean Marlowe are unrestricted free agents. It’s possible one or both return, but if not, the Bills will need to add to the position. The safety market has been relatively slow in free agency, with players like Chicago’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the Chargers’ Adrian Phillips, New Orleans’ Vonn Bell, Carolina’s Eric Reid, Cleveland’s Damarious Randall, Miami’s Reshad Jones and Indianapolis’ Clayton Geathers among the many players left unsigned. The Bills should be able to land a good player on a team-friendly contract to serve as quality depth behind Hyde and Poyer given how many players are still looking for a job.
Offensive tackle: With guard Quinton Spain re-signed to a three-year contract, it’s likely that Cody Ford stays at right tackle. If that’s the case, the top three tackles from last year – Ford, Dion Dawkins and Ty Nsekhe – are all back. A case can be made, though, that the Bills could use a reliable fourth option at the position. The new collective bargaining agreement passed between the league and players association increases active rosters from 53 to 55 players and game-day rosters from 46 to 48 players, with eight of those spots needing to be offensive linemen. That might mean the Bills want to keep a fourth tackle on the active roster. A player such as Carolina’s Daryl Williams could be in their plans. Aside from the obvious Panthers connection, Williams has the flexibility to play tackle and guard, versatility the Bills’ coaching staff likes. Another option could be to re-sign LaAdrian Waddle, who spent all of his first season in Buffalo on injured reserve in 2019.