Positions of Need
Kyle Orton wasn’t good in 2014, but he was sadly one of the best quarterbacks the Bills have had in the last decade and a half. In the 12 games he started, the Bills moved the chains at a 66.67% rate, which isn’t good, but it was significantly better than the 63.30% rate they moved the chains in the 4 starts that EJ Manuel made. However, Orton retired, ahead of his age 33 season, so the Bills are stuck with just Manuel, who has completed 58.6% of his passes for an average of 6.43 YPA, 16 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. The Bills’ options will be limited, especially without a first round pick, but they’ll have to add competition for him this off-season.
The Bills’ guard play was horrible last season. Erik Pears started on one side, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 76th ranked guard out of 78 eligible. On the other side, Chris Williams, Cyril Richardson, and Kraig Urbik split snaps and all 3 graded out significantly below average. Urbik graded out 53rd on 636 snaps, Richardson 60th on 321 snaps, and Williams struggled mightily on 132 snaps before going down with a back injury. Williams was brought in to be a starter last off-season, but he’s never been a starting caliber player, so he should be a cap casualty. Urbik could be a cap casualty as well (though he’s been better in the past), while Pears is a free agent going into his age 33 season. They need at least one, if not two new starters at the position this off-season.
Guard isn’t the only place on the offensive line where the Bills have problems. Left tackle Cordy Glenn was the only player to play more than 100 snaps for them and grade out above average. Seantrel Henderson started 16 games at right tackle despite being a mere 7th round rookie and it showed, as he graded out 82nd out of 84 eligible offensive tackles. The Bills drafted Cyrus Kouandjio in the 2nd round last year, but he didn’t play a snap, even behind a struggling Henderson, and now there’s talk that he could be moving to guard. Right tackle is still a problem area.
Scott Chandler is a decent tight end, but they need more of a pass catching threat from the tight end position. Chandler caught just 47 passes for 497 yards and 3 touchdowns last season, grading out 47th out of 67 eligible overall, and his career best slash line is 53/655/2. #2 tight end Lee Smith is a solid blocker, but doesn’t offer anything in the passing game and he’s also a free agent.
No wide receiver for the Bills graded out above average on Pro Football Focus last season. The Bills like Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods for the future, but they could find competition this off-season for slot receiver Chris Hogan. Hogan had 188 career snaps in 3 seasons as an undrafted free agent from the 2011 class coming into 2014 and in 2014, he caught 41 passes for 433 yards on 58 targets (70.7%) and 345 routes run (1.26 yards per route run), while grading out 72nd out of 110 eligible wide receivers.
The Bills are presumably moving back to a 3-4 under Rex Ryan in 2015. This shouldn’t be an issue because they ran this exact scheme in 2013 under former defensive coordinator Doug Marrone, a Rex Ryan disciple. Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes graded out 9th and 14th respectively among 4-3 defensive ends on Pro Football Focus this season, but Hughes is a free agent this off-season and he’ll need to be replaced if he’s not re-signed. Even if he is, their depth is very suspect at the position. Their top reserve in 2014 by snaps played was Manny Lawson, who graded out 48th out of 59 eligible on 348 snaps. He could be a cap casualty this off-season, owed a non-guaranteed 2.35 million in an age 31 season in 2015.
Key Free Agents
DE Jerry Hughes
Jerry Hughes was a bust in Indianapolis as a first round pick in 2010, playing a combined 240 snaps in 2010 and 2011 and then struggling in his first serious action in 2012, grading out 25th out of 34 eligible 3-4 outside linebackers. The Bills acquired him after that season for basically nothing and he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2013 and their 14th ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2014. There are some concerns about his ability to produce outside of the Bills’ talented front 7, but he answered concerns about his scheme versatility and about him being a one-year wonder with his play this season. He’s a talented, scheme versatile edge rusher who will get a lot of money somewhere this off-season. The Bills will try to bring him back, but he might get more money elsewhere.
S Da’Norris Searcy
Searcy was a 4th round pick by the Bills in 2011 NFL Draft. He played just 511 snaps in his first 2 seasons in 2011 and 2012, but he made 20 starts over the past 2 seasons as a hybrid safety/linebacker. He’s never played more than 753 snaps in a season, but he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked safety in 2014 (on 666 snaps), so someone will give him starter’s money to be a traditional starting safety for them.
MLB Brandon Spikes
Spikes is only a two down middle linebacker, but he’s very good at what he does. He’s graded out 4th, 22nd, 1st, 1st, and 9th among middle linebackers against the run in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 respectively (2010 was his rookie year after the Patriots drafted him in the 2nd round that year). However, he’s never played more than 742 snaps in a season because of his issues in coverage and he’s never ranked higher than 20th at his position in coverage. I don’t expect the Bills to bring him back because Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham had breakout years in 2014 and Kiko Alonso returns in 2015, but Spikes will get decent money somewhere because he serves a valuable role.
RB CJ Spiller
CJ Spiller, a 2010 1st round pick, had a fantastic 2012 campaign, rushing for 1244 yards and 6 touchdowns on 207 carries (6.01 YPC), with 43 catches for 459 yards and 3 touchdowns. He looked poised for a breakout year in 2013 as a 300+ touch back, but he struggled with injuries over the last 2 seasons (missing 8 games combined and being limited in several others) and he was never a great fit for Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett’s offense. Over the past 2 seasons, he’s rushed for 1233 yards and 2 touchdowns on 280 carries (4.40 YPC), with 52 catches for 310 yards and a touchdown, combined numbers that many people thought he’d be able to surpass in 2013 alone. He hits free agency having never surpassed 207 carries with annual issues in pass protection (grading out below average in 4 of 5 seasons) and coming off the worst season of his career, 300 yards on 78 carries (3.85 YPC) in 9 games. He could be a nice buy low candidate though, as he has a 4.97 YPC average and shows clear first round talent at times. A reunion with former Head Coach Chan Gailey (now offensive coordinator of the Jets) has been rumored and would make a lot of sense. Spiller had his huge 2012 season under Gailey.
G Erik Pears
Erik Pears graded out below average in 3 straight seasons from 2011-2013 as the Bills’ starting right tackle (making 39 starts) so they moved him inside to right guard. The results weren’t good. Pears graded out 76th out of 78 eligible guards. Going into his age 33 season this off-season, Pears will be met by a very cold market. It’s very possible he’s done in the NFL.
Cap Casualty Candidates
OLB Keith Rivers
Keith Rivers struggled on 192 snaps last season, the only Bills linebacker who graded out below average last season. The Bills are stacked at linebacker, even if they don’t bring Brandon Spikes back, with Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham breaking out last year, and Kiko Alonso returning from injury, so there’s no need to keep Rivers at his non-guaranteed 1.7 million dollar salary for 2015. The Bills can save that entire amount on the cap by letting him go this off-season.
G Chris Williams
For some reason, the Bills decided to give a 4-year, 13.5 million dollar deal to Chris Williams last off-season, even though he was Pro Football Focus’ 74th ranked guard out of 81 eligible in 2013. That wasn’t anything new for him. The 14th overall pick by the Bears in 2008 has been a massive bust, struggling at pretty much every position on the offensive line in his career. With the exception of his rookie year, when he played just 16 snaps, he’s never graded out above average on Pro Football Focus. He wasn’t a starter in 2012, but he was Pro Football Focus’ 70th ranked guard out of 82 eligible in 2010 and 60th ranked guard out of 78 eligible in 2011. In 2014, he struggled on 132 snaps before going down for the season with a back injury. Maybe the Bills will admit their mistake and let him go, to save 2.475 million in cash. They’d save just 725K on the cap by doing that, but it would get him off their cap completely for 2016 and he’s not a starting caliber player.
DE Manny Lawson
Manny Lawson was horrible last season at 4-3 defensive end, grading out 48th out of 59 eligible, despite playing just 349 snaps in a reserve role. Even if Jerry Hughes isn’t retained, the Bills could let Lawson go. He’s simply a better player as a non-rush linebacker than he is at 4-3 defensive end and, even if they don’t bring Brandon Spikes back, the Bills are still set in terms of non-rush linebackers with Preston Brown, Nigel Bradham, and Kiko Alonso. Cutting Lawson, ahead of his age 31 season in 2015, would save them 2.35 million in cash and 1.6 million immediately on the cap.