Offseason blueprint for Bills to take next step in 2021: Free agent targets, mock draft selections and more


What do the Buffalo Bills need to do to take the next step and advance to or win the Super Bowl?

They’re fresh off a 13-3 regular season, and 15-4 overall record in 2020 — a sizable jump from their 10-6 regular season and wild-card loss at the end of the 2019 campaign. With a young head coach and GM — along with MVP candidate Josh Allen who has yet to turn 25 years old — Buffalo has its core in place. Oh, and Stefon Diggs is 27.

But this is another critical offseason for the Bills’ “process” to continue as they build toward the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl title. Let’s run through all the moves they should (could) make to improve from their AFC title game appearance. 

Cap space

With a little over $1 million of 2020 cap to rollover and a similar amount of space already allotted in 2021 based on a $176 million expected salary cap next season, the Bills will start the offseason with only $2 million and change in cap space. 

Releases (cap savings):  

The Brown release may seem surprising, but after the 2020 he endured with injuries and limited production, at his age (31 in April), it would hardly come as a shock. Yes, Brown did usher in the new, offensive-driven Bills in 2019, but the reduced salary cap makes it much more difficult for Buffalo to keep him on the roster in 2021.

Altogether, those five cuts would provide Buffalo $26.6 million in new money to spend, bringing their total cap space figure around $29 million. 

Restructures

A key — but sometimes overlooked — cog in Allen’s development, Morse will be back in 2021, and a simple restructuring of the 27-year-old’s contract will create an addition $3 million in cap space, bringing Buffalo’s total to around $32 million. And around $6 million needs to be saved for the 2021 draft class.

Notable re-signings (2021 cap hit)

If I was Brandon Beane, I absolutely would do everything in my power to re-sign linebacker Matt Milano. I just don’t think doing so is feasible given the reduced cap and Buffalo being somewhat limited financially in 2021. Choosing Williams over Milano — both underrated, solid pros — comes down to the fact that offense is more valuable than defense in today’s NFL, and Williams protects Allen on every snap. 

Notable free-agent signings (2021 cap hit)

Okwara had a breakout 2020 with 61 pressures on 424 pass-rushing snaps in Detroit. His previous high in a single season was just 39, so sample size has to be considered when determining just how good of an outside rusher he is. But the last time we saw him, he was very quietly one of the most consistently disruptive edge defenders in the NFL. And he’ll only be 26 in July. 

Cole fits the mold of the under-the-radar, mid-level free agent Beane has loved to sign in his time as Bills GM. The former undrafted free agent has never been a central feature of the Jaguars passing offense, but brings a respectable 14.1 yards-per-catch average in his four-year career and set a new high in catches (55) in 2020. The 6-foot-1 wideout was on the field for 600 pass plays for Jacksonville this season, the most he’s had in one year thus far in the NFL. While not spectacular in any one area, Cole can win in a variety of ways as a receiver. 

Smith is one of the better yards-after-the-catch tight ends in football. After finishing second in YAC among qualifiers at the position in 2019, the former third-round pick was eighth in that category this past season. Buffalo needs a jolt of production from its tight end spot, and Smith would provide that. 

Turner is the last of the “notable” free-agent acquisitions, and it’s a familiar one for this Bills regime, as the guard began his career in Carolina when Beane was in the Panthers front office. After being traded to the Chargers in 2019, Turner simply hasn’t been the borderline dominant force he was early in his career. In fact, he was a liability in Los Angeles. But if there’s a team who’d be willing to bring in Turner on the cheap as a reclamation project, it’s the Bills. And Buffalo needs more interior offensive line depth. 

Draft (mock selections)   DL, WR, LB, TE, CB, OL

  • Round 1 – Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri
  • Round 2 – Alim McNeill, DT, NC State
  • Round 3 – Deonte Brown, OG, Alabama
  • Round 5 – Shakur Brown, CB, Michigan State
  • Round 5 – William Bradley-King, EDGE, Baylor
  • Round 6 – Marlon Williams, WR, UCF
  • Round 7 – Divine Deablo, S/LB, Virginia Tech

With Milano gone, linebacker becomes a sizable need for Buffalo, and Bolton is a super-instinctive, run-and-chase linebacker who’d start immediately. McNeill is an athletic 320-pounder with impressive burst into the backfield. Deonte Brown is a road-grading blocker who actually moves well for his towering and wide frame. Shakur Brown has the length to play on the outside and the foot quickness to rapidly react to the football in zone. Bradley-King will likely fall in the draft because he lacks requisite athletic traits, but he understands how to beat blockers with angles and his hands. 

Williams is a stocky, contact-balance monster who wins with stellar YAC capabilities. Separation isn’t a strength, yet he’s efficient underneath. Deablo is a big nickel candidate with good athletic traits in a 6-3, 226-pound body. 

(Advanced stats courtesy of TruMedia unless otherwise noted)





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