Since the earliest portion of the spring, the Buffalo Bills have signed multiple free agents who they believe will upgrade the team’s talent level.
To paraphrase former ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman, allow us at From the 300 Level to be the last to recap the events of this past offseason. Here’s a comprehensive roundup of Buffalo’s haul from free agency:
Position: running back. Age: 35. Years in NFL: 14. Contract: one year, $2 million.
Crack all the jokes you want about the soon-to-be 36-year old Frank Gore, but the man can still play. Granted he’s not in his prime anymore and can’t quite handle a full-time workload like he did in San Francisco, but Gore can play a big role in short-yardage situations (an area in which the Bills struggled at last year) and he still has some burst and power to his game. That, and his highly underrated skills in pass protection make him an ideal third-down back.
Gore is just 522 yards away from surpassing Barry Sanders for third on the NFL’s all-time rushing list, and he’s accomplished almost everything you could do short of winning a Super Bowl. His leadership skills will be an added bonus to the Bills’ mostly young locker room.
Along with rookie Devin Singletary and veteran T.J. Yeldon – more on him below – Gore will split carries throughout the season depending on the weekly offensive gameplan. A side benefit to this could be to keep his legs fresh for the home stretch, as Buffalo will no doubt be looking to reach the postseason during that time period.
Position: running back. Age: 25. Years in NFL: five. Contract: two years, $3.2 million.
Yeldon, a former second-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2015, served as the Jags’ starter in their backfield as a rookie before taking on a reserve role for the past three years. He gained 1,132 yards rushing during that timeframe but also took on a bigger role in the passing game – contributing two 50-plus catch seasons.
Yeldon is known for having good vision and anticipation for running lanes opening up, and perhaps will make his mark on third downs for the Bills.
Position: wide receiver. Age: 28. Years in NFL: eight. Contract: four years, $29 million.
For an average annual value of just $7.25 million a year, the Bills were able to acquire the services of one of the NFL’s better slot receivers. While the 5’8” Cole Beasley may not boast eye-popping statistics – over the last four seasons he’s averaged just 57 catches a year – he makes up for it with quickness, sure hands and very good route-running ability.
In fact, one could argue that he was under-utilized during his time in Dallas. No matter whether Tony Romo or Dak Prescott was under center, Beasley was always considered the fifth or sixth option in a Cowboys offense that featured the likes of Jason Witten, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant and Terrence Williams over the years. Now away from “Big D” and in a Bills offense that doesn’t have a clear-cut top passing target, Beasley could better his career marks in Western New York.
A player of his kind also suits offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s system well. Daboll’s Patriot-esque offense has routinely featured shorter, quicker wide receivers like Troy Brown, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman who can cut on a dime, utilize defensive backs’ leverage against them in option routes and the know-how to find soft spots against zone coverage. Beasley will likely fill that same role in Buffalo.
Position: wide receiver. Age: 28. Years in NFL: five. Contract: three years, $27 million.
One of the NFL’s fastest receivers, former Arizona Cardinal and Baltimore Raven John Brown brings a plethora of speed to the Bills’ lineup. The pairing of Brown and strong-armed quarterback Josh Allen makes sense – Brown’s reliable hands, acceleration and ability to get open on vertical routes is second-to-none, and Allen attempted more deep balls than anyone in football last season.
However, there are two issues with Brown – his lack of size and injury history. Because of his 5’10”, 179-pound frame, Brown has struggled against man-press coverage and doesn’t have long arms – impacting his catch radius. He also can’t hold up consistently while blocking, although he is a willing participant in that area.
Throughout his career, Brown has dealt with numerous hamstring and quad ailments and has battled through a sickle-cell trait. If Brown can stay healthy, he will become a big-play threat for Allen and company.
Position: wide receiver. Age: 31. Years in NFL: 10. Contract: two years, $4.6 million.
Roberts has been in the NFL since 2010, and while he hasn’t made a consistent impact on offense he has contributed a sizeable amount to special teams. With his experience and success as a return man – he was named an All-Pro and led the league in kick return yardage last year with the New York Jets – he will help the Bills bounce back from an abysmal showing in that area in 2018 (21st in punt return average and 24th in kick return average). Roberts also accumulated 10 total returns against the Bills last season for 308 yards, including 51 and 86-yard returns in week 14.
Position: tight end. Age: 26. Years in NFL: five. Contract: three years, $18.75 million.
Quality tight ends were hard to come by in free agency this year and the best of the bunch all had question marks attached to them. The three biggest names available – Jared Cook, Tyler Eifert and Jesse James – each had numerous issues, especially in regards to inconsistency, injuries and price.
With a big hole on their roster at the position – and Jason Croom the only tight end under contract at the time – Bills general manager Brandon Beane opted to bypass that trio and gamble on some upside with Kroft. Eifert’s former backup in Cincinnati, Kroft has gained a lot of experience while filling in for him over the years and likely hasn’t entered the prime of his career yet. The Bengals’ third-round draft pick in 2015, the 6’5”, 252-pound Kroft possesses smooth route-running ability and a knack for getting open in the end zone. He’s also not a bad blocker either.
The somewhat cheap contract that Beane doled out to Kroft indicates two things: one, he was able to acquire good value for someone whose best years are still to come and two, that he might not be the team’s long-term answer. The Bills are likely to spend a draft pick on a tight end in this year’s class given the depth available at that position, and should Kroft eventually find himself as a backup his contract won’t hamstring Buffalo’s salary cap.
Kroft suffered a foot injury during the spring and he may not make his debut in a Bills uniform until a few weeks into the season. While he is on the mend rookies Dawson Knox, Tommy Sweeney and a former Bill who was brought back into the fold in May will hold down the fort until Kroft comes back.
Position: tight end. Age: 31. Years in NFL: nine. Contract: three years, $9 million.
Smith is entering his second stint with the Bills after spending the last four years in Oakland. From 2011-14, Smith started 18 games for Buffalo while notching 20 catches for 144 yards and three touchdowns.
While Smith has never been known for his receiving prowess, what has kept him in the NFL has been his stellar blocking ability. His physical nature at the point of attack gives him a lot of value in a league that has seen tight ends become less and less prolific in that regard seemingly by the year, and that attribute was likely sought by Daboll and head coach Sean McDermott in order to boost a running game that was feeble in 2018.
Position: center. Age: 27. Years in NFL: five years. Contract: four years, $44.5 million.
Morse became the richest center in the NFL after agreeing to terms with the Bills in March for good reason. After coming into the league as a second-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, Morse became a reliable pivot for the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Alex Smith while helping to set protections in the passing game. His mobility is very good and he hasn’t allowed a sack since his rookie year. The Chiefs likely would have retained his services if it wasn’t for their dire salary cap situation in the spring.
Morse’s one bugaboo has been his health. Four times in his career he has suffered a concussion and that is a cause for concern despite his status as one of the better young centers in the game. Should he stay on the field, Morse should be a huge asset for a young quarterback like Josh Allen.
Position: guard. Age: 28. Years in NFL: five. Contract: one year, $2.05 million.
Spain entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and started six games as a rookie. Since then, he became the permanent starter at left guard for the Tennessee Titans for the last three years and missed just five games in that span.
During his time in the Music City, Spain became renowned for both of his abilities in pass and run-blocking. A road grader-type, he also has good size (6’4”, 330 pounds), a large wingspan and surprising athleticism which allows him to get up to the second level. Perhaps he can parlay those strengths into a long-term contract after this season.
Position: guard. Age: 27. Years in NFL: five. Contract: two years, $7.25 million.
When a coach moves to a new locale, it’s natural for that coach to want to have some familiar faces around to teach his concepts to his new team. With Bobby Johnson set to take over the Bills’ offensive line in 2019 one of his newest charges will be Jon Feliciano, whom he had coached with the Oakland Raiders.
Feliciano, a fourth-round draft pick by the Raiders out of the University of Miami, started a career-high four games for Oakland last season so this is his first real shot at a full-time starting gig in the NFL. While light on experience, Feliciano is known for having a mean streak and some versatility (he can also step in at center, as he showed during training camp while Morse dealt with a concussion). It should be interesting to see what he can bring at right guard for the Bills.
Position: tackle/guard. Age: 33. Years in NFL: seven. Contract: two years, $14.5 million.
Versatility along the offensive line was a big priority for the Bills this offseason, and Ty Nsekhe epitomizes it. The former swingman along the Washington Redskins’ line can play left or right tackle and has also started games at left guard in his career.
Nsekhe will serve the same role for Buffalo this season and it’s a role that suits him well, as evidenced by his performance against Jadeveon Clowney last year. Nsekhe essentially owned him throughout the contest while not allowing Clowney to make any sort of impact whatsoever.
Position: guard/center. Age: 28. Years in NFL: six. Contract: three years, $12.6 million.
The theme of versatility also applies to Spencer Long. Long, who has applied his trade with the Redskins and New York Jets, has started multiple games at center and guard throughout his six-year career.
Although Long has great mobility and awareness and also sneaky strength, he has battled through many ailments throughout his career. The injuries may have robbed him of some athleticism, but he makes up for it through succeeding in other areas.
It’s likely that Long will carry out the same role as Nsekhe but for the interior line positions.
Position: linebacker/safety. Age: 29. Years in NFL: six. Contract: one year, $1 million.
Alexander, a former member of the Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, has spent all of his career as a safety but has played mainly on special teams. While his contributions to the latter category have been solid, his play as a safety has been up and down. Having started 23 out of a possible 41 games at both safety spots with the Rams, he showed some promise but was released after playing poorly following the first four games of the 2017 season.
In Seattle last season, Alexander recorded 10 tackles in nine games on special teams. He will also switch to linebacker, which makes sense given his size (6’2”, 220) and coverage ability. Perhaps Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier see his future as a Shaq Thompson-type – meaning not quite fast or quick enough to play on the back end, but good enough to have coverage responsibilities at the second level.
Position: cornerback. Age: 26. Years in NFL: five. Contract: one year, $3 million.
Coming out of Wake Forest in 2015, Kevin Johnson was considered one of the better defensive back prospects in the draft. He was talented enough to be selected 15th overall by the Houston Texans due to his intelligence, speed, length and ability to play man and zone coverage.
However, Johnson has struggled with injuries and inconsistency. He has suited up in just 35 out of a possible 64 games over the past four seasons and has notched just one interception in his career.
Johnson will compete for playing time with Levi Wallace and Taron Johnson. Working in Johnson’s favor is that his old position coach in Houston, John Butler, is the Bills’ defensive backs coach so there is a level of familiarity there that should help Johnson get acclimated to Buffalo.
Position: safety. Age: 31. Years in NFL: 10. Contract: one year, $930k.
After the retirement of Rafael Bush, the Bills needed a veteran safety who could not only provide depth at the position but also contribute in subpackages and on special teams. Enter veteran Kurt Coleman, who was a free agent until right before the start of training camp and has played for Sean McDermott with the Philadelphia Eagles and in Carolina.
Not only does Coleman have a good command of McDermott’s defensive scheme – and they reached a Super Bowl with the Panthers together in 2015 – but he will also fill a big role as a third safety who can play all over the field in nickel and dime packages. In that sense, Coleman may actually be an upgrade over the since-departed Bush.