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 the spring:
Arguably the crown jewel of the Bills’ offseason acquisitions, the 26-year old Diggs was acquired from the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for first, fifth and sixth round draft picks in 2020 and a fourth round pick in 2021. The price was worth it for a player of Diggs’ caliber, who is one of the NFL’s best route runners, excels in the deep, intermediate and short passing game and is especially good at operating out of bunch and stack alignments.
Diggs, who has four years left on a five-year, $72 million contract extension he signed with Minnesota in 2018, instantly upgrades the Bills’ wide receiver corps to one of the better groups in pro football.
A special teams captain during his first go-around with Buffalo (2017-18), Jones provides speed and lots of it. He’s useful as both a return man and as a gunner in punt coverage.
Back for his third stint in Buffalo, Gaines is perfectly suited for the Bills’ zone-heavy defensive scheme. As productive as he is in Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier’s scheme, however, he has also been injury-prone, as Gaines has missed loads of playing time since the beginning of his career.
Gaines has opted out of playing the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 virus, so his one-year contract will carry over to 2021.
Drafted by the Carolina Panthers in 2016, Butler signed a two-year, $16 million deal with Buffalo in March. After his first three years in the NFL, Butler was starting to look like a bust, but a breakout season last year (six sacks) prompted Bills general manager Brandon Beane to take a chance on a player he played a part in drafting while he was with the Panthers’ front office. He and Quinton Jefferson (more on him later) will be crucial to providing depth behind Ed Oliver and Harrison Phillips, especially with Star Lotulelei opting out of the 2020 season.
At 32 years old, Addison inked a three-year, $30.45 million deal in the opening portion of free agency. Some might say that would be too much money for someone getting up there in age, but Addison is still quite productive – as evidenced by his four consecutive years with at least nine sacks, eight forced fumbles and no drop-off in his ability to set the edge. It also probably helped that for the first five years of his career Addison was a rotational piece on the Panthers’ defensive line, so there’s not as much mileage on his body as one would think.
Addison will likely be the starter at defensive end opposite Jerry Hughes.
After spending the last three years with the New Orleans Saints, Klein left the Big Easy for a chance to compete for the Bills’ starting “Will” (weakside) outside linebacker spot that was vacated after the retirement of Lorenzo Alexander. Klein, who spent the first four years of his career in Carolina with McDermott and Beane, has experience playing not just the “Will” position, but also the “Sam” (strongside) and “Mike” (middle) linebacker spots, and also led Carolina in special teams tackles in 2015 on their way to an appearance in Super Bowl 50.
Similar to Butler, Jefferson agreed to a two-year contract with the Bills, but for slightly less money ($13.5 million). Jefferson was known as a versatile defensive lineman during his time in Seattle, as he lined up at both defensive tackle and defensive end multiple times. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see McDermott and Frazier utilize him at both spots as well, depending on both the opponent and down and distance.
After blossoming into one of pro football’s best cornerbacks in a 2015 season that saw him be named an All-Pro and helping the Panthers get to the Super Bowl, Josh Norman signed a five-year, $75 million deal with Washington – making him the highest paid cornerback in NFL history at the time.
It didn’t go as planned. After a couple of decent years Norman’s play dropped off dramatically in 2019, leading to his release with just a year to go on his contract. Norman then signed a one-year pact with the Bills, reuniting him with McDermott, Beane and a host of former Carolina teammates.
Whether his declining play – especially in man coverage – was a result of being placed in a defensive scheme that didn’t cater to his strengths in zone coverage or because of age, no one quite knows. Regardless, Norman is competing for playing time at outside cornerback with incumbent Levi Wallace and is hoping to recapture his former self in Buffalo.
The Bills brought in Matakevich on a two-year, $7.15 million contract to help beef up their kickoff and punt coverage teams, and if he plays like he did for his old team in Pittsburgh then the Bills got themselves a good one. Matakevich has recorded the most special teams tackles in the league over the last four seasons and will be counted upon to provide similar production in Buffalo.
Winters, a third-round draft pick by the New York Jets in 2013 out of Kent State, has started 79 of 89 games played in his career. Having been surprisingly released by the Jets in early August in what was believed to be a salary cap-related move, Winters quickly signed a one-year deal to play in Western New York, an area where his aunt and uncle both live (East Aurora) and where his parents called home for eight years (Orchard Park).
Having played mainly right guard in the NFL, Winters is competing for a starting job with the Bills while regular starter Jon Feliciano recovers from a torn pectoral muscle.
Long rumored to be a target of the Bills, the former Panther lined up at both guard spots and left tackle in Carolina and the Bills love versatility amongst their players. Williams could prove to be vital for Buffalo this year, as he may hold down the fort at either guard or tackle while Feliciano recovers from injury.
Boehm is on his fifth NFL team after agreeing to a one-year, $1 million deal in April with the Bills. Boehm is known for having some positional flexibility as he has played both guard spots and center in the NFL, and McDermott and offensive line coach Bobby Johnson values versatility highly. Boehm is challenging for a roster spot in Buffalo.
BRYAN COX JR.
Cox, the son of former NFL linebacker (and Bills nemesis) Bryan Cox, is entering his fourth season of NFL play after signing a one-year, $825,000 deal in April. He will be competing for a rotational role on Buffalo’s defensive line.
Zimmer has spent his five-year career with Cleveland, Atlanta and New Orleans, and has had five tackles – one for a loss – in three games. Interestingly, Zimmer originally came into the NFL with the Bills in 2016 as an undrafted free agent out of Ferris State.
Smart was a member of the Los Angeles Rams for the last three years and played in 31 games. He was a sixth-round pick in 2017 from Tulane.
The Bills picked up Allen in late August after Allen was let go by the Seattle Seahawks. Allen is entering his fourth NFL season after spending last year in Seattle and 2017 and 2018 with Pittsburgh, mostly playing on special teams.
Picked up in a trade with Carolina for a conditional draft pick in 2023, Smith was originally drafted by the Panthers with a seventh-round pick that was acquired from Buffalo for wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Smith participated in two-thirds of the Panthers’ special teams snaps last year.