The Buffalo Bills have 18 pending unrestricted free agents that could hit the open market come March 14. I’ve taken the liberty of ranking all 18 in order I think the Bills should prioritize re-signing them. Keep in mind this isn’t a list ranking the talents of said free agents. How much the team needs the player, what he’s capable of going forward, team positional needs and potential contract demands weigh heavily into what the organization should do with each player.
Having said that, here’s my list and for the record, were I Brandon Beane I’d only attempt to re-sign the first five for sure and at most the top seven.
1 E.J. Gaines: He’s a big-time injury risk as he missed five games last year and 11 over the past three years. If you’re going to give a guy big money ideally having him reliably on the field is a good thing. Having said that, Gaines played at a very high level for the Bills last year and bringing him back would complete what quickly became one of the better defensive backfields in the NFL, at least in my opinion. It’s also worth noting Gaines is just 26-years old. WKBW’s Joe Buscaglia pointed out the Bills were 8-3 in games Gaines started this season and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. If the Bills find themselves overly wary of Gaines’ injury history and/or the pending free agent prices himself out of their range, the only corner of equal or greater ability slated to hit the open market is New England’s Malcolm Butler. I’d be willing to go four years at around $6-7 million per for Gaines.
2. Leonard Johnson: Maybe I’m in the minority but I feel like Johnson did a pretty good job in a nickel role and was adequate as a starter when Gaines wasn’t available. With so many holes to fill it’d be nice to re-sign both Gaines and Johnson, who coupled with Tre’Davious White (and Shareece Wright) allows you to call it a day at corner.
3. Kyle Williams: If he doesn’t retire I’m fully confident the organization will welcome him back with open arms. That’s great, long as his playing time and compensation is equivalent to the present and not the past. I love Williams as much as the next guy, but feel good stories aside he’s a shell of his former self. At this point of his career he’d be a situational tackle at best. With or without Williams this team needs help at the position badly, and this may be one spot worth spending significantly in free agency, especially considering both Sheldon Richardson and DaQuan Jones could be available. Don’t sleep on Star Lotulieiei either; a guy both Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane are very familiar with. He’s not a Pro Bowler but he’s not Adolphus Washington either. Would Williams return making less than half his $10 million 2017 salary? I doubt it. I’d want him back but nostalgia can’t factor into the contact.
4. Brandon Tate: I’m fine with him coming back as a returner and fifth receiver. Sure, why not.
5. Cedric Thornton: There’s no way this guy should be starting in 2018, as his role this year was far more than it should’ve been, but I’m OK with him competing to be in the defensive tackle rotation going forward.
6. Shareece Wright: Like I said when it came to Leonard Johnson, I’m good with all the 2017 Bills corners returning. I think Wright has some talent and as long as most the guys in front of him stay healthy his role wouldn’t be too demanding. The secondary is the least of this team’s problems.
7. Travaris Cadet: I was intrigued by him before he gruesomely broke his leg. If he’s healthy I’d bring him back and let him compete.
8. Preston Brown: He’s a tackling machine but unfortunately a non-impact tackling machine. 144 stops is amazing but literally zero sacks, interceptions or forced fumbles isn’t. The Bills have a recent history of letting linebackers hit free agency and get overpaid elsewhere with guys like Paul Posluszny, Nigel Bradham (who I wouldn’t mind back) and Zach Brown. I’m perfectly fine with history repeating itself here. Brown’s not a bad player and was the defensive captain but they can and should do better at middle linebacker. If you’re wondering who I’d suggest Avery Williamson, Demario Davis or Novarro Bowman for starters, should they go the free agency route. If I’m Beane the only way Brown’s back is via a team friendly deal with zero promises. He’s arguably the most productive player on this free agent list but I’m good with him getting pay day elsewhere.
9. Deonte Thompson: If he can’t get signed anywhere else and wants a “prove it” deal I wouldn’t hate his return, as he’s one of the few Bills skill players with speed. Give him a no-risk deal with a chance to make the roster this summer. That’s all he should realistically be seeking anyway—an opportunity.
10. Jordan Matthews: No thanks. The Bills have Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones will improve. They need speed. Save spending the money on yet another possession receiver. Matthews will cost good money and I’ve seen nothing to suggest he’d be worth it. The Bills need help, badly at WR but that should come via free agency and the draft. They don’t need Matthews.
11. Ramon Humber: Nah.
12. Seantrell Henderson: See Ramon Humber.
13-16. Joe Webb/Taiwan Jones/Shamarko Thomas/Jeremy Butler: Uhhh, sure.
17. Colt Anderson: He may get injured signing his contract.
18. Mike Tolbert: I can’t deal with another year of Mike Tolbert being the No. 2 running back or No. 2 anything on this team. Great guy and I’m sure brings value in the locker room but I’ll take a (very) hard pass here.