Bills Free Agency: The interesting case of Preston Brown

Brown led the NFL in tackles in 2017

Sal Capaccio
January 24, 2018 - 9:43 pm

Photo: Mark Konezny - USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills have 18 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 14, the first day of the new league year. All of them are eligible to re-sign with the club before hitting the open market. However, those who played 2017 on one-year veteran minimum deals have to wait until March 14, unless they agree to another one-year, vet minimum contract with the Bills. If they do, they can re-sign before then.

The advantage for the team signing a player to a one-year vet minimum contract is that no matter how many years of service they’ve had in the NFL, he will only count as a player with two years of service against the salary cap, which will be $630,000 in 2018.

Here’s a look at the two Bills' linebackers scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March and how I see their situations:

  • Preston Brown

This may be the toughest situation of all the Bills’ free agents. Brown is only 25 years old, coming off a rookie contract that didn’t pay him a lot, and just led the league in tackles with 144. He absolutely should want to get as much as he can on the open market. He’s earned that right. He also played almost every single defensive snap for the Bills last season. He’s the poster child for being “available” as Sean McDermott preaches and wants in all his players. Many counted him out headed into last season and pegged Reggie Ragland as the starter at middle linebacker. But Brown began training camp as the number one guy, showed he could move better than a lot of people realized (helped by dropping 10-15 pounds and sticking to a strict diet) and beat him out, never losing hold of the spot. He has underrated athleticism and speed, but he still may be lacking enough for what McDermott wants overall in his 4-3 middle linebacker. If the Bills want him back it may come down to the two sides meeting a price. They certainly won’t break the bank for Brown. But he also may be willing to take a little less to stay with the organization that drafted him and a coach and defense he likes. The good news for the team, if they want Brown back, is his position doesn’t typically command huge money, outside of some of the top-paid players like Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner, and Alec Ogletree, who all make an average of $10 million or more. If he wants to paid like one of them, I can’t see the Bills doing that. But only eleven inside linebackers average $4 million or more. That could be the type of range the Bills would be willing to go, with even less of a cap hit by spreading out the money with up-front bonuses. Brown’s cap hit was half that at just under $2 million last year. And for the way he played, that was a tremendous value for the team.

  • Ramon Humber

Humber has played for the one-year veteran minimum for the last two years. He’s been a solid addition and useful, and even won the starting weakside linebacker position last year after primarily being only a special teams player in 2016. But he lost that starting role to rookie Matt Milano about midway through the season. After that he only played about one-third of the snaps on defense on took on a bigger special teams role once again. So, it appears that’s what Humber’s value is to the Bills, if any, going forward. He’ll be 31 next season and with soon-to-be 35-year old Lorenzo Alexander the only other experienced linebacker currently under contract, the team would probably like to get younger at the position.  

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