CAPACCIO: 10 Bills players I'd protect if there was an NFL expansion draft

Let the debates begin

Sal Capaccio
June 20, 2017 - 2:22 pm

Photo: Kevin Hoffman - USA TODAY Sports

The NHL expansion draft is this week. Each team was allowed to protect nine or ten players (depending on which format they preferred) and from there, the Vegas Golden Knights will choose one from every roster.

This got me thinking. What if the NFL held a similar-style expansion draft?  Say, the Oklahoma City Lightning (to pair with the NBA’s Thunder, get it?) or San Antonio Gunslingers (OK, the USFL had that first, but it was a very cool name so I’m bringing it back) were to start play in 2017, and each of the other 32 teams could only protect ten players from their current 90-man roster? No confusing rules regarding who is eligible and who isn’t like the NHL’s draft. This is just a straight-up Yes or No for every player. 10 of them protected, 80 exposed for the expansion draft.

The only major rule you have to know and think about is whichever players are selected by the Lightning (or the Gunslingers if you want to go with the USFL nostalgia), their entire contracts and cap hits move with them to their new team, and their old team is completely off the hook for any money. No dead cap hits at all.

In the NHL, the new team picks one player from every other roster. In this NFL expansion draft, they’ll choose two (I’m going to pretend they also drafted 14 players - two per round - back in April). That gets them to 78.  They’ll fill their remaining 12 roster spots with undrafted and street free agents.

Now down to the main business. So who would you protect from the Bills?

For me, to make things clear right away: I’m not tanking. That would make the list look a little different. I want to give my team the best chance to win in 2017, while still trying to build for the future (essentially, the exact philosophy head coach Sean McDermott has adopted for the Bills).

But I’m also assuming the new team is probably going to focus on taking younger players, and probably not going to take on huge cap hits. So I’m pretty confident in leaving some of my older veterans exposed, as well as players with huge cap hits, thinking I’ve got a good chance to retain them, anyway. Sure, it’s a risk with several as you’ll see.  But one I’m willing to take.

Here are my ten protected Bills for the 2017 NFL expansion draft:​

QB Tyrod Taylor

Even though there was a debate about even bringing him back at all, now that he is going to be wearing a Bills uniform again, Taylor offers the only realistic option for the Bills to win football games as the regular starter under center. Add to that he has a very reasonable salary to deal with for a starting quarterback ($9.7 million cap hit). So a good - not great - starting QB making peanuts compared to most starters in the league (his 2017 cap hit ranks 21st among starting QBs), that's an easy call to protect. 

RB LeSean McCoy

I'm guessing a lot of people are reading this right now disagreeing because of McCoy's age (29), position, and salary. And, believe me, I debated a long time myself. But the bottom line is, given the struggles of the passing offense the last two years, how good the running game has been, and how they are still currently built, Shady is very important to their success. McCoy is still one of the premier running backs and playmakers in the league and still the Bills' best offensive player.

WR Sammy Watkins

McCoy may be the teams' best offensive player, but Watkins could be if he stays healthy. No, he hasn't don't that yet in his career, but he is still very young (just turned 24) and supremely talented. The Bills may not ultimately re-sign him after his contract expires at the end of the season, but I'm certainly not giving him away for free. He has to be protected. 

OT Cordy Glenn

Sure, his cap hit is over $14 million this season and he's battled some injuries the last couple years (did not miss any games in 2015, missed 5 last season), but he's still a legitimate franchise left tackle who's only 27 years old. Those are extremely hard to find. So I don't want to have to find another one. 

OL Dion Dawkins

There are some major question marks on the right side of the Bills line. Jordan Mills was good at the tail end of 2015, but widely inconsistent last year. Seantrel Henderson is suspended for the first five games this year and has yet to prove he can be a regular starter in the NFL. That’s why the Bills drafted Dawkins. If he can win that job, great.  If not, he’s still very valuable depth not only at both right and left tackle, but can play guard, too. After just moving up to grab him in the second round, and knowing he’s a big part of the future plans, there’s no way I can leave him unprotected

WR Zay Jones

With or without Sammy Watkins, I'm relying on Jones to be a major part of this offense for the foreseeable future. The Bills also just traded up in the second round to get him, too. He can’t go anywhere. So he won't. 

DE Shaq Lawson

There's just no way I'm leaving my first round pick from one year ago unprotected. Especially one who started to show flashes of why he was chosen there towards the end of last season after he came back from injury. 

CB Ronald Darby 

He's 23 years old. He's making less than $1.3 million this season. And, oh by the way, he's my No. 1 cornerback right now. This is an easy choice. 

CB Tre'Davious White

Darby may be the top corner right now, but White could become that within the next couple years. He can play outside or in the slot and he was my top draft choice this year for a reason. Either way, this combo is a good, young, 1–2 punch that I need to keep together in a pass-happy league. 

S Micah Hyde

The Bills' top free agent acquisition and clearly the teams' best safety with a lot of question marks behind him on the depth chart. Hyde offers plenty of position-flexibility head coach Sean McDermott is going to take advantage of going forward. He's a key player for this team over the next few years, which is why they targeted him as soon as free agency began. 

Notables left unprotected 


DT Marcell Dareus 

When he's healthy physically and of right mindset, Dareus is arguably the best player on the entire Bills’ roster. But, unfortunately, neither has been the case too often in his six-year career so far. With his off-field history, and a cap hit of over $16 million each of the next four seasons, I’m going to take a chance that the new expansion team does not take him and commit those resources to their new roster. If they do, I free up about $66 million of cap space over the next four years. If they don't, I still have a terrific football player I hope can get back to where he needs to be.

DT Kyle Williams

Of course I want Williams on the 2017 Bills. But at 34 years old, going into the last year of his contract and counting over $8 million against the salary cap, I’m pretty confident an expansion team won't be eager to grab him.

OG Richie Incognito and C Eric Wood

These were both tough choices for me because either might very well be the teams' best lineman. In Incognito's case, he's 33 years old, and although not too expensive this year at under $5 million on the salary cap, that number balloons to over $7.5 million in 2018. So I'm going to assume the new expansion team won't take him as a one-year rental, which is also why I'm including Wood on this list. He's 31 right now, commands over $7.5 million this year on the cap, and will be a free agent next offseason. Doesn't sound like the type of player expansion teams want to begin their teams with. 

LB Reggie Ragland

The injury concern is enough for me to take a chance to expose him, both knowing I could lose something I never really had, and may never be what I thought, and thinking Oklahoma City or San Antonio will be too scared-off to take that chance. I'm also leaving Preston Brown available. So, if either one gets taken, I still have a starting middle linebacker. 

DE Jerry Hughes 

Hughes is a tough call because, at 28, he's still in the prime of his career, especially for a pass rusher. He also still has three years left on his contract. However, all three will cost over $10 million per season on the salary cap. And since he's had a drop-off in production (a combined 11 sacks over the past two seasons after recording 10 sacks each of the previous two), I'm thinking that may be too rich for the new team's blood to take on. Note - If the new expansion team is running a 4-3, it will be a tougher call with Hughes and could revisit this. But if they are running a 3-4, I have much more confidence they won't grab him.

QB Nathan Peterman 

As much as many fans like him and believe he will be the heir apparent as the starting QB, I can't justify protecting a backup quarterback I selected in the 5th round with one of only ten choices. 

So who would you protect? What choices do you disagree with? Follow and tweet me @SalSports

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