CAPACCIO: 10 things I think about the Bills and free agency

Free agency around the NFL begins on Wednesday at 4 p.m.

Sal Capaccio
March 10, 2019 - 8:13 pm

Photo: Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

Here are 10 things I think about the Buffalo Bills and free agency, which begins Wednesday at 4 p.m. EDT:

  • I think the Bills and New York Jets will be in competition for Denver Broncos center Matt Paradis. Despite having Russell Bodine on the roster, the Bills are still looking to replace Eric Wood, who retired after the 2017 season. The Jets are still looking to replace Nick Mangold, who last played in 2016 (and ultimately retired in 2017). Also, Paradis played for new Jets coach Adam Gase his rookie year when Gase was the offensive coordinator in Denver in 2014.
  • If I had to rank the most likely free agents to wind up in Buffalo, right tackle Daryl Williams would be right near the top of the list. There will obviously be a connection between him and the Bills, considering he spent the first four years of his career with the Carolina Panthers. Both Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane will be familiar with him, but the same can be said for Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, who drafted Williams in 2015 while as the general manager of the Panthers. There are rumblings that Gettleman and the Giants may also be interested in Williams.
  • I think the attempt by Bills general manager Brandon Beane to land Antonio Brown is an indication of what he and his staff feel about this year’s free agent wide receiver class and how they value the group versus how much they might command once the market opens. There are some nice players becoming available, but probably not worth the kind of money many will see simply because of the nature of free agency and teams overpaying for the talent available.
  • I don’t think Beane is done wheeling and dealing, or at least trying to. We’ve seen plenty of trades already this offseason and we know the Bills were involved in one big one that never materialized. As players get signed and teams don’t get certain players they target, there’s going to be phone calls made to try and fill holes in other ways, not to mention teams will want to shed salary after paying free agents they land. Since becoming the Bills’ general manager two years ago, Beane has shown a willingness to trade, whether that involves players or draft picks.
  • There were reports this week that the Bills may want to pursue defensive end Frank Clark of the Seattle Seahawks, who had the franchise tag placed on him. Then those reports were shot down. Whatever the case was there, I do think the Bills are going to be in the market to upgrade their pass rush in some way. There’s been so much attention paid to what they have to do to improve on offense that I don’t think there’s been enough paid to what they also need to do on defense. That may be priority No. 1 on that side of the ball.
  • I still think the Bills want to add to the tight end position both via free agency and though the draft. They entertained free agent Dwayne Allen, who ultimately signed with the Miami Dolphins, but the good news for them is this is a decent tight end free agent class with several options, and a very good tight end draft class. That’s why I think they were comfortable moving on from Charles Clay as early as they did. My sense is they feel they can grab a blocking-type tight end in free agency, then pair him with more of a young pass-catcher in the draft who can grow with quarterback Josh Allen. As far as Allen, he got a total of $7 million for the next two years in Miami. That would be too much for the Bills to pay, essentially, their No. 3 tight end who would mainly be on the field to block.
  • The Bills officially have $75,926,583 in available salary cap space, according to the NFLPA’s public salary cap report. That’s quite a bit and gives them a lot of flexibility. But, unofficially, they also currently have the most cap space in the league next offseason, with approximately $130 million available to them, taking into account the projected cap number. So, one of the advantages they’ll have when free agency opens this week is they can give higher signing bonuses with lower base salaries this year to still give the player his money upfront, but then increase his base salary in 2020, and I expect we might see that with a couple of players they sign.
  • Speaking of next year, the Bills aren’t in a bad position at all as far as what players are currently scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. The list most notably includes running back LeSean McCoy and defensive end Jerry Hughes, who will both be 31 when this season starts. Defensive end Shaq Lawson may be an unrestricted free agent, but the team has the option of picking up his fifth-year option, and must decide that by this May. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips just re-signed a one-year deal, so he’ll be a free agent a year from now, as well. None of these players is an absolute must-keep as we sit here now, and none should be too cost prohibitive if the Bills do want to retain them. What’s it all mean? That the Bills don’t have to try and save money this year to make sure they have enough to sign their top free agents next year.
  • I really want see what kind of tender the Seahawks place on restricted free agent offensive tackle/tight end George Fant. He’s a tackle by trade, but Seattle used him in a tight end role several times last year, as well. He's very versatile and athletic. If they put a second round tender on him, that might be too much for the Bills to justify signing him to an offer sheet. However, if they place an original round tender on him, I think the Bills should make him an offer to try and pry him away from Seattle. Fant was originally signed as an undrafted free agent, which means if the Seahawks place an original round tender on him and the Bills (or another team) signed him away they wouldn’t have to give up any compensation. If they placed a second round tender on him, the new team would have to give up a second round pick. Why would the Seahawks not put a second round tender on him then, you ask? Because he’s not a starter for them (Germain Ifedi starts at right tackle) and the difference between the two tenders is guaranteeing him over $2 million versus over $3 million, which they might deem too much to justify for a backup. Fant could start at right tackle for Buffalo. The deadline to place tenders on restricted free agents is Wednesday at 4 p.m..
  • Adam Humphries, Cole Beasley, Jamison Crowder. I think the Bills need to come away with one of these three players through free agency. They could really use a slot receiver to take advantage of the wide open spaces underneath the coverage after teams are forced to respect the arm of Josh Allen (that space is the reason you saw Allen have so much room to run last year). I really like Humphries a lot and think he’d be a terrific fit into Brian Daboll’s offense. He’s increased his production every season in Tampa and caught 76 balls last year. I’m also really warming up to the idea of Crowder, too. Before missing seven games last season, Crowder had averaged 64 catches for 747 yards his first three years in the league. They’ll both only be 26-years-old next season. Beasley has been really productive in Dallas, but he’s about to be 30 next month, which is the only reason why I’d have him a little lower on that priority list. Any of these three would really be a nice addition to the Bills’ offense.


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