CAPACCIO: Five defensive free agents who could fit the Bills

The front-seven needs to be addressed via free agency

Sal Capaccio
March 09, 2018 - 10:03 am

Photo: Reinhold Matay - USA TODAY Sports

With NFL free agency set to kick off in one week, here are five defensive players whose contracts are set to expire who may fit the Buffalo Bills:

1.) Anthony Hitchens - Linebacker - Dallas Cowboys

If there’s one free agent defensive player who may be the perfect fit for the Bills, it’s Hitchens. He could be the Micah Hyde-type of signing the team had last year. A young, rising, versatile defensive player who is starting to be known around the league, but has yet to really hit his true potential. That’s why he might not cost break-the-bank type of money, either. The 25-year old can play every linebacker position along a 4-3 defense, and has missed only four games through his four-year career. Hitchens would be an important player to add, even if Preston Brown stays, but would become tremendously valuable if Brown leaves via free agency. (Note - There are plenty of people who believe Hitchens will sign with the Colts and his former Cowboys' linebackers coach Matt Eberflus, who is now Indianapolis’ defensive coordinator).

2.) Star Lotulelei - Defensive Tackle - Carolina Panthers

The obvious connection here is Lotulelei and both Bills head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane were all together in Carolina for the first four years of his career. Beane was the Panthers’ Director of Football Operations when Lotulelei was drafted, and McDermott was the only defensive coordinator he played for until last year. At 28, Lotulelei is in the prime of his career, and the Bills desperately need help up front on defense, with or without Kyle Williams returning. But Lotulelei has become more of a space eater and never really been a play-maker at his position. He’s most valuable if he’s paired with athletic linebackers who can make plays behind him.

3.) NaVorro Bowman - Linebacker - Oakland Raiders

Once again, a signing that would be predicated on Preston Brown’s future. But assuming Brown leaves, Bowman would be a huge replacement. He had a resurgence in his career last year after being let go by the San Francisco 49ers, and then signing with the Raiders. He’ll be 30-years old at the end of this month and has missed significant time with injuries two of the last four seasons. But if he can stay as healthy as he did in Oakland last year, Bowman is a run-stopping freak, something the Bills did not do well last year. Once regarded as one of the best inside linebackers in football, Bowman has been named a First-Team All-Pro four different times, led the league in tackles in 2015, and has consistently finished near the top of that category several times in his career. He recorded 89 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and an interception in only 10 games with the Raiders last year. Bowman may only be a two-down player most weeks, depending on the opponent and situation, but could be a big piece to the Bills’ run defense.  

4.) Avery Williamson - Linebacker - Tennessee Titans

Read everything I just wrote about Bowman and apply that to Williamson, except his age and injury history. Williamson’s 26th birthday is Friday (as I write this on March 9) and he’s missed only one game through his four-year NFL career. Through the 63 games he’s played, he’s been a tackling machine, recording 377 of them to go along with 11.5 sacks. The knock on Williamson is, although terrific against the run, he is regarded as a two-down player with limited coverage ability, and the Bills need to get better in the coverage department at linebacker. Williamson has been a 3-4 inside linebacker in Tennessee, but if Brown leaves, putting him in the middle of the 4-3 would suit him just fine and also minimize his coverage responsibilities.

5.) Adrian Clayborn - Defensive End - Atlanta Falcons

I know the Bills have said they want to get younger overall, and Clayborn is going to be 30 in July, but that can still be a productive age for a pass rusher, which is what he specializes in. The former first round pick had 9.5 sacks last year (six actually came in one game), and was considered very disruptive overall while still playing at a high level. In the five full seasons he’s played, Clayborn has amassed 30 sacks, averaging six per-year. He has 17 over the past three seasons, missing only three games in that time. The Bills didn’t get nearly the pass rush they wanted last year and have to find a way to get to the passer better in 2018. Clayborn would be a nice player to bring in on passing situations. He wouldn’t have to or be expected to start and play three downs, keeping him fresh.  

Also: read my Five offensive free agents who could fit the Bills

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