3 ways the Bills can replace Tremaine Edmunds
The Buffalo Bills need to fill a massive hole on their defense, as Tremaine Edmunds officially left the team at the start of the free agency period. Edmunds, who started 74 games in five seasons in Buffalo, was a central figure for the Bills defense.
Edmunds, who signed with the Chicago Bears, improved quite a bit since the Bills drafted him in the first round of the 2018 draft. There were some growing pains as Edmunds, one of the youngest players in the league to take the field during his rookie season, developed into a defensive stalwart.
Edmunds did a little bit of everything well on defense for the Bills. He turned his progress as a young star into a four-year, $72 million contract from the Bears.
Now, Buffalo faces a challenge that they have not had to worry about during the Sean McDermott era: Replace a central figure whom the team developed. Edmunds’ athleticism and ability to read opponents will be missed.
The Bills can move in several different directions with how to fill this void on the defense. Here’s breaking down three of those:
Nov 20, 2022; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Buffalo Bills linebacker Tyrel Dodson (53) talks to head coach Sean McDermott during the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
The Bills have four players on their roster who could fill in for Edmunds: Tyrel Dodson, Terrel Bernard, Baylon Spector, and Tyler Matakevich. General Manager Brandon Beane hinted that a replacement could be on the roster already:
I mean sometimes your answer is on your roster and so we think you know Tyrell, getting Dodson back on on a one-year you know him. Obviously we had the two draft picks last year in [Terrel] Bernard and [Baylon] Spector there and they’ve been in our program for a year.
However, there will need to be quite a jump in confidence in any of these players in order for one of them to be considered a realistic option. Of all of the aforementioned players, Dodson led the way with 220 defensive snaps last year, good for approximately 20.9 percent of the defensive snaps.
Dodson, Bernard, Matakevich, and Spector all made most of their contributions to the Bills on special teams last year. Matakevich is a special teams ace for Buffalo, so it’s unlikely that Sean McDermott will move him out of this role.
Could Dodson, Bernard, or Spector take on the role? There’s a definite learning curve that would take place if any one of these three linebackers would take on significant snaps moving forward. At this point, a major leap of faith will need to happen in order to believe that they could fill the shoes of Edmunds.
Sep 8, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) and linebacker Bobby Wagner (45) tackle Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) at SoFi Stadium. The Bills defeated the Rams 31-10. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Bills could explore the free agent market to find their replacement for Edmunds. Buffalo may wish to bring in a veteran who can step in right away and take the reins in the middle of the Bills defense.
Beane worked some financial magic to create space under the salary cap. Depending on the outlet, the Bills have somewhere between $10 million (according to Over the Cap) to $13 million (according to Spotrac) in cap space.
The Bills still need a chunk of this space to sign draft picks, so the free agent route could be a bit of a long shot.
Even so, there are still some names that could pique the interest of the Bills.
Former Los Angeles Ram Bobby Wagner would be a stellar fit for a team who wants to win right now. His cap number would be high, most likely taking up the available space right now. If Wagner were a realistic option, Buffalo would need to complete some more salary cap gymnastics to work more space under the cap.
Myles Jack was recently cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s another intriguing name but once again, his services will not be cheap. Jack may not command the contract that Wagner will most likely receive, but it still could put a strain on the Bills bottom line. Jack registered 104 total tackles last year with Pittsburgh.
A third option, in the short term, could be former Cleveland Browns linebacker Anthony Walker. Walker missed a majority of last season after injuring his quad in September. Walker is coming off a one-year deal worth $4.25 million.
The Bills could wait until later in the summer to bring in a free agent. There are several veterans floating around, including Zach Cunningham, Denzel Perryman, Kwon Alexander, and Kyle Van Noy. The market will determine when these players latch on to a team.
Draft a linebacker
Sep 10, 2022; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks linebacker Drew Sanders (42) pursues South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) during the second half at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Arkansas won 44-30. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
It doesn’t appear to be the greatest draft for inside linebackers on paper. However, the Bills have been successful when developing their prospects, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Iowa’s Jack Campbell is a name that keeps popping up among draft pundits as a middle linebacker to watch. He registered 128 tackles en route to being named the top linebacker in the country. Campbell isn’t as dynamic athletically as Edmunds, but he has earned a reputation as a physical, workmanlike defender.
Another name to watch is Arkansas Drew Sanders. Sanders moved to linebacker after transferring to Arkansas. A former edge rusher, Sanders made the move to the linebacker position fairly well, making him even more valuable due to his ability and versatility. To top it off, Sanders’ NFL comparable, according to NFL.com’s Lancen Zeirlein, is Tremaine Edmunds.