The Buffalo Bills made some noise this offseason, making a trade, acquiring several free agents, moving on from some players on their roster, and drafting key pieces as a means to bolster their roster. The moves show that the team is in a “win-now” mentality, as they are reaping the financial benefits of several of their players who are outperforming their rookie contracts.
But of all these moves made by the Bills and general manager Brandon Beane since the end of the last season, which are considered the best by Buffalo’s brass? Here are the top six moves that will help take the Bills to the promised land in 2020:
Utah Utes running back Zack Moss. Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
6. Drafting RB Zack Moss
Devin Singletary has taken hold of the top spot on the running back depth charter after a breakout rookie season. The player nicknamed “Motor” ran for 775 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Strong statistic if you factor in that he was held to only 12 games played in his first season. With a 16-game slate, could Singletary surpass 1,000 yards on the ground?
Despite that, the need for a complement for Singletary was an important hold to fill this offseason. Frank Gore was the downhill runner that the Bills coveted for part of the season last year, but his production fell off during the second half of the year. It looked as if the Bills did not have any answers for figuring out how to get Gore going after a certain point last season.
In rookie running back Zack Moss, the Bills are hoping they’ve found a strong alternative. Buffalo selected Moss in the third round of the recent draft. He is a bit bigger than Singletary. Moss is an aggressive runner with Marshawn Lynch being used as a comparison for this running style.
Buffalo’s coaching staff on offense clearly likes the idea of having two running backs ready to go at any time. Singletary will be the early-down, explosive runner while Moss will be the powerful closer to finish off defenses. A running back “by committee” approach is a philosophy that’s picked up steam across the league in recent years, but the Bills finally have one that could prove to be a talented duo.
Bills offensive guard Quinton Spain. Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
5. Re-signing Quinton Spain
Dubbing himself “Mr. Undrafted,” Quinton Spain has endeared himself to the Buffalo faithful during his one year with the organization. The Bills took a shot on him, signing the guard to a one-year deal prior to the start of the 2019 campaign. It worked out well.
Spain did not allow a sack during the regular season last year. His new deal, a three-year contract, keeps him in the fold along with multi-year deals of Mitch Morse and Cody Ford, who are also returning starters along Buffalo’s offensive line.
Both Beane and head coach Sean McDermott believe the consistency and familiarity of the group will become even stronger in 2020, giving a better O-line in front of quarterback Josh Allen. This contract has also aged like a fine wine, too.
The signing looks even better as of late, as right guard Jon Feliciano will miss substantial time due to a torn pectoral muscle. With Spain’s signing, the Bills will have at least four of their returning linemen from 2019 ready to go in the first week of the 2020 season. Without Spain, the Bills would be down to returning their left tackle (Dion Dawkins), center (Morse) and right tackle (Ford). So think about it. Had Spain now been re-signed, all three of those returning players would have had new faces next to them in 2020. Instead, it’s just one spot, which could be plug-and-play with the recently-signed Brian Winters.
— Nate Mendelson (@NateMendelson) September 15, 2019
Panthers defensive end Mario Addison. Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
4. Bills sign Mario Addison
Buffalo’s sack numbers have improved over the past three seasons. They have put more pressure on quarterbacks, causing chaos during their time on the field. The defensive front has been solid. But McDermott wants more.
The Bills moved on from Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson this offseason, their top two sack masters from last year. Phillips recorded 9.5 sacks while Lawson added 6.5. From your premium pass-rushing position on the edge, you’d like more than 6.5 sacks over the course of an entire season from your top sack-artist, even with the rotation McDermott runs along the D-line.
Along with Phillips and Lawson, Jerry Hughes, has been a thorn in the side of quarterbacks, just hasn’t recorded the sack numbers even with his high number of pressures in recent memory. Thus, the signing of Addison is a helpful one for Buffalo’s defensive line.
The veteran has totaled 39 sacks over the past four seasons, notching at least nine of them each year. Addison is a stronger pass rusher than anyone who has played opposite Hughes over the past few seasons, so hopefully, this will help Hughes find his big sack numbers from the mid-2010s, like when Mario Williams was a Bill. Here’s to hoping, anyway.
— Chris Clark (@ChrisClark_) November 18, 2016
Iowa Hawkeyes defensive end A.J. Epenesa/ Credit: Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports
3. AJ Epenesa selected in second round of the NFL Draft
The Bills defensive line underwent an overhaul this offseason. Buffalo was searching for a versatile player who could help their aging line get a bit younger moving forward. When AJ Epenesa fell to the 54th pick in this April’s draft, it was an easy selection for Beane. The Bills took a strength via their overall force on defense, and added to it.
During his final two years in Iowa, Epenesa recorded 30.5 tackles for loss and 22 sacks. He is an edge rusher who can get after the quarterback, and he also defends well against the run. He also played a bit on the interior of the line with the Hawkeyes. Prior to the 2020 Draft, many analysts projected Epenesa as a first-round pick. At minimum, maybe an early second rounder. Instead, likely because of average Scouting Combine numbers, Epenesa was there for the taking.
With Hughes getting long in the tooth and Trent Murphy entering the final year of his contract with the Bills, Epenesa will take on a larger role (at least the Bills hope so) in the long-term for Buffalo. Depending on how things shake out in training camp, Epenesa could be tossed right into the fire in 2020, too. The depth at this position ahead of Epenesa takes early pressure off of the rookie, an ideal scenario for him.
First two seasons of college
Nick Bosa (7 starts): 13.5 sacks, 23 TFL, one forced fumble
AJ Epenesa (0 starts): 15 sacks, 22 TFL, five forced fumblespic.twitter.com/QdFQWjzeh6
— Thor Nystrom (@thorku) May 28, 2019
Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
2. Bills pick up Tre’Davious White’s fifth-year option
Picking up the fifth-year option alleviates any concerns about Tre’Davious White’s short-term involvement with the Bills. He will be in the fold for the next two seasons, at minimal. In a time of uncertainty due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it’s vital that Buffalo check off as many concerns the team has.
Along with White, the Bills have several players on rookie contracts who have outperformed their initial deals. White might be the most important of this group, but this extra year does give the Bills some breathing room to get things settled across the board. In addition to White, the Bills will try to re-sign offensive lineman Dion Dawkins and linebacker Matt Milano. Those two were drafted the same year as White (2017) but do not have fifth-year options for Beane to flex. Buffalo has to get deals with those two done, so being able to push White’s deal off one more year is big for the Bills.
And clearly, White’s value as a shutdown corner is massive. The Bills have been down this path before: they let arguably the best cornerback in the game (or at least a player who eventually became the top corner) leave during free agency in Stephon Gilmore.
The Bills won’t let the same fate happen with White.
— Brandon Saho (@BrandonSaho) September 24, 2017
Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
1. Stefon Diggs is a Bill
We appreciate you coming this far, but you had to have known this was coming, right?
The evolution of the Bills wide receiver group over the past few years is fascinating. Buffalo moved on from Sammy Watkins in 2017, only to put together a room of wideouts who produced at near-historical lows for the position group. For the next two seasons, the group lacked a true No. 1 receiver. In 2019, Buffalo signed Cole Beasley and John Brown to bring this group to an acceptable level.
Beasley and Brown delivered, combining for 139 catches; 1,838 receiving yards, and 12 touchdown receptions. Even with Brown and Beasley bringing the group to average levels, there was still something that lacked. The team needed someone who was a bit more explosive, who put the defense on their heels a bit more on a consistent basis.
Enter Stefon Diggs.
Diggs has been a perennial top receiver since entering the league in 2015. IN five seasons, Diggs averaged 73 receptions, 925 receiving yards, and six touchdown receptions. His speed and route-running are exceptional.
Diggs gives Buffalo a true No.1 receiver. In combination with Beasley and Brown, Diggs completes a wide receiver room that now is among the top ten in the league, with the potential to make it into the top five easily.
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