Buffalo Bills roster analysis: Defensive end

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Nick Wojton
·4 min read
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The Buffalo Bills had an excellent 2020 season as a team, but position-by-position is a different story. Some were better than others and as the offseason is now in full swing, Bills Wire will give a quick analysis of the team’s current roster by reflecting on the season that was and looking ahead to 2021.

Next up, here is our breakdown of the team’s defensive end unit:

Contract statuses

Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes. (AP/ Photo Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Signed for 2021:
  • Jerry Hughes: $9.5M cap hit ($2.1M dead cap hit)

  • Mario Addison: $10.2M cap hit ($4M dead cap)

  • AJ Epenesa: $1.3M cap hit ($2.3M dead cap)

  • Darryl Johnson: $874.5K cap hit ($49K dead cap)

  • Mike Love: $850K cap hit ($0 dead cap)

  • Bryan Cox Jr.: $920K cap hit ($0 dead cap)

Pending free agents & 2020 contract:

Player-by-player 2020 review

Bills defensive end Mario Addison. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

Player (age):

Hughes (32): An ageless wonder, while Hughes continues to not sack the quarterback, he still applies the pressure very well and consistently sets the edge. While the longest-tenured member of the Bills, Hughes has yet to slow down and still makes impacts on games via turnovers. He could be a salary cut kind of player due to his contract, but Hughes is simply too good for Buffalo to actually considering moving on from him. Stats: 29 tackles, 4 for loss, 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 passes defended, INT, PFF grade: 75.4 Addison (33): While the Bills' leading sack artist on the edge, Addison's game lacked consistency in pretty much all aspects in 2020. Considering the Bills are reportedly pursuing J.J. Watt in free agency currently, that might be a view that team shares as well. Stats: 30 tackles, 7 for loss, 5 sacks, 4 passes defended, PFF grade: 59.5 Murphy (30): Pretty much a disappointment. The Bills signed him prior to 2018 hoping Murphy would regain his nine-sack form from 2016, but he never did. That's evident by the fact that the Bills made Murphy a healthy scratch for an extended period. He only appeared in 10 games in 2020. Stats: 19 tackles, 3 for loss, 2 sacks, PFF grade: 65.5 Epenesa (22): Never really impressing a ton during his first season, that was pretty much to be expected from Epenesa. The rookie dropped out of the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft and Buffalo nabbed him in Round 2. He started his season as a healthy scratch, but gradually did see a smaller uptick in snaps played toward the end of the season and playoffs. The Bills made some references to his playing weight after the year as a reason for some early struggles. Stats: 14 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 sack, 1 pass defended, PFF grade: 61.5 Love (27): Love only appeared in the Bills' season finale and spent the entire year on the practice squad. He signed a reserve/ futures deal with the team probably because... Love actually did impress in that game. Stats: 2 tackles, 1 for loss, PFF grade: 65.7 Johnson (23): More of a special teamer, Johnson occasionally rotated in at defensive end with Epenesa over the likes of Murphy. Stats: 14 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 sack Cox Jr. (26): Active in one game for the Bills in 2020, Cox Jr. was protected on the practice squad, at times, early in the year... but he never found a way to make an impact at all. Stats: 1 tackle

2021 outlook

Bills defensive end A.J. Epenesa. (AP Photo/Brett Carlsen)

Buffalo's edge group is pretty cut-and-dry. There's two potential cuts that could be made to make salary cap space with COVID-19 causing a drop in the 2021 cap. One is Hughes and the other is Addison, essentially the two starters at defensive end considering the big rotation Buffalo plays with on the D-line. Hughes impressed and maybe he reconstructs his contract again with the Bills but don't expect him to go anywhere. Addison could save the Bills $6M against the cap if they move on from him. The Bills could wait until post-June 1 to cut Addison and save $8M against the salary cap, but that doesn't help in March when free agency opens. A tough decision for Brandon Beane there. With Murphy most likely gone depending on a massive pay cut since he's a free agent, expect Epenesa to see a bit more playing time in 2021... but as referenced, the Bills are still in on Watt's services, so Buffalo already is admitting they aren't ready for Epenesa to see an increase in snaps at defensive end. If not Watt, there could still be another addition made via free agency or the draft. In Johnson, Cox Jr., and Love, the first is the most-likely to return to the active roster thanks to his special teams abilities. The others are likely just practice squad players as of now.

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