Roster decisions the Bills must make for 2023, and advice on each

The Buffalo Bills 2022 season was riddled with adversities and came to a conclusion in a way that fell short of their goals. The team finished with a 13-3 record, another AFC East crown, and another division-round exit.

Last offseason GM Brandon Beane made a big signing of OLB Von Miller that was meant to help push the Bills further into Super Bowl contention. Miller would be lost to a season-ending injury as would S Micah Hyde. This offseason, Beane is looking to restructure contracts and get under the salary cap while finding ways to improve the roster.

Amidst changes to the coaching staff on both sides of the ball under HC Sean McDermott, the team also faces a number of decisions on player personnel as well. Buffalo has a long list of players hitting free agency as well as some they’ll need to make a call on whether they are progressing in a way that factors into the team’s long-term plans.

With no clear-cut candidates, the team could prioritize some re-signings over others while letting some players walk, or even trade some talent if the cap situation calls for it. Here’s a look at some of those decisions the team could make.

QB - Case Keenum

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Keenum is a serviceable and reliable backup that provides the QB room with a veteran presence. He also knows how to win with Stefon Diggs as his WR1.

Those traits alone could lead to the Bills re-signing the 35-year-old free agent. The team also has Matt Barkley in its QB room providing familiar support to starter Josh Allen.

While it’s possible the Bills roll with the same group in 2023, it’s hard not to notice that the NFL has one of the more significant groups of free-agent quarterbacks in recent memory.

From reclamation projects to potential starters to younger options with starter experience, Beane could add to that position group similarly to when Mitch Trubisky was available.

RB - Devin Singletary

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Devin Singletary took a step forward in his progression after being given the primary back role near the end of the 2021 regular season.

He put in strength training and development in the offseason prior to that campaign and has since given Buffalo a reliable RB1 that knows the team’s offense.

Still, the Bills have been looking to move more in the direction of hybrid receiving backs, and have added some talent by drafting RB James Cook in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft and by swapping out 2020 third-round selection Zack Moss for Nyheim Hines at the trade deadline.

Singletary’s familiarity with the offense and experience could lead the Bills to re-sign him if they want to have a three-back group.

Then again, it’s unclear if Singletary factors into the team’s long-term plans or what type of deal he is looking for. He could catch on with another RB-needy team, or re-up on a short-term deal with Buffalo.

Some of the NFL’s top players at the position are free agents this year and next year, but that happens to fall during two of the most cap-strapped offseasons for the Bills with their current contract commitments. Hines offers the team depth should Singletary not be back, though it will likely be with some restructuring of his current deal as a cost-cutting measure.

Bringing the 25-year-old Singletary back on a short-term pact at a team-friendly price would make sense in terms of having positional depth and rotation strength. But if his cost prices him out of the Bills offseason plans then it’ll be important to let him walk and roll with Hines and Cook.

ILB - Tremaine Edmunds

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Edmunds has the highest value in terms of being a priority re-signing for the Bills. At age 24, he’ll likely net somewhere around $11-15 million per year on a new deal but he plays a versatile and integral role in Buffalo’s defense.

While it would make sense for the two sides to come to terms, it’s also not hard to see a team with a lot of cap space and need trying to lure Edmunds out of Buffalo.

He is testing the free agent market to gauge how much he could make in his next contract, and while it would be a big loss should the Bills not be able to re-sign him, a decision does need to be made on how much is too much. That being said, with his knowledge of Sean McDermott’s defense and the versatility he offers, not to mention the ways he’s utilized across schemes and formations, re-signing Edmunds should be a top priority in terms of player retention.

S - Jordan Poyer

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With Edmunds being the most important free agent for the Bills to make a decision on, Jordan Poyer is certainly the next most important decision the team will face.

Poyer’s comments during the offseason have made implied he may look for a payday in a new pact which could result in an end to his time in Buffalo.

That being said, he’s thrived in the Bills system alongside fellow safety Micah Hyde, and Buffalo gives him a chance to win in the postseason that other suitors on the free agency market do not.

Re-signing Poyer allows the Bills to remain competitive with a high-performing veteran at the position, but should Poyer prioritize money over other factors, the team does appear prepared for life without him.

Beane and company have depth and versatility in their defensive back groups they’ve added to and could continue to add to. The group has shown their ability to contribute in next-man-up situations helping to fill the voids of injured players like Hyde and CB Tre’Davious White, as well as in rotation roles.

CB Christian Benford offers an in-house option who could switch positions to put the best talent on the field, and the team could draft players to start or develop. Beane has the position as one of the three strongest and deepest groups in this year’s draft class and has already met with DBs Ji’Ayir Brown and Jammie Robinson.

Whether Poyer resigns or not, the team could look to add to the DBs group either way as Damar Hamlin’s playing future remains unknown and Jaquon Johnson and Cam Lewis are both free agents. That being said, Poyer’s re-signing makes for one less position of priority in the Bills first round of the draft while he and Hyde offer veteran mentorship to the developmental players in their position group’s depth chart.

In the end, the 31-year-old safety’s fate could be similar to that of Devin Singletary’s in that it could make sense for him and the team to come to terms on a new deal of reasonable length, but again the Bills will face a decision on how much is too much. If Poyer’s contract demands are too expensive to the Bills cap situation, they’ll face a tough decision and may need to let him walk.

RB - Nyheim Hines

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Hines provides multi-positional versatility in that he’s able to play RB while also lining up and catching passes as a slot receiver, and gives the Bills long-needed stability as a reliable kick return man.

Brandon Bean even voiced his desire to see Hines utilized more as he gave up RB Zack Moss and a late round draft pick to acquire him at the trade deadline.

His contract makes him a top candidate to restructure his current deal, but his versatility offers the team an option with more range and use in their offense should Devin Singletary depart in free agency.

The Bills face a decision on how to restructure his contract as to avoid cutting him as a cost-saving measure with the current cap situation.

 

DE - Boogie Basham

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One of the deepest position groups in the 2023 NFL Draft according to Beane is its pass rushers.

The Bills pass rush came under scrutiny in the absence of Von Miller this past season, and was widely considered one of the areas most in need of improvement after the offensive line.

Basham could be safe for the time being as the Bills have a firmly expressed belief in player development under Beane and HC Sean McDermott, and have a good track record of sticking with their own drafted players.

That being said, if there is a clear upgrade available in the 2023 draft, his value as a 2022 second-round selection to another team could make him a trade piece to help fetch a player in return that adds to a position of need for Buffalo, draft capital to add another selection, or to package in a deal to move up in the draft.

The team’s 2022 third-round pick Terrel Bernard figures to see more playing time in the linebacker rotation, and DE A.J. Epenesa’s size and ceiling could keep him around. The Bills showed a desire to bolster their pass rush by claiming A.J. Klein off waivers, but he’s unlikely to be back.

The Bills have made their intention to look at options to improve the pass rush known by meeting with Georgia’s Nolan Smith at the NFL Combine. Smith could be an upgrade from Basham.

The team will face a decision on whether Basham projects to develop and take the next step at the pro level or, with the cap situation being what it is, whether his greatest value to the team is, like Zack Moss, as a trade asset.

WR - Gabriel Davis

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Beane shared that Gabriel Davis played through a high ankle sprain last season following a breakout performance in the Bills 2021 playoff run and division round game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

He also threw his support behind him as the team’s WR2.

That hasn’t prevented the Bills from meeting with USC WR Jordan Addison, who has said he models his game after Stefon Diggs.

The team recently hired a new receiver’s coach in Adam Henry, a hiring some in the media believe could be a precursor to signing free agent WR Odell Beckham Jr as Henry coached the wideout at LSU. While a Beckham signing could be a possibility in the future, the addition of Henry could also be a move made with developing talent like Davis in mind. Davis struggled with his hands and dropped passes a bit during the 2022 campaign and Beckham is known for his elite hands and catching ability. Perhaps Henry could help in that regard.

Still, a growing trend during this time of year over the past two offseasons is first-round projected receivers expressing a desire to play with Josh Allen and develop alongside Buffalo’s WR1 Stefon Diggs. It started last year with Alabama WR Jameson Williams (who would later be drafted by the Lions) and has continued this year with top receiving draft prospects Jaxson Smith-Njigba from Ohio State and Boston College’s Zay Flowers. Flowers even described playing with Allen and Diggs as a dream scenario.

If a playmaking receiver who can take the top off a defense is available, adding them to the current receiver group would make them unguardable as it would prevent teams from being able to double-team Diggs while opening up more opportunities for Davis and TE Dawson Knox, as well as WR Khalil Shakir.

Beane has made it clear in the past that he will select the best player on the Bills draft board at most positions, and also that he’s willing to trade up to get a player if they are the remaining first-round graded talent on the board. Beane and company must make a decision on whether to add a receiver in the early rounds of the draft to start developing behind and alongside the 29-year-old Diggs, whether Davis is that player, or whether they have the time to find out or not.

WR - Isaiah McKenzie

Bills receiver Isaiah McKenzie looks for extra yards.

The need to improve the receiver group around Diggs coupled with the trade-deadline acquisition of Nyheim Hines as a dual-threat catch-and-run back and slot receiver option could spell the end of McKenzie’s time with the Bills.

Beane has options, such as bringing back slot receiver Cole Beasley on a team-friendly one-year deal to continue to rekindle his chemistry on offense with QB Josh Allen while helping to mentor WR Khalil Shakir. Fellow slot WR Jamison Crowder, who Buffalo brought in last offseason as a Beasley replacement is also an option after not seeing the field much in 2022 due to injury. Nyheim Hines also offers the versatile options McKenzie does and could see increased playing time in similar roles.

McKenzie signed a team-friendly short-term pact that could be one of the Bills more valuable trade assets to a receiver-needy team like the New York Giants whose coach Brian Daboll and offensive system the gadget player is a fit with. Having a year left on his deal he’d offer a low-risk and low-cost upgrade and could fetch a late-round pick to replenish one of the selections Beane packaged in the deals that brought Hines and S Dean Marlowe back in trades.

The team would also save $2.9 million with only $300,000 in dead money if they chose to release him.

With the need to create cap space as well as to improve the receiver group while getting Shakir the playing time to develop further at the pro level, the Bills must make a decision on the 27-year-old McKenzie’s future with the team.

DEs - Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson

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Phillips and Lawson were brought back to boost the energy of the Bills defensive unit, and while Lawson netted 3.5 sacks the two players will be among the pass rush group that the Bills are looking for an to improve if the opportunity is there to do so.

Both could be back on team-friendly deals to continue to provide energy and mentorship to the younger players at their position, but Buffalo could also move on if they need the roster spots for new or better talent.

While OLB and star 2022 free agent signing Von Miller’s shadowing of Brandon Beane at the NFL Combine is consistent with his expressed interest of someday being a GM himself, it would also stand to reason with Beane’s identifying the pash rush group as one of the three strongest in the 2023 draft class that Miller’s involvement could also include his providing feedback on that draft talent.

Just as is the case with players like Basham, if there is a clear upgrade or developmental talent that can be added to the roster in or around the draft that might require making room for them at the position group.

Regardless, the Bills must make a decision on Phillips and Lawson during the 2023 offseason.

RT - David Queensbury

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Quessenberry was brought on as a backup to Spencer Brown but does not have the positional versatility other players on the Bills depth chart at offensive line do.

Considering Beane has made it clear improving the trenches will be the first priority before adding any playmakers on offense, free agency will be an important period for making similar signings to improve the O-line.

Quessenberry also allowed the play to get by him which was the cause of Josh Allen’s elbow injury this past season. Given how much Allen took hits and the precedent to improve the offensive line and his protection, it could mean Quessenberry’s time as a Bill could be over.

Whether those pieces can be added via free agency or the draft remains to be seen, but the Bills must make a decision on whether to re-sign Quessenberry or let him walk as a free agent.

ILB - Tyler Matakevich

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Again, with the pass rush group in this year’s NFL Draft being as deep as it is, that could mean Buffalo adding to their own pass rush with a draft pick and/or by way of undrafted signings.

Whether it’s to create room for developing talent or new additions or simply to improve at the position, that could mean 30-year-old inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich not being brought back as he is a free agent.

If the Bills are serious about improving the pass rush and run defense groups then adding talent and competition as well as upgrading at positions like Matakevich’s will be necessary. And the deep talent pool in the draft offers an opportunity to replenish and enhance the pass rush position groups and depth.

And so Beane and company must make a decision on whether that talent or those upgrades are available affordably in free agency or by way of the draft.

G - Rodger Saffold

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34-year-old G Rodger Saffold has expressed a desire and willingness to return to Buffalo and might get his wish.

Then again, the Bills are committed to improving their offensive line.

That puts similar players like guards Bobby Hart and Greg Van Rotten in question as free agents as to whether the team will bring them back as well.

Saffold could offer a low-cost high-reward option in terms of the Bills cap situation as he was a starter and could be a placeholder or rotation player even if the team adds talent to the position, which would make sense in terms of depth if they let Hart and Van Rotten walk.

And so the Bills must make a decision whether to bring Saffold back in one of those capacities in 2023. Sticking with him for another year and adding improved depth pieces than Hart and Van Rotten could be the best move.

TE - Tommy Sweeney

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The Bills have yet to find a TE2 they can add that will allow them to run more two tight end sets with their primary TE Dawson Knox.

That being said, Beane named the tight end position first when listing the three deepest positions in the 2023 NFL Draft.

In fact, Dane Brugler of The Athletic’s top 100 prospects in 2023 includes four tight ends in the top 30 and seven in the top 100.

The team took a flier on former first-round selection O.J. Howard before ultimately releasing him, meaning they could be looking for premium talent to add for that tight-end spot across from Knox.

With a strong pool of talent in this year’s draft, they could select a TE in the early rounds. Adding a playmaking talent on offense, be it a receiver or tight end, would make sense with the team’s cap situation moving forward.

The Bills current depth at the position is thin, which could mean some changes are in store at that position group since the Bills could improve the talent and depth in the draft as well as in trying out undrafted players as well as they did last year with Texas A&M TE Jalen Wydermyer.

That need to improve the position group and depth along with the teams’ cap restrictions could spell the end of Sweeney’s time with Buffalo. Plus, the tight end has missed time during his tenure as a Bill for medical reasons, and fellow TE Quintin Morris has seen increased usage.

Still, depending on how things pan out, he could stick around on a team-friendly deal. Regardless, the Bills must make a decision on Sweeney.

CB - Cam Lewis

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Corner Cam Lewis is an unrestricted free agent, the Bills might look to bring him back on a more affordable deal and could cut him and do just that.

Then again, the pending free agency decision of Jordan Poyer could impact plans for Lewis as well considering he’s third on the depth chart behind the safety.

The team is looking at defensive backs in the draft, adding developmental talent to his position, and considering moving Christian Benford to the position.

Jaquon Johnson slots in second on that depth chart behind Poyer, so while keeping Lewis in their rotation could be a likelihood, the Bills must make a decision on his future with the team as the DBs group is one of the three deepest in the draft according to Beane, which could mean adding talent to that position in or around the draft.

P - Sam Martin

Bills punter Sam Martin kicks out of his own end zone.

The Bills drafted P Matt Araiza during the 2022 NFL Draft then eventually named him the starter, believing they were getting their preferred left-footer long-term solution at a position they’d been looking to solidify.

After off-field issues led to the Bills releasing the rookie, they signed punter Sam Martin who, while not possessing the same leg strength and field-flipping ability, had good placement skills and reliability as a kicker.

Plus, when the Bills offense is playing to its capabilities, the team doesn’t punt as often and even goes games at a time without punting.

For those reasons, the free agent Martin could be back, and the veteran would make sense for the Bills special teams until Beane and the front office find their long-term answer at the position.

They must make a decision on Martin, as teams looking for that reliability in a punter might take an interest in him on the free-agent market as well.

Story originally appeared on Bills Wire