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3 pressing questions for the Bills at the start of the free agency process

Shaq Lawson and Kurt Coleman. Buffalo Bills vs Tennessee Titans, October 6, 2019 at Nissan Stadium. Photo by Bill Wippert
Shaq Lawson and Kurt Coleman. Buffalo Bills vs Tennessee Titans, October 6, 2019 at Nissan Stadium. Photo by Bill Wippert

The pursuit of free agents begins in earnest today as the legal tampering window opens and teams try to fill holes and bolster their respective rosters. Buffalo, like the 31 other NFL clubs, will try to address the priorities their roster presents.

Here's a look at some of their most pressing questions and how free agency could impact them.

1. Will the Bills be able to re-sign Shaq Lawson or Jordan Phillips?

Buffalo's most prominent free agents are widely seen as Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips after each of them put together career seasons in 2019. How realistic is it that the Bills are able to bring at least one back onto the roster?

General manager Brandon Beane gave indication more than once this offseason that Lawson and Phillips are likely to reach the free agent market.

"We just felt all along that Jordan has earned the right to find out what his market value is and see where it goes," said Beane. "I'm a big fan of Jordan. Would I like to have him back? Yes. But it's got to be right for all of us for what we're doing. If he leaves us, I'll be the first guy to wish him well, but maybe we get him back as well."

Beane's stance on Lawson seemed to be largely the same.

"He's a free agent and his agents are going to do the same thing," said Beane. "Hopefully we can get him back."

It seems like the club understands that players like Lawson and Phillips are looking for that big long-term contract and using the free agent marketplace is the best course of action to accomplish that for players.

So getting one or both of these players back under contract will likely hinge on how strong the demand is to sign two of Buffalo's top free agents.

2. Should the Bills address wide receiver in free agency or the draft?

This is one of the most compelling questions for Buffalo's front office for a couple of key reasons. First, it's no secret that the wide receiver position is widely seen as the deepest position in the entire draft class.

"It seems pretty deep," said Beane. "It seemed that way all fall and to this point even though I still have to meet some of them, it is (deep)."

Some NFL analysts believe this affords Buffalo, and other clubs seeking receiver help, the option of using a deep draft class to fill the positional need.

Last offseason, Buffalo made effective use of free agency to strengthen their receiving corps, signing Cole Beasley and John Brown in the first few days of the open market.

Does that coupled with a deep class of receivers mean Buffalo will turn to the draft to fill a primary role at wideout?

Not necessarily.

There are free agent receivers who are viewed as affordable options that won't compromise Buffalo's philosophy of staying "cap strong" for as long as possible.

"Being selective in free agency is the proper approach for the Buffalo Bills," said ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen. "That's how you build a roster in my opinion. You take selective free agents who fit your team identity and fit your scheme. Then you go on to the draft. That's how you build a football team."

It will be interesting to see if Buffalo's front office is confident enough in the readiness of receiver prospects in the draft class to help the offense right away as a rookie, or if they choose to go the veteran route in free agency as they did last year.

Of course it's entirely possible they add a receiver in both free agency and the draft.

3. Will a long-term answer at pass rusher be sought?

Among the positional needs identified by NFL analysts for Buffalo is edge rusher. With Trent Murphy entering the final year of his contract and Shaq Lawson a free agent, the position will need to be addressed just in terms of numbers.

Will the Bills seek a long-term answer at the position, or will they fill it with a short-term solution?

This year's draft class might have an impact on that decision.

"There are some guys," said Beane of the edge rusher class in the draft. "I don't want to call it deep. There are some players. We run a 4-3, then you have 3-4 teams. Some guys can play both. Our guys are going to have their hand in the dirt most of the time. We have to make sure if it's a true 4-3 D-end, or can he play stack linebacker but also give us some pass rush? We can't draft a non-fit."

Of course on the free agent market, defensive end is one of the most expensive positions in terms of annual contract value.

Buffalo has cap space but knowing their propensity to be fiscally responsible one wonders whether they would swing for the fences or look for a more reasonable alternative.

Buffalo's personnel boss sounds like he'll be actively seeking pass rush both in free agency and the draft. 

"Even if we signed back both Shaq (Lawson) and Jordan (Phillips), it would not deter me in any round to take another pass rusher," said Beane. "I think it's one of the premium positions you see where those guys, the elite ones, get paid. So if there's a guy there in any round that we think can come in and help our roster, we would take him, whether we re-signed those guys or not."

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