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8 things we learned about the Bills, the AFC East & 2021 opponents in free agency

Emmanuel Sanders (top left), Matt Breida (top right - AP Photo/Lynn Sladky), Mitch Trubisky (bottom left - AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) and Jacob Hollister (bottom right).
Emmanuel Sanders (top left), Matt Breida (top right - AP Photo/Lynn Sladky), Mitch Trubisky (bottom left - AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) and Jacob Hollister (bottom right).

It was widely anticipated that the free agent market would look a lot different in an offseason that marked only the second time in league history that the salary cap decreased (2011 was the other). But there was still a good deal of player movement during the first two weeks of the new league year. Here's what we've learned about the Bills, the AFC East and their 2021 opponents.

1. Speed to the edge

Bills GM Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott stated clearly that they believe in both Devin Singletary and Zack Moss as capable ball carriers for their run game, but if there was one element missing from their offensive backfield it was a home-run threat.

That is no longer the case after the acquisition of free agent Matt Breida. Blessed with 4.38 speed and tremendous explosiveness (42-inch vertical, 11'10" broad jump), Breida has the speed to the edge that Buffalo's outside run game had been lacking.

When Breida is in the lineup a missed tackle no longer means an extra 10 yards, it could mean six points on the board for the Bills.

Knowing opposing defenses won't be able to bring extra safeties down into the box in run support because they have to respect the Bills deep passing game and Josh Allen's arm, Breida could more quickly exploit the spaces that should exist at the second level.

In his three seasons with the 49ers, operating in a committee backfield, Breida had just over 1,900 yards on 381 carries averaging five yards per rush. He also had 10 total touchdowns (6 rushing, 4 receiving) during that span.   

He and the recently re-signed Isaiah McKenzie could both effectively stretch defenses horizontally simply because their speed has to be respected.

McKenzie and Breida could also be factors on punt and kick return respectively.

2. Buffalo has trio of elite route runners

The Bills receiving corps has been widely transformed over the last two offseasons into an elite unit. That group's production of course has been aided by a quarterback who elevated his game to top flight status and an offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll who changed the identity of Buffalo's offense.

But perhaps most notable is the projected top three receivers on the roster, Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders are arguably three of the most precise route runners in football. That precision provides consistent separation for Josh Allen to anticipate, thereby making him a more effective passer as we witnessed last season.

Knowing second-year receiver Gabriel Davis isn't far behind only adds to the volume of reliable options that Buffalo's receiving corps provides to their franchise QB.

3. More versatility at tight end

In moving on from Lee Smith via trade, Buffalo added a more versatile tight end talent in Jacob Hollister. The fifth-year pro has lined up in the backfield, been the move tight end, has been in line and detached. That versatility is certainly something that coordinator Brian Daboll will tap into to give different looks to opposing defenses.

"I think that my versatility is something that I bring to the team that I'm really excited about," Hollister said. "I like the offensive coordinator to have a really good feeling about moving me anywhere and being comfortable with it. Whether that's in the run game or pass game. I want them to feel comfortable with me being outside, wide as a receiver, in the slot, in the backfield, whatever it is. I just love moving around and doing a lot of different things. So I'm excited about the passing game and how I could be a mismatch in a lot of areas and in the run game too."

The 11 and 10 personnel groupings made up 95 percent of Buffalo's offensive play calls last season. Putting Dawson Knox and Hollister on the field at the same time however, figures to eat into that percentage a fair amount of the time this fall if Hollister and Knox can prove they can win matchups in the passing game.

4. QB 2 more similar to QB 1

Buffalo's backup quarterback situation was in good hands with Matt Barkley the last couple of seasons. He was a good sounding board for Josh Allen and filled a leadership role even as a number two. The difference between him and his replacement Mitchell Trubisky is the former Bears quarterback possesses a physical skill set that more closely resembles that of Josh Allen.

Why is that important? I'll let Brandon Beane explain.

"Physically he's very talented," Beane said of Trubisky. "Athletically, he can do some of the same things that Josh can do with the RPOs that Brian Daboll will use in his system."

If, God forbid, Josh Allen has to miss a couple of starts due to injury, Buffalo's offensive coordinator won't have to ditch the playbook and strip down the offense to just get through a couple of games with his backup signal caller. In Trubisky, Daboll will have a quarterback who can run much of the same play calls as Allen without having to overhaul the offensive approach.

Having offensive play-calling continuity even when your starting QB is out of the lineup is valuable and Trubisky will help the Bills do that if needed.

Take a look at the Bills newest free agent signings arrival to Buffalo, presented by Imagine Staffing.

5. Line stabilized

This was arguably Buffalo's top priority. After working so hard after the 2018 season to improve what was a subpar offensive line, two years later the task for GM Brandon Beane and his pro personnel staff was to find a way to keep it largely intact.

Mission accomplished.

Bringing Jon Feliciano and Daryl Williams back into the fold solidified the right side of the offensive line for the next three seasons.

Cody Ford, who is coming back from surgery, figures to compete with Ike Boettger at left guard after Boettger's rights were retained with a qualifying offer for the restricted free agent.

Buffalo still needs a swing tackle and some depth for the interior, but the starting roles have more than capable players manning them right now. We'll see what the latter stages of free agency and the draft bring to the competition.

6. AFC East adds at receiver

There were certainly varying degrees of free agent signing activity across the division. New England led the way in terms of volume and financial commitment. The Jets were free spenders as well while Buffalo and Miami were more prudent in their spending on the open market.

What all four AFC East clubs did however, was make at least one new addition at the receiver position. The Patriots signed a pair of receivers at high prices in Kendrick Bourne (San Francisco) and Nelson Agholor (Las Vegas).

Miami got help for Tua Tagovailoa in the form of deep threat Will Fuller. The Jets paid a premium for Corey Davis (Tennessee) and also added Keelan Cole (Jacksonville).

And Buffalo finally landed Emmanuel Sanders after pursuing him for a couple of offseasons.

The difference in these signings lies in the level of importance of the additions. For the Bills, Sanders is viewed as a supporting role receiver to top wideout Stefon Diggs and primary slot Cole Beasley.

For all the other division signings at wideout, it's hoped they can fill number one, or at the very least number two roles in their respective receiving corps. That might be a bit lofty in terms of expectations for some of the newest signees, but only time will tell.

7. Super Bowl participants will look different

Both Super Bowl participants last season are on the Bills 2021 schedule with Kansas City coming to Buffalo and the Bills set to travel to Tampa Bay. The two teams won't be quite the same from those we witnessed in Super Bowl LVI this past February.

The Chiefs cut both of their starting offensive tackles, RB Damien Williams and may not have the cap space to re-sign receiver Sammy Watkins and CB Bashaud Breeland among others.

Meanwhile the Bucs have worked hard to keep their championship group together. They franchised Chris Godwin and re-signed Rob Gronkowski, Shaq Barrett, Leonard Fournette and Lavonte David along with some role players. But it's uncertain if they'll get WR Antonio Brown back in the fold.

8. The return of Fitz

It probably hasn't been top of mind because the 17th regular season game hasn't even been ratified by the league yet. It’s considered a formality for the 2021 season based on a CBS Sports report, but if it is approved, Buffalo would host Washington.

The formatting of the 17th game would pit the Bills against the interconference team that finished in the same place in their division in 2020 (first) from an NFC division. Reports say the AFC East will match up with the NFC East.

Washington won its division like the Bills in 2020, so the two teams will likely square off in 2021. And who is the quarterback for Washington?

None other than Ryan Fitzpatrick, who seemingly returns to Buffalo like a kid on Halloween. Each time he's in a different costume and will be again this year after signing a one-year contract with his ninth NFL franchise. He stands a good chance of being the starter for Washington with his main competition being Taylor Heinecke at this point.

Fitz has already made return appearances to Buffalo as the quarterback for the Jets and Dolphins, and has a 1-2 record against his former team playing in Bills Stadium.