It took a while, four weeks into free agency. But last week, the Buffalo Bills got busy on the NFL's open market for personnel. With their salary cap limitations, the Bills had to sit out the initial wave of free agent signings. But after waiting out the market, the Bills signed five players last week at cap-friendly terms. One of the five could wind up as a starter. All of them add depth at critical spots on the roster. And most of them can contribute on special teams.
LB ZACH BROWN
With 33 starts on his NFL resume and the departure of LB Nigel Bradham, Zach Brown is a strong candidate to step into the Bills lineup right away at inside linebacker. He's ready to do that, but he knows he won't be given the job.
"There's always good competition," Brown said last week in an appearance on The John Murphy Show. "You have to compete. Nothing is given to you, you have to earn it."
Brown holds the Buffalo defense in high regard. And he's aware of the reputation of Bills Head Coach Rex Ryan and his brother Rob as far as defense is concerned. On top of that, Brown's former position coach at North Carolina, John Blake, has taken over the Bills defensive line coaching duties
"When the Bills called I thought this is a great chance," he said. "They got a great defense, great defensive line, great cornerbacks, they got Rex and Rob (Ryan). They just got my man Coach (John) Blake up there. The pieces of the puzzle are there."
CB STERLING MOORE
Coaching connections played a role in CB Sterling Moore's decision to sign with Buffalo. He played for Rob Ryan in 2012, when the Bills new assistant head coach was the Cowboys defensive coordinator.
"The connection that I have with Rob Ryan – he was my defensive coordinator in Dallas a couple of years ago," Moore told The John Murphy Show. "And the style of defense they run, an aggressive style, that fits me as a player. I'm a very aggressive corner. The d-line allows you to make plays in the secondary, and they have that."
Moore demonstrated his aggressiveness in a memorable game against the Bills four years ago, when he was with the Patriots. It was Buffalo's season finale played in a driving rainstorm in Foxboro. Moore picked off two passes in that game and returned one of them for a 21-yard touchdown.
"The crazy thing about that," Moore says, "is I remember Bill (Belichick) telling me about two weeks before, you're going to have a certain assignment in that game. And I remember he gave me two weeks to look at film for that game"
"They (Buffalo) did a lot of four receiver sets at the time, and David Nelson was a bigger receiver. I was pretty much matched up on him where he was. He ran a lot of option routes. That's the one I took back for a touchdown, the option route. I remember seeing that so many times, that was their go-to route on third downs. It happened, I undercut it, and took it to the house."
Moore says it wasn't normal for a coach to give a player an assignment a couple of weeks before a game. But he credits Belichick for getting him prepared for his big game against Buffalo.
"It was out of the ordinary for me'" Moore said on the radio show. "I don't think he does it that much. But it was one of those Bill Belichick moments where he's already looking ahead. Yeah, we have a game this week but we have one next week and we know the personnel we play. He gave me that assignment far in advance and it paid off."
CB COREY WHITE
The Bills addded more depth for their defensive secondary when they signed free agent Corey White last week. And like Sterling Moore, White's connection with Rob Ryan made signing with Buffalo an easy decision.
White had Rob Ryan as his defensive coordinator in New Orleans, where he spent the first four years of his career. And he loved playing for him.
"Rob keeps it business, but it's fun at the same time," White says. "He makes you want to come to practice every day and work for him. He keeps everything fresh and I love playing for him. That's why I was excited to go back to him."
White was also excited about meeting new Bills assistant defensive backs coach Ed Reed on his free agent visit to Buffalo. And he credits Reed for raising the profile of NFL defensive backs with his play on the field.
"He paved the way for DBs. He's going to be a first ballot Hall of Famer, no question about that. All the kids who looked up to him as a ball hawk, everything you want in a DB – he was that." White told host John Murphy.
OL FERNANDO VELASCO
Velasco comes to the Bills fresh off an appearance in the Super Bowl. As a backup offensive lineman, Velasco played on the Carolina Panthers field goal unit in Super Bowl 50. But if and when the Panthers celebrate their NFC Championship with a ring ceremony, don't look for Velasco to be there.
"They'll ship it to me in the mail," he says. "That was last year. I've moved on from that. I'm a Bill now."
Velasco will be a Buffalo Bill in his ninth season in the league, notable for a player who came into the league as an undrafted free agent. He's played two stints with the Panthers, two with the Titans, and one year with the Pittsburgh Steelers. And he brings a lunch bucket approach to his NFL career.
"I learned a long time ago that you have to take your job seriously," Velasco said last week on The John Murphy Show. "This is a job. You have to be a professional. That along with me being able to play a few different positions allowed me to have the career that I have had."
Velasco knows Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula. They owned Five Star Athlete Management, a talent agency that represented the versatile offensive lineman when he came into the league. And before he signed with the Bills, he talked with fellow University of Georgia alum Cordy Glenn about the atmosphere in Buffalo's offensive line room.
"He spoke highly of them – about each guy across the board," Velasco said of Glenn. "He loves the room. He loves what everybody brings to the table. There's a lot of personalities. But that's the type of chemistry you need on the offensive line."
WR LEONARD HANKERSON
Wide Receiver Leonard Hankerson had one game on the Bills roster to use as a guide for his free agent decision. He played a handful of plays on offense in Buffalo's finale in 2015 against the Jets. Hankerson says he picked up on a good vibe among the Bills receivers in his one week on the roster.
Hankerson joins a suddenly crowded field at the receiver spot in Buffalo. But he'll come to the offseason workout programs next week ready to compete.
"You just want to go out and get it done," he says. "You go our play your best and let the coaches decide."