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Bills Roundtable: 4 opinions on the top free agents in team history

Mario Williams records one of his team record 4.5 sacks against Cam Newton in 2013.
Mario Williams records one of his team record 4.5 sacks against Cam Newton in 2013.

Takeo Spikes. Bryce Paup. London Fletcher. Doug Flutie. Mario Williams  Those are just some of the standout free agents signed by the Bills through the years. Below, One Bills Live co-host John Murphy and Bills Insider Chris Brown break down some of the most interesting free agent signings in team history.

Tonight, fans can tune into 'Top 10 free agents in Bills history' presented by Aesthetic Associates Centre on MSG at 8 pm. The show will feature interviews with former players, general managers and other Bills supporters who will breakdown these signings and the impact they had on the franchise.

1. Most underrated FA signing in team history

John Murphy: A couple stand out. Doug Flutie's signing came in 1998, but the big free agent quarterback signing that year was Rob Johnson. Flutie outplayed Johnson that season, a year when many thought he might just be a backup.

But the 1995 addition of nose tackle Ted Washington ranks as the most underrated signing in franchise history. Washington went to three Pro Bowls in his six years in Buffalo. He had 130 tackles in 1996, and 124 the following season. "Big Ted" was the prototypical NFL nose tackle. As a former first round pick of the 49ers, the Bills knew they were getting a good player, but Washington exceeded everyone's expectations almost immediately.

Chris Brown: For me it's Ted Washington. Buffalo already had a Hall of Famer on their defensive line in Bruce Smith, but Washington was an ideal fit for the club's 3-4 scheme. He was a true two-gap nose tackle and dominated the line of scrimmage. And he was more than just a plugger. Washington would toss offensive linemen around like rag dolls and make plays behind the line on running backs.

He was the linchpin of the team's number-one ranked defense in 1999 because he would shut down the run of the opponent every week and when opponents had to pass, that's when Smith and Bryce Paup could hunt the quarterback.

2. Most important FA signing on the active roster

Murph: Quarterback AJ McCarron ranks as the most important free agent on the roster. He could wind up as the starter at quarterback in September. He could play the entire year and also manage a mentoring role for first round pick Josh Allen this year or in the future. And the Bills bided their time last March, waiting until the first free agent quarterbacks were snapped up around the league, in order to get the right value on McCarron – a critical signing for 2018.

CB: I think it would be hard to argue Vontae Davis. After the departure of three cornerbacks in the offseason (EJ Gaines, Leonard Johnson, Shareece Wright) Buffalo had a starting role to fill on the boundary. Vontae Davis is a proven commodity as a starting caliber cornerback. To fill that hole in the starting secondary with a player of Davis' ability was an astute signing by Buffalo.

3. Most memorable recruitment for a Bills free agent

Murph: By far, the March 2012 recruitment of defensive end Mario Williams takes the cake. In a perfect confluence of social media and live television technology, the Williams recruitment had all of Western New York holding its breath for two days. Local news outlets chronicled his arrival in Buffalo, his two days of negotiations, the effort from Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly to recruit him, Williams (an avid hunter) spotting nine deer outside Kelly's home in Orchard Park on a recruiting visit, the arrival of Williams fiancé in town—all of it breathlessly reported and followed on TV and on social media. His actual career in Buffalo was uneventful, compared to the attention generated by the push to get him here.

CB: The recruitment of Takeo Spikes was pretty memorable because of the active role that fans took to make him feel wanted in Buffalo. Spikes' last game before he became a free agent was in Buffalo against the Bills, and the fans were ready. I still remember the signs and banners fans had on display in the stadium for Takeo Spikes. Chants of "We want Spikes!" It was unprecedented.

Once Spikes signed with Buffalo he admitted that the Bills fans in that Week 17 game had an impact on his decision making. Knowing it was before the age of social media where fans had direct reach to players, it was a heck of a campaign that aided then Bills general manager Tom Donahoe in landing the impact linebacker.

4. Most memorable single game performance by a Bills free agent

Murph: Bryce Paup's first year with the Bills, 1995, was one of the best years any Bills player has ever had. A free agent signee from Green Bay, Paup finished the year with 17.5 sacks, a full four sacks more than the second place finisher.

It didn't take long for Paup to make his mark. In week three that year, a 20-14 win over the Colts, Paup had 3.0 sacks, two forced fumbles, and finished with 14 tackles. He was the AFC's Defensive Player of the Week in just his third game in Buffalo.  Six weeks later, he had another three-sack game against the Colts, this time against three different quarterbacks. But his week three performance stands out as the best single game performance by a Bills free agent.

CB: I can still see Takeo Spikes running an interception back for more than 50 yards in his return to Cincinnati for the Bills, but it's hard to top Mario Williams' four-and-a-half sack performance against the Carolina Panthers in Week 2 of the 2013 season.

To see one of the most impressive physical specimens in the NFL sack one of the other most impressive physical specimens in the league in Cam Newton was just the peak of athletic competition. Williams set the single-game franchise record with that performance.