1. A 'fun' prediction for the Bills in free agency
While most of the talk around the Bills and free agency has been about the players they will try to keep, Buffalo could also address some of their roster needs once the signing period opens March 9th.
Around The NFL Editor Gregg Rosenthal chose a “fun” player addition for each AFC team that would not only be intriguing, but would make sense to each team's needs. For Buffalo, his choice was Arizona safety Tony Jefferson.
"New Bills coach Sean McDermott has a terrific track record with safeties who can do a little bit of everything. (He tutored relative unknown Eagles safety Quintin Mikell to make second-team All-Pro and helped castoff Kurt Coleman earn big coin in Carolina.) Jefferson can be deployed in a variety of ways, making big plays near the line of scrimmage or in coverage," Rosenthal wrote. "He makes a lot of sense for a team that could be starting from scratch at safety."
The safety position in Buffalo was hampered by injuries to various starters such as Aaron Williams, James Ihedigbo and Robert Blanton in 2016. In total, the Bills used eight safeties in various roles, including veteran Corey Graham, who started all 16 games at the strong safety spot.
With Williams' future still up in the air because of his neck injuries, Jefferson would make sense. The 25-year-old has only missed one game in four seasons with the Cardinals, totaling 277 tackles, five sacks and two interceptions in the desert. He was graded as the second-best safety for the first half of the 2016 season by Pro Football Focus.
If the Bills choose to address their safety need in April's draft, the position is considered one of the strongest available, with top safeties like Malik Hooker, Jabrill Peppers and Budda Baker on the board.
2. PFF ranks Gilmore as the top cornerback on the free agent market
The player grading and analysis site ranked the top 10 free agents at that position and Gilmore came in at number one. The 26-year-old has spent his entire five-year career with the Bills after being drafted by the team 10th overall in 2012, and will test the free agent market for the first time in March.
"Among this year's cornerback class, Gilmore is the closest thing there is to a sure thing," Nathan Jahnke of PFF wrote. "As a rookie, he was the Bills' starting right cornerback in Week 1. Since then, he has either been their right cornerback or tracked opposing No. 1 wide receivers. He has 48 combined interceptions and pass breakups since entering the league in 2012, tied for ninth-most."
His career-high of five interceptions in 2016 earned Gilmore his first trip to the Pro Bowl and helped Buffalo have one of the best pass defenses over the last month of the season.
"He allows a few too many big plays to be an elite cornerback, but the good plays he makes against the competition he faces far outweigh the bad," Jahnke wrote. "While he earned a lower grade in the 2016 season than most other CBs on this list, his larger body of work elevates him to the top of the ranking."
In addition to his top spot on the cornerback ranking, Gilmore also came in eighth on PFF’s top defensive free agents in the NFL for 2017.
Gilmore told reporters at the Pro Bowl that he would like to remain in Buffalo, but is also eager to check out the market and the offers that other teams will undoubtedly throw his way.
3. Bills return units earn praise for 2016
One area that the Bills will aim to improve upon in 2016 is their special teams unit.
Buffalo finished 24th in the Dallas Morning News’ annual special teams rankings. Those marks, compiled by Rick Gosselin, combine 22 categories in everything from punt coverage to blocked kicks.
The biggest reason for the Bills fall from 16th in 2015 to 24th in 2016 were the kicking units. Dan Carpenter made just 76 percent of his field goal attempts, which was 30th in the NFL and were worst in opponent's average drive start after a kickoff. Colton Schmidt also had an down year, with only 42.4 yards per punt and 38.1 net yards per punt, both near the bottom of the league.
On the bright side, Buffalo's return units fared well. Veteran Brandon Tate returned nearly all of the team's punts and kickoffs and led the NFL with eight punt returns over 20 yards. His 11.2 yard return average was good for sixth in the league.
The Bills have already moved forward in addressing the unit for 2017, signing key special teams contributors Colt Anderson and Ramon Humber to new deals. Anderson suffered a season-ending injury in October, while Humber led the Bills with 12 special teams tackles.
Buffalo will also be getting their gunner Marcus Easley back for 2017. The 29-year-old missed the entire 2016 season with a knee injury. Easley had 50 special teams tackles with the Bills in four seasons prior to his injury.
Sean McDermott's first coaching decision was to retain special teams coordinator Danny Crossman. Crossman has now served under three different Bills head coaches, with his units finishing 31st, second, 16th and 24th in Gosselin's rankings.