Although Safety Da'Norris Searcy and LB Brandon Spikes might not be at the top of Buffalo's offseason to-do list, keeping them on the roster figures to be beneficial in the league's fourth-ranked defensive unit from 2014.
Though Searcy's snap count in 2014 is surprisingly down from 2013, the role he played this season has been more valuable. With the departure of safety Jarius Byrd, Buffalo was in need of secondary help so Aaron Williams filled Byrd's free safety spot and Searcy became a full-time cover guy as the strong safety rather than the hybrid safety/linebacker position he had held previously.
"I didn't just have to come in on third down and make plays like last year," he said. "I was out there full time so it allowed me to make a lot more plays this year. They got to see that I can also cover as well as rush the passer or do things in certain packages so it was good for me."
The former Tar Heel was fifth on the Bills tackles list this year with 58, matching last year's mark. He also nabbed a career-high three interceptions for 70 yards – one behind team leader CB Leodis McKelvin.
Searcy, whose rookie contract ended this year, said he is looking forward to hitting the open market. Growing up he heard players talk about the excitement of free agency and now is his chance to experience that same feeling.
While he has enjoyed playing in Buffalo Searcy also said has to do what is best for his family. Naturally money will be an issue, but he didn't deny the advantages of playing alongside the same teammates year after year.
"I would say most definitely because a lot of us have been playing together for three and four years," Searcy said of the value in staying put. "If we keep everyone together then the sky is limit. We wouldn't even have to learn anybody new. We might have to bring some rookies up and coach them along, but it'll be easy with everybody coming back.
"Hopefully they can keep us all together. It's been shown that it can be done. Seattle is doing it keeping their guys together, so we can do the same thing if we're able to bring everybody back with the same guys playing with each other who knows what our defense could do."
Spikes, like Searcy, saw his playing time dip a bit in 2014 (46.4 percent of defensive snaps compared to 59.8 in 2013) but his value is measured beyond this metric.
He provided a veteran presence to his younger colleagues building a bond and camaraderie among the linebacker corps. He discussed how they became one over the course of the season and that these players are his brothers.
Photos of the Bills linebacker getting ready for action.
Spikes also played a key role in bringing the Bills run defense from 28th in 2013 to 11th in 2014. This role is best exemplified in Weeks 4, 5, and 6: The opponent in these weeks put up 37, 69, and 50 rushing yards, respectively – the lowest numbers of the year. In these contests, Spikes played in significantly more defensive snaps (62, 82, and 62 percent).
When considering free agency, though, it isn't all about numbers or stat lines. Sometimes it's about how happy a player is.
"Honestly, I would just say I'm the happiest I've been since I've been in the NFL," Spikes says. "I will say that. I look forward to coming to work. I look forward to seeing the guys in the locker room every morning. It's been real, man. I loved every second of it. Even the grind. Even the time we were out in camp for five or six weeks. All of that, in the dorm rooms, it was great. I embraced it. They embraced me from day one. I love this place. I will definitely remember this place if I was to move on or whatever, this will be a special place for me. I'm happy again. I love the game again."
This quote came from Week 17 in the visiting locker room at Gillette Stadium – a place where Spikes spent the prior four years in the home team's locker room.
He later said that he hasn't put much thought into where he might end up or how he will explore free agency but he did reiterate his love for Buffalo. He added that he is 'absolutely' optimistic about staying in Orchard Park next year.