The season of free agency is fast approaching. And though some changes have happened along the way like the still relatively new three-day negotiating window, the market is an ever-changing headline in the middle of March. It’s compelling drama for NFL fans to see which teams are reloading with veteran talent or making that one key signing to push them over the top.
We decided to take a look back at some of the Bills best free agent classes and rank the top five in team history. While modern day free agency really wasn’t enacted under the terms of the CBA until 1993, we chose to go back further than that to properly recognize the best free agent classes the Bills have assembled.
5. 1998 – QB Doug Flutie, FB Sam Gash, CB Donovan Greer, G Joe Panos, WR Kevin Williams
Doug Flutie was an afterthought signing when it happened that offseason. Buffalo had orchestrated a big trade giving up a first and fourth round pick for QB Rob Johnson, who was deemed the quarterback of the present and future. But his injuries left the door open for Flutie and the former Heisman trophy winner took it from there.
Flutie helped the Bills overcome an 0-3 start as they went 10-3 over their final 13 games to reach the postseason. Flutie, at age 36, made a triumphant return to the NFL and was named to his first career Pro Bowl.
Sam Gash gave the Bills a physical attitude in the run game, while Kevin Williams served as a capable third receiver and was a dynamic return man. Joe Panos was a serviceable starter at guard.
4. 2017 – K Stephen Hauschka, S Micah Hyde, S Jordan Poyer, FB Pat DiMarco, CB Leonard Johnson, G Vladimir Ducasse, WR Andre Holmes
Rebuilding the roster under Sean McDermott, Buffalo landed three big cornerstones in Hauschka, Hyde and Poyer.
The veteran kicker proved to be clutch and helped to lift the Bills to some close victories in his first season (See: Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Kansas City).
Meanwhile Hyde and Poyer became one of the best safety tandems in the league as Buffalo’s defense used takeaways to win games. In the end, Buffalo did enough to end the franchise’s 17-year playoff drought and earn an AFC Wild Card berth.
3. 2003 – DT Sam Adams, K Rian Lindell, S Lawyer Milloy, LB Takeo Spikes
Bills GM Tom Donahoe made a strong push in free agency to lift Buffalo back into the postseason. He spent big money on big fish in Adams and Spikes, and signed Milloy just days after he was cut by New England and right before the season opener against the Patriots.
Buffalo routed the Patriots 31-0 in front of a raucous crowd in Orchard Park intercepting Tom Brady four times, including Adams memorable 37-yard return for a touchdown.
Though the 2003 season ended in disappointing fashion, Adams, Milloy and Spikes were key pieces on a defensive unit that finished second in the league and came within a whisker of the playoffs the following season in 2004.
Spikes went to a pair of Pro Bowls while with the Bills (2003, 2004) while Adams went to one (2005).
All Rian Lindell did was become the most accurate kicker in team history during his tenure in Buffalo, before being subsequently passed by Hauschka and Dan Carpenter.
2. 1995 – DE Jim Jeffcoat, LB Bryce Paup, NT Ted Washington, LB David White
The exploits of Paup and Washington alone in Bills uniforms are enough to put this free agent class near the top. Paup was a supernova in Buffalo, logging a league-leading 17.5 sacks in ’95 to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. He’d go to the Pro Bowl all three years he played for the Bills (’95-’97), but a recurring groin injury compromised his effectiveness his last two seasons.
Washington did the dirty work and was a menace against the run. Buffalo finished fifth and fourth against the run in two of his last four seasons with the Bills and earned three Pro Bowl nods (’97, ’98, ’00).
Jeffcoat was an effective rotational veteran on the defensive line and linebacker David White helped clinch Buffalo’s last AFC East title picking off a Dan Marino pass with six minutes in regulation to set up a game-winning field goal in a Week 15 win at then Rich Stadium 23-20.
1. 1989 – G John Davis, RB Kenny Davis, G Mitch Frerotte, QB Gale Gilbert, RB Larry Kinnebrew, LS Adam Lingner, WR James Lofton
Bills GM Bill Polian took full advantage of Plan ‘B’ free agency signing John Davis, Kenny Davis and Adam Lingner. They went on to become a starting guard (John Davis), backup running back (Kenny Davis) and long snapper (Lingner) through the team’s Super Bowl run.
Perhaps even more important was the addition of future Hall of Famer James Lofton. Though he was used sparingly in 1989, Lofton was a bigger weapon in 1990 and then in 1991 when he posted his last 1,000-yard receiving season at age 35. He was by many accounts the final piece to the Bills puzzle in winning three AFC titles his last three years with the Bills (1990-92).