What They're Saying

What they're saying | National analysts assess the Bills' needs in free agency

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Levi Wallace (39), Siran Neal (33). Buffalo Bills vs Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field, November 7, 2021. Photo by Bill Wippert

Team Needs: DL, WR, CB

With key front-line players, including Jerry Hughes, heading toward free agency, upgrading the defensive line is the biggest need for a balanced Buffalo roster. Adding a veteran interior presence would be a coup for an already stalwart defense. A free agent like Calais Campbell, D.J Jones or Sebastian Joseph-Day would look nice on the Bills' line if they can find the cap space. Buffalo was in the market to add speed at the receiver position even before Cole Beasley requested a trade. A downfield weapon who can earn YAC is needed for the Bills' offense to take the next step. Re-signing corner Levi Wallace is a priority, especially with Tre'Davious White coming off injury.

Buffalo Bills Team Needs

Cornerback

Starting corner Levi Wallace is set to hit free agency while Tre'Davious White is coming off a torn ACL. Backup Siran Neal was inked to an extension before he hit the open market, but Buffalo can't view themselves as set at corner yet. They are likely to address cornerback on the first two nights of the draft.

Defensive Tackle

Three of Buffalo's top-five interior defensive linemen by total snaps are free agents. Ed Oliver is currently the only safe bet of the group. It makes sense to compliment his pass-rush skills with a run-stuffer through free agency or the draft.

Wide Receiver

Beasley was granted permission to find a trade partner but could be cut if no buyer is found. Emmanuel Sanders, a pending free agent, is reportedly mulling retirement. Even part-time receiver Isaiah McKenzie is a free agent. The Bills might look to give another aging receiver a one-year deal as they have done in the past with Sander and John Brown.

Best free agent fit for the Bills

Buffalo Bills: Rob Gronkowski TE • 87

The Bills could use another pass-catching option at tight end to pair with Dawson Knox -- and Gronkowski seems to be the ideal fit. Emmanuel Sanders and Isaiah McKenzie are free agents, leaving a void at wide receiver so the Bills could get in the market there.

Buffalo could improve its already impressive third-down offense (third in NFL) and red zone offense (seventh in NFL) with the addition of Gronkowski, who had 55 catches for 802 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games last year. In addition to his run-blocking ability, Gronkowski is the veteran leader a young Bills team needs to get over the hump and to the Super Bowl.

Free agency matchmaking for the Bills

Buffalo Bills: Calais Campbell DE | Age: 36

Today's Bills are in the unusual place of joining the Patriots, Ravens and Steelers as AFC clubs building annually off a proven winning culture. While losing operations can overpay for talented players who generate their share of in-house headaches, Buffalo's in the business of adding pieces that fit the scheme and embolden a locker room burning for an AFC title. I'm adding Campbell to the fold because I fell asleep for 25 minutes writing this article and had something bordering on a vision of the 6-foot-8 behemoth celebrating with Josh Allen and friends as Buffalo brass lifted the Lamar Hunt Trophy skyward. Why ignore said dreams to pen a wayward paragraph about the front office adding Russell Gage to the air attack?

The Bills biggest need that needs addressing

Buffalo Bills biggest need: Cornerback

Their season may have ended abruptly in a late playoff loss to the Chiefs, but the Bills completed their four-year rebuild under head coach Sean McDermott that took them from 28th in DVOA in 2018 to 13th, fourth, and finally second the last three seasons. Not only did they marry a now perennial top-10 offense with a post-breakout Josh Allen at quarterback with the No. 1 defense by DVOA, but the Bills built their team in the draft and with second-tier free agents, leaving them with mostly past-their-prime veterans and backups hitting free agency this offseason.

If the Bills have a major hole, it is a result of poor luck rather than poor planning. Top cornerback Tre'Davious White's ACL tear in November thrust Levi Wallace into the No. 1 role. And since Wallace rose to that occasion with 5.0 yards allowed per target—seventh best among qualified corners—Wallace can ask for dramatically more in free agency and may price the Bills out of his market at their close-to-$10-million salary cap deficit per Over the Cap.

White was as good as ever in allowing just 5.1 yards per target before his injury. Assuming he makes a full recovery, he should again anchor the team's cornerback group in 2022. But the Bills should give White some help on the outside. Capable veteran Taron Johnson works primarily from the slot. Dane Jackson fared worse than Wallace with 7.8 yards allowed per target after his 2021 injury promotion and may never have been a Plan A as a seventh-round draft pick from 2020. Cam Lewis was undrafted and has played just 130 defensive snaps in his career.

Best- and Worst-case scenarios for Bills offseason

Best-case scenario for the team's offseason: The Bills are able to add a young, dynamic presence for the future on the inside next to Ed Oliver. The Bills should continue to invest in the defensive line for the future with multiple older veterans toward the end of their careers. Other priorities include signing wide receiver Stefon Diggs, tight end Dawson Knox and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds to long-term deals, which would help with Edmunds' cap hit in 2022 and ensure that Allen's top targets are on the roster for years to come.

Worst-case scenario for the team's offseason: It would be hard for the Bills to really mess this up, but not improving the defensive line would be a step in the wrong direction. Being unable to afford adding depth at cornerback and wide receiver due to cap issues, while also not locking down key players to extensions, could hurt the team in both the short- and long-term.

One player the Bills can't afford to lose

BUFFALO BILLS - CB LEVI WALLACE

2021 Player Grade/Rank: 65.2 (55 of 134)

2021 Team Position Grade/Rank: 69.5 (12th of 32)

The Bills lost star cornerback Tre'Davious White for the season with a torn ACL in Week 12, and Wallace played a big part in their defense maintaining a high level of play down the stretch, earning a 68.5 coverage grade on 993 snaps. Wallace has played at least 400 snaps in every season since signing as an undrafted free agent (UDFA) in 2018 and has never earned a grade below 60.0 — a strong floor at a volatile position like outside cornerback.

Two Bills crack the top 101 available free agents

#28 Jerry Hughes

Edge · Age: 34

There are a lot of aging, effective defensive linemen available who can still get it done on a short-term deal. That market has proven to be among the most underpaid in free agency relative to production for years, and Hughes fits the criteria perfectly.

#98 Harrison Phillips

DT · Age: 26

Phillips had his best season in 2021 as a rotational defensive tackle who could create disruption in Sean McDermott's system.

Six Bills land in top 221 free agent players

#49. Jerry Hughes, edge (Bills)

Hughes is still going strong into his mid-30s (he turns 34 in August), and there's an outsized demand for edge-rush help with defenses abandoning the blitz against elite quarterbacks. Exceptionally durable—he's missed one game over nine seasons in Buffalo—Hughes should at least provide rotational help as a pass-rush specialist. —GG

#95. Levi Wallace, CB (Bills)

#119. Mitchell Trubisky, QB (Bills)

#150. Emmanuel Sanders, WR (Bills)

#164. Harrison Phillips, DT (Bills)

#199. Mario Addison, edge (Bills)

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