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What we learned about the Bills defense in the first wave of free agency

From left to right: Star Lotulelei, Vernon Butler (agreed to terms), Jerry Hughes, Quinton Jefferson (agreed to terms), Ed Oliver and Mario Addison (agreed to terms).
From left to right: Star Lotulelei, Vernon Butler (agreed to terms), Jerry Hughes, Quinton Jefferson (agreed to terms), Ed Oliver and Mario Addison (agreed to terms).

For the last two seasons, Buffalo's defense has finished in the league's top-five. Year over year continuity has been helpful in the Bills staying near the top in defensive performance with limited player losses and the same defensive coordinator in Leslie Frazier.

Buffalo's front office moved swiftly to address the very areas where they endured free agent losses this offseason. Below we take stock in what the Bills have added to their talented defense to keep its collective performance at an elite level.

Scroll through to view the players at each position on Buffalo's defense that are currently on or reported to be on the roster prior to the NFL Draft.

DL: Mario Addison (agreed to terms), Vernon Butler (agreed to terms), Jerry Hughes, Quinton Jefferson (agreed to terms), Darryl Johnson, Star Lotulelei, Mike Love, Trent Murphy, Ed Oliver, Harrison Phillips, Vincent Taylor, Jonathan Woodard

This is an area where the Bills were most aggressive when it came to free agency. Adding a proven sack producer in Addison, and a pair of stout interior defenders in Butler and Jefferson fortified the ranks in short order.

This position group is arguably deeper and offers a solid mix of veteran and young and emerging talent.

LB: Tyrel Dodson, Tremaine Edmunds, Vosean Joseph, AJ Klein (agreed to terms), Tyler Matakevich (agreed to terms), Matt Milano, Del'Shawn Phillips, Corey Thompson

Buffalo looked to address the retirement of Lorenzo Alexander with the additions of both Klein and Matakevich in free agency. It wouldn't be surprising to see Dodson compete to be Edmunds' backup at middle linebacker as there's some good youth at the position with potential behind the starters.

CB: Taron Johnson, Cam Lewis, Josh Norman, Levi Wallace, Tre'Davious White

The signing of Norman brings a veteran presence to what is still a relatively young group that has accumulated a lot of time on the field. Norman is expected to compete with Wallace for the starting job opposite White. It's likely that another addition is made at the position - potentially in the draft.

S: Micah Hyde, Jaquan Johnson, Dean Marlowe, Siran Neal, Jordan Poyer

The team handed the ultra-productive Poyer a two-year extension to keep the tandem of he and Hyde together for at least two more seasons. Marlowe and Neal filled roles as big nickel package slot corners at times. Johnson showed promise as a rookie late last season.

What Buffalo's additions mean

Adding three defensive linemen is a clear commitment to be stronger and deeper up front. Knowing coach Frazier's propensity to rotate linemen, he'll have plenty of options to choose from. The additions of both Butler and Jefferson appears to be an effort to go from being a top 10 run defense to a top five unit.

Meanwhile Addison should boost the team's sack production.

Linebacker AJ Klein is the personification of a defensive encyclopedia when it comes to Buffalo's defensive scheme, having played in it earlier in his career at Carolina and will have a good shot to land the strong side linebacker role left behind by the retired Alexander.

Norman is a proven performer, whose skill set is best suited for a scheme like Buffalo's.

Three questions moving forward

  • Will the Bills add another cornerback to the roster via the draft? 
  • Knowing GM Brandon Beane has said he is always looking to add pass rush talent, does that happen in the draft as well?
  • Could a young pass rusher like Darryl Johnson or Mike Love emerge to take a more prominent role from a vet?

What could happen between now and training camp?

With Buffalo's front office turning their focus to the draft it's likely the Bills use the college prospect pool to address the cornerback position if the player value lines up with Buffalo's draft board when they're on the clock.

Buffalo added a veteran linebacker each of the last three offseasons on a one-year contract. Whether it was Ramon Humber or Maurice Alexander, the Bills like to have veteran depth at the position. Should they still feel a bit short at linebacker coming out of the draft, a veteran type addition becomes more likely.

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