After finishing 8-8 in 2015 and extending their NFL-worst playoff drought to an absurd 16 years, a dearth of cap space prevented the Bills from acquiring significant veteran upgrades during the offseason. The club instead had to use the bulk of its spending room to re-sign its two best offensive linemen, leaving it to go the draft route to supplement a defense that was surprisingly underwhelming last season.
- Cordy Glenn, T: Five years, $60MM. $26.5MM guaranteed. Had been assigned franchise tag.
- Richie Incognito, G: Three years, $15.75MM. $5.45MM guaranteed. $850K available via incentives.
- Colt Anderson, S: One year, minimum salary benefit. $500K guaranteed.
- Zach Brown, LB: One year, $1.25MM. $450K guaranteed.
- Robert Blanton, S: One year, minimum salary benefit. $80K guaranteed.
- Jim Dray, TE: One year, minimum salary benefit. $80K guaranteed.
- Sterling Moore, CB: One year, minimum salary benefit. $80K guaranteed.
- Fernando Velasco, OL: One year, minimum salary benefit. $80K guaranteed.
- Corey White, CB: One year, minimum salary benefit. $80K guaranteed.
- Lorenzo Alexander, LB: One year, minimum salary benefit. $75K guaranteed.
- Corbin Bryant, DT: One year, $1.671MM. Signed original-round RFA tender.
- Jordan Mills, T: One year, $1.671MM. Signed original-round RFA tender.
- Leonard Hankerson, WR: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Dan Herron, RB: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Jamari Lattimore, LB: One year, minimum salary benefit.
The Bills’ offense improved across the board last season after a dismal 2014 performance, going from 18th in the NFL in points to 13th, 26th in yardage to 12th and 26th in DVOA to ninth. That was thanks largely to the surprisingly effective play of dual-threat quarterback Tyrod Taylor, the additions of running backs LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams and Mike Gillislee, and the hiring of coordinator Greg Roman to replace Nathaniel Hackett. But Taylor and the backs wouldn’t have helped the unit take such a sizable leap forward without the work done by the offensive line’s left side, where tackle Cordy Glenn and guard Richie Incognito started all 16 games and thrived.
Glenn ranked as Pro Football Focus’ (subscription required) 10th-best tackle among 77 qualifiers, while the site gave Incognito a better mark than every left guard in the league. Glenn’s strength was in pass blocking, in which he graded as PFF’s fifth-best tackle. Incognito, on the other hand, was top seven among all guards in both pass and run blocking. His efforts in the latter category enabled the Bills’ ground attack to finish first in the league, and the team’s rushers averaged an incredible 6.58 yards per carry when they ran behind the left guard (per ESPN’s Mike Rodak). The only negative to glean from the excellence of Glenn and Incognito is that the Bills had to award the pair appreciable raises to keep them in the fold.
After the Bills initially slapped the franchise tag on Glenn to stop him from testing free agency, he inked a five-year, $60MM pact with the club that features $26MM in guarantees. Glenn – whom the Bills selected out of Georgia in the second round of the 2012 draft – parlayed his consistently stellar blocking and durability (61 appearances and starts in 64 regular-season games) into a deal that ranks fifth among left tackles in total value, fourth in yearly average and second in guarantees.
Incognito is six years older than Glenn (32 to 26) and plays a position of less prestige, so the Bills didn’t have to surrender nearly as much cash to retain him. Nonetheless, he procured a notable payday after settling for a prove-it deal the prior offseason, recovering from a 2013 bullying scandal in Miami to haul in $15.75MM and $5.45MM in guarantees over three years. Incognito, who made his second Pro Bowl last season, is now eighth among left guards in average annual value and 10th in guarantees. In the event Incognito declines as he climbs toward his mid-30s, his accord is easy to escape after the 2017 season, when Buffalo will save $6.43MM in cap space and take on just $1.15MM in dead money if it releases him.
Locking up both Glenn and Incognito was a must for the Bills, but it left them without the spending room necessary to make even medium-sized splashes elsewhere. That led them to scan free agency for bargain bin pickups like linebacker Zach Brown, cornerback Sterling Moore and receiver Leonard Hankerson, who first joined the Bills last December before signing with the team again in March.
Considering his production in Tennessee, where he piled up 261 tackles, 10 sacks, six interceptions and two forced fumbles in 49 appearances (33 starts) from 2012-15, it was surprising that the best Brown could do was a one-year, $1.25MM deal. After appearing in 46.6 percent of the Titans’ defensive snaps in 2015 and ranking an impressive 30th among 97 qualifying linebackers at PFF, Brown should at least provide the Bills with useful depth. Buffalo is projected to rely heavily on two younger LBs, second-round rookie Reggie Ragland and third-year man Preston Brown. The latter followed a terrific rookie campaign with a disappointing showing in 2015, though new assistant head coach/defense Rob Ryan heaped praise on him earlier this month.
“This Preston Brown is going to be a star,” said Ryan, who comes from a family known for making bold declarations.
If Preston Brown doesn’t meet Ryan’s expectations this year, at least the Bills have Zach Brown in the equation as a fallback option.
Moore, meanwhile, started in nine of 16 appearances with the Buccaneers last season and led their corners in defensive snap percentage (64.9) and pass breakups (six), and added three forced fumbles and a pick. He now has an opportunity to replace the departed Leodis McKelvin as the Bills’ top corner option behind stalwarts Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby.
Hankerson, 27, could catch on in a Bills receiving corps that lacks starting-caliber targets aside from injured star Sammy Watkins – whose status for training camp is uncertain because of a minor foot fracture – and fourth-year man Robert Woods. Over 34 games dating back to 2012, Hankerson has amassed 94 catches on 150 targets, averaged 13.2 yards per reception and posted nine touchdowns. Those aren’t great numbers – and it’s important to note that both the Falcons and Patriots waived Hankerson last season – but they’re enough to rank behind only Watkins, Woods and January reserve/futures signing Greg Little on Buffalo’s roster. With Percy Harvin having retired and Chris Hogan having joined the Pats in free agency, the Bills will need someone to serve as a respectable complement to Watkins and Woods, and either Hankerson or Little might have the most realistic shot.