Offseason In Review: Buffalo Bills

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.

Notable signings:

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.

Cordy Glenn (vertical)

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.

Richie Incognito

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.

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Bears Claim Connor Shaw Off Waivers

<a rel=The Bears have claimed quarterback Connor Shaw off waivers, reports Fox Sports’ Peter Schrager (via Twitter). Previous reports indicated that the Saints had won the former Browns signal-caller. However, Schrager notes that the Bears, who were one spot above the Saints in the waiver order, snuck in to secure the 24-year-old. According to ESPN.com’s Adap Caplan (via Twitter), the Saints accidently sent an email to every NFL team instead of the NFL personnel office, notifying Chicago of the impending move.

The Browns waived Shaw yesterday, with the former undrafted free agent out of South Carolina being squeezed out by Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown, Austin Davis, and rookie Cody Kessler. Shaw has only made one NFL appearance, when he compiled 177 passing yards and a touchdown during the Browns 2014 finale. The quarterback landed on the injured reserve last season with a thumb ailment.

With the move to Chicago, Shaw will join his former quarterback coach, Dowell Loggains, who is now the Bears’ offensive coordinator. Shaw will presumably compete with Brian Hoyer, David Fales, and Matt Blanchard to back up Jay Cutler.

Darren Waller Suspended Four Games

Ravens tight end/wide receiver Darren Waller has been suspended four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, reports ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley (via Twitter). NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport clarifies (via Twitter) than Waller violated the league’s Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. Hensley notes that the 23-year-old will be eligible to return on October 3rd, and he can continue to participate in preseason practices and games.

The Georgia Tech product joined the Ravens as a sixth-round pick in 2015, and he ended up catching a pair of passes for 17 yards. The 6-foot-6 wideout played six games (one start) last season before landing on the injured reserve with a hamstring injury. Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun notes that Waller may have had difficulties even making this season’s roster. Zrebiec also tweets that Waller was suspended twice at Georgia tech for testing positive for marijuana.

Waller is the second Ravens player to be suspended this offseason, as tight end Nick Boyle was suspended for the first 10 games of the 2016 season.

NFC Notes: Cowboys, Cousins, Seahawks

Ronaldo McClain is only the latest Cowboys defender to be slapped with a suspension. Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence was handed a four-game suspension earlier this summer, and defensive end Randy Gregory will also be forced to sit our four games.

Cornerback Brandon Carr understands that it’s on the trio’s teammates to pick up the slack.

“Well, anytime you get a guy going down in your unit, you have to come together even stronger to make up for that slack,” Carr told Zig Fracassi and Phil Savage on SiriusXM Satellite Radio (via Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com). “But Rolando is a guy that’s made a lot of plays for us in the past two years, another dominant presence on the field. So we’re definitely going to miss that. But football’s a game of the next man up, it’s a game of inches. So it’s going to take for all of us to come to training camp focused and next man up, get him ready, get prepared to go out there to battle.”

Let’s check out some more notes from the NFC…

  • Mike Jones of the Washington Post wonders if the Redskins and Kirk Cousins will come to an agreement on an extension by the July 15th deadline. The writer notes that the two sides have made little progress, and while the team will make another push closer to training camp, there’s not much optimism that a deal will get done.
  • The Seahawks have generally held back from handing out extensions to players with more than a year remaining on their contract. However, Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times wonders whether the team should rethink that strategy when it comes to defensive lineman Michael Bennett.
  • ESPN.com’s Nathan Jahnke (Insider subscription required) runs through his list of the NFL’s 10 most overpaid veterans. Giants quarterback Eli Manning leads the list, with Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr, and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson also appearing on the list.

Latest on Aqib Talib

After about a month of uncertainty, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport has finally received some specifics on the Aqib Talib incident from early June. Just a quick refresher: the Broncos cornerback was shot in the leg at a Dallas nightclub, and initial reports suggested that the 30-year-old had accidently shot himself. Days later, the Dallas Police Department said Talib was a victim of “aggravated assault.” As our own Zach Links pointed out, “the five Ws of the ordeal” had never been clarified.

Aqib Talib (Vertical)The Dallas Police Department incident report that was recently obtained by Rapoport (who passed along all of the following info via Twitter) seems to back the DPD’s latter claim. Talib told officers he didn’t know who shot him, and a witness claimed they only heard a single gunshot. Furthermore, the report indicated that an “unknown suspect shot the complainant.” There’s no mention of Talib shooting himself, which could indicate that the Dallas PD believes the defensive back was actually shot by another person.

Finally, Rapoport notes that one gram of marijuana was found by police, although nobody was charged. The entire incident report can be found here.

In early June, it sounded like Talib would presumably be handed some kind of suspension from the NFL. It’s uncertain whether this new information will change the league’s stance on the matter.

Free Agent QB Tarvaris Jackson Arrested

FRIDAY, 11:44am: Jackson requested a public defender in the assault case, according to court documents obtained by TMZ Sports. The former quarterback claims to have no money to his name, although his request was denied by a judge.

According to OverTheCap.com, Jackson earned at least $3MM from 2013 through 2015.

JUNE 25th, 9:15am: Jackson posted a $2,500 bond and was released from jail yesterday, reports Hush. The 33-year-old has been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

JUNE 24th, 5:06pm: Jackson was apparently intoxicated and told his wife “I’ll kill you” while aiming the gun at her, according to Chris Hush of WESH (Twitter link), who passes along a copy of the arrest report, which states that marijuana was found in Jackson’s home.

4:51pm: Free agent quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has been arrested for allegedly pulling a gun on his wife, according to a report from WESH (via Twitter). Tarvaris Jackson (vertical)

The former Seahawks backup received honorable mention last month when PFR’s Dallas Robinson ran down the best free agents still available on the board. If these charges stick, however, one has to imagine that Jackson’s odds of playing in the NFL this year are slim when considering his age (33), limited skill set, and lack of playing time across the last three years.

In late April, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider indicated that they were still in talks with Jackson about a return. However, that was before they inked former TCU signal caller Trevone Boykin and ex-BYU QB Jake Heaps.

Last year, Jackson appeared in four games for the Seahawks and completed four of six passes.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC East Notes: Richardson, Giacomini, Dolphins

Yesterday, Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson was suspended one game for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. After having previously been arrested for driving 143 mph, the 25-year-old was actually grateful that he didn’t earn a longer suspension.

“So the league has sent down there decision,” Richardson wrote on Instagram, “I have to live with it I’m grateful it could have been more but this is overspill from a silly offseason on my part but I’ve grown from it been pass it….I’m still smiling like its draft day.”

Fortunately, as RosterResource.com shows, the Jets should have enough depth on the defensive line to make up for Richardson’s one-game absence. Of course, there’s still lingering concern over the status of fellow d-lineman Muhammad Wilkerson.

While we await some clarity on that situation, let’s check out some more notes from the AFC East…

  • This upcoming season could be right tackle Breno Giacomini‘s final year with the Jets, writes Brian Costello of the New York Post. The lineman didn’t have a strong 2015 campaign, and the writer sees little reason why the 30-year-old will improve in 2016. The organization could save $4.5MM against the cap by cutting Giacomini following the season.
  • The Dolphins added plenty of reinforcement to the offensive line this past offseason. The team selected Laremy Tunsil in the first round, and they also added free agents Jermon Bushrod, Kraig Urbik and Sam Young. With this newfound depth, Mike Pouncey is expecting a bounceback season from the unit. “Obviously, we feel like we got a lot of talent on [the] offensive line,” Pouncey told ESPN.com’s James Walker. “We feel comfortable about the guys that we got in our room. This will be one of the first years in a long time we’ll have depth going into the season. As long as everyone stays healthy, we look forward to having a good year.”
  • Speaking of Tunsil, ESPN.com’s AFC East reporters explain how the first-round pick could ultimately help Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Pigskin Links: Eagles, Cowboys, Titans

Here at Pro Football Rumors, we deliver up-to-the-minute news on NFL transactions and high-quality original analysis. Each week, we also feature some of the best blog articles from around the web in our regular feature, Pigskin Links.

We’re looking for interesting reads on all things football from blogs of all sizes. While PFR is dedicated to player movement, Pigskin Links is open to pieces on all areas of the game. If you would like to suggest your blog post (or someone else’s) for Pigskin Links, send us an email with the link and a brief synopsis at [email protected].

Here’s this week’s look around the football blogosphere:

Got a great football blog post that you want to see featured in next week’s Pigskin Links? Email it to Zach or tweet it to him: @ZachLinks.

Texans, Will Fuller Agree To Terms

FRIDAY, 9:15am: Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle has additional details on Fuller’s new contract. The first-round pick will receive $9.86MM in guaranteed money, and the deal also contains the typical fifth-year option.

Fuller’s cap hit never exceeds $3MM except in 2019, when his contract will count for $3.23MM against the cap. However, only $1.53MM of that final year is guaranteed.

JUNE 25th, 3:15pm: The list of unsigned first-round picks shortened to three today after the Texans and top choice Will Fuller agreed to terms on the wide receiver’s rookie contract, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports (on Twitter).

As the No. 21 overall selection, Fuller will earn approximately $10.16MM on a four-year deal, per OverTheCap. Fuller’s signing leaves just Joey Bosa, Darron Lee and Joshua Garnett as the unsigned performers taken in this year’s first round.

Along with the customary fifth-year option for first-rounders, Fuller’s contract is expected to contain a $5.59MM signing bonus and a 2016 cap figure of $1.49MM, Wilson reports.

Fuller will be given a prime opportunity to earn a starting job opposite Houston’s No. 1 wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, after the Notre Dame pass-catcher put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons the past two years and totaled 29 touchdown receptions.

Houston has been searching for an upper-echelon 1-2 punch at wide receiver for most of its 15-year existence and now has two first-round picks under contract at the position. The Texans also selected Braxton Miller to learn the slot job in a concerted effort to upgrade their offense this offseason. Said effort also included signing Brock Osweiler, Lamar Miller and Jeff Allen.

The Texans’ now-deeper wideout corps also houses Cecil Shorts, last season’s No. 2 target who accepted a pay cut earlier this month, and 2015 third-rounder Jaelen Strong. So, the competition for the options beyond Hopkins in Osweiler’s passing hierarchy should be consistent come training camp.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Clear, Jones, Hughes, Cowboys

A teammate of Johnny Manziel‘s at Texas A&M, tight end Cameron Clear joined the embattled quarterback among those suspended on Thursday, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Like Manziel, Clear is also a free agent suspended for four games. The Colts signed him to a reserve/futures contract after the 2015 season but cut him in May.

A 6-foot-5 tight end who would be a second-year player if given another chance after this suspension, Clear spent time with the Steelers last season but did not see any game action.

Sheldon Richardson and Rolando McClain were also suspended on a news-dump Thursday before the July 4 weekend, with Demarcus Lawrence‘s four-game ban being upheld as well.

Here’s the latest from around the league.

  • Former Chargers, 49ers and Cowboys special teams contributor C.J. Spillman was convicted of sexual assault Thursday, Claire Z. Cardona of the Dallas Morning News reports. The 30-year-old spent most of his six-year career with the 49ers but last played as a Cowboys reserve defensive back in 2014. The incident that prompted the conviction, which carries a two- to 20-year prison sentence, occurred Sept. 20, 2014. Spillman played for the Cowboys for the rest of that season.
  • McClain’s suspensions in Dallas now total 14 games after the middle linebacker began the 2015 season with a four-game ban. Todd Archer of ESPN.com advocates the Cowboys cut ties with him despite re-signing the soon-to-be 27-year-old this offseason. McClain is signed to a one-year, $3.375MM deal as a stopgap until Jaylon Smith proves ready. The latter does not look like he’ll be ready to play this season, and the Cowboys now have three of their starting front seven — McClain, Lawrence and Randy Gregory — set to begin 2016 suspended.
  • After a potential felony charge was reduced to a misdemeanor for resisting arrest, Seahawks reserve quarterback Trevone Boykin received probation on Thursday, Austin Knoblauch of NFL.com reports. The rookie UDFA incurred this charge after a Dec. 31, 2015 incident before TCU’s Alamo Bowl, a game for which Boykin did not dress.
  • Datone Jones will shift to a stand-up, edge-defending position after he relocated there late last season, Wes Hodkiewicz of Packers.com reports. The Packers plan to play their 2013 first-round pick at outside linebacker in a 3-4 set and on the outside in passing-down sets, which he did beginning with a two-sack game against the Vikings last November. Given the team’s depth at each position, Jones’ role adjustment is interesting. As Roster resource shows, the Packers are more stocked on the edge than they are inside in their 3-4 set. Julius Peppers, Nick Perry and a recently relocated Clay Matthews reside at outside linebacker.
  • The Bills will also look to move Jerry Hughes into more of a stand-up outside-linebacking role, Tyler Dunne of the Buffalo News reports. Hughes had his best seasons as a 4-3 end in 2013-14, when he notched 10 sacks in each slate en route to signing a five-year, $45MM contract.

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