Bills Sign DT Austin Johnson

The Bills have been forced to address their defensive line during these early weeks of free agency. After Ed Oliver, the team saw the next four top snap-getters on the interior hit free agency. After a couple of departures, they’ll add some depth and starting experience in the form of former Chargers defensive tackle Austin Johnson, per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. Fowler also tells us that Johnson’s one-year deal will be for $3.5MM and worth up to $4MM.

Johnson is an eight-year veteran who has seen time with the Titans and Giants before his most recent stint with the Chargers. After Tennessee drafted him in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Penn State, Johnson spent his first few years rotating in for starters like Al Woods and Sylvester Williams. In his third season, Johnson started to earn more starting time with Jurrell Casey and DaQuan Jones, one of the Buffalo free agents this offseason who re-signed with the team on the second day of free agency.

When Johnson signed with New York, he regressed back into reserve duty, rotating in for Dalvin Tomlinson and Leonard Williams. When Tomlinson left for Minnesota, Johnson took over full-time starting duties for the first time in his career. He would leverage that starting experience into a two-year, $14MM contract with the Chargers, though his first season in Los Angeles would see him spend the final nine games of the season on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Johnson returned in 2023, remaining a full-time starter, but delivered what Pro Football Focus (subscription required) would call his worst season in the NFL, grading out as the league’s 118th-ranked interior defender out of 130 graded players. While he’s never been elite per PFF’s analytics, Johnson’s 2023 campaign was his worst by a long shot in their eyes. The Bills will hope to get some better production out of him as they reunite him on the line with Jones, perhaps with the intention to put him back in rotation.

Buffalo still has work to do to fill out their defensive line. They’ll return Oliver and Jones, and they signed Eli Ankou to a reserve/futures deal. Meanwhile, Tim Settle departed for Houston in free agency and Poona Ford is swapping places with Johnson, joining the defensive line for the Chargers. Last year’s veteran tackles Jordan Phillips and Linval Joseph both remain free agents for now. The Bills may opt to return one or both of them in order to fill out the line with a bit more depth, though late-round rookies may be cheaper.

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