Bills Rumors

Minor NFL Transactions: 6/14/19

Today’s minor moves will be posted here:

Buffalo Bills

Towbridge originally signed with the Bills as an UDFA back in 2017, so this is a homecoming for him. He spent most of last season on Buffalo’s practice squad, then signed with the AAF. After playing for the Atlanta Legends, he signed with the Titans, who cut him earlier this week. Deane is an UDFA rookie out of Western Kentucky who signed with the Bills last month.

Bills Wrap Draft Class

The Bills’ draft class is in the books. On Friday, the Bills announced the signing of third-round tight end Dawson Knox to a four-year contract, putting a bow on their eight-man group. 

Knox skipped his senior year at Ole Miss to turn pro, with the belief that he would go in the second round. Knox slipped a bit further, but he still has a solid opportunity ahead of him. In the spring, Knox impressed with the first-teamers while Tyler Kroft and Jason Croom nursed injuries.

The tight end did not score a touchdown last year and was overshadowed somewhat by the presence of A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf. Still, he possesses high-end athleticism for the tight end position, as evidenced by his 18.9 yards per catch in 2018.

Here’s the full rundown of the Bills’ draft class, via PFR’s tracker:

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Which Top 10 Pick Has The Highest Bust Potential?

The NFL Draft is just barely in the rear view mirror, which means that teams are full of hope for their young rookies. But, of course, the NFL Draft is largely a crapshoot, and not every player will realize their full potential. 

This year’s draft had talent, but lacked a true consensus on the top player. Many evaluators pegged defensive end Nick Bosa as the player with the highest ceiling in the 2019 class, but other saw Alabama’s Quinnen Williams as the “safest bet.” The 49ers pounced on Bosa with the No. 2 pick while the Jets (and former GM Mike Maccagnan) were delighted to land Williams at No. 3 overall.

Leading up to the draft, much of the attention was on Oklahoma quarterback (and one-time MLB hopeful) Kyler Murray. When Murray announced that he would ditch the Oakland A’s, his stock exploded – Murray was considered a borderline first-round prospect in the winter, but wound up as the Cardinals’ choice at No. 1 overall. Murray has the speed that teams crave at the QB position, but questions persist about his size and overall lack of experience as a full-time starter.

The Cardinals’ long flirtation with Murray brought us the expected result, but the Raiders gave us the real first shock of the draft when they tapped Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 overall. Not to be outdone, the Giants snagged Duke’s Daniel Jones at No. 6 overall. Heading into the draft, neither player was thought to be anywhere near Top 10 consideration, but Mike Mayock and Dave Gettleman were unwilling to trade down and risk losing out on their guys.

The domino effect created by those picks allowed the Bucs to grab inside linebacker Devin White (No. 5 overall), the Jaguars to land outside linebacker Josh Allen (No. 6), the Lions to snag top tight end T.J. Hockenson, the Bills to draft defensive tackle Ed Oliver (No. 9 overall), and the Steelers to finish out the Top 10 with linebacker Devin Bush. Most of those picks were warmly received, but nothing is certain in the draft.

Which Top 10 pick do you think has the highest bust potential? Click below to cast your vote (link for app users) and back up your choice in the comment section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

LB Arthur Moats Retires

Arthur Moats is calling it a career. On Monday, the former Bills, Steelers, and Cardinals linebacker announced that he is walking away from the NFL. 

I have to give a big thanks to the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers for giving me this opportunity to play nine seasons in the NFL,” Moats wrote on social media. “Last but certainly not least, I have to give a big shoutout to #BillsMafia & #SteelersNation for all the support!”

Moats entered the league as a sixth-round pick of the Bills out of James Madison in 2010. After four years with the team, he hooked on with the Steelers where he spent the next four seasons. Last year, he joined the Cardinals, but landed on injured reserve before the start of the season.

Moats leaves the game with 228 career tackles, 16.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles. His most productive seasons came in Pittsburgh, including back-to-back four-sack campaigns in 2014 and 2015.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Minor NFL Transactions: 6/5/19

Here are Wednesday’s minor moves:

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Jacksonville Jaguars

Philadelphia Eagles

Bills Work Out Former Bucs Draft Pick

  • Former Buccaneers seventh-round pick Stevie Tu’ikolovatu worked out for the Bills on Wednesday, Mike Rodak of tweets. The former USC defensive tackle has not played since being drafted, with injuries keeping him off the field.

Roger Goodell On Bills' Need For A New Stadium

  • Speaking at Jim Kelly‘s annual charity golf tournament this morning, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he believes that a new stadium is essential to the stability of a franchise (via Matthew Fairburn of The Athletic). With respect to the Bills specifically, Goodell made it very clear that team ownership will need to address the club’s stadium situation at some point in the near future to keep the Bills in Buffalo. Goodell has made similar remarks in the past, but the article — which includes more of Goodell’s comments — are well worth a read for Bills fans, as it also details the unique challenges that ownership faces in meeting Goodell’s demands.

Bills Rookie LB Tyrel Dodson Arrested

Tyrel Dodson‘s NFL career hasn’t gotten off to the hottest start. ESPN’s Mike Rodak tweets that the undrafted Bills linebacker was arrested last weekend on charges of disorderly conduct, assault/domestic violence and damage to property. The news was first reported by TMZ Sports.

“We are aware of the incident involving Tyrel Dodson last weekend,” the Bills said in a statement (via Rodak). “We have been looking further into the matter and will continue to gather information as the legal process continues.”

Dodson’s pretrial conference is scheduled for June 18th. Dodson has continued to participate in Bills OTAs this week, so the team is apparently willing to let the court process unfold before they make any decisions. Dodson could also be subject to discipline from the NFL.

The Texas A&M product had another standout campaign in 2018, compiling 70 tackles, seven tackles-for-loss, and one interception. He had a team-high 105 tackles in 2017. Despite his collegiate production, Dodson still went undrafted during this past year’s draft.

As it always is with undrafted free agents, it was already an uphill battle for Dodson to make the 53-man roster. It doesn’t help that Buffalo drafted a linebacker (fifth-rounder Vosean Joseph) and added another undrafted linebacker (Juwan Foggie).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

How The Bills Revamped Their Offensive Line In A Single Offseason

There’s little question offensive line continuity is an important facet of any winning NFL team’s success. As Thomas Emerick of the Sporting News and Rotoviz recently examined, many of the league’s best front fives – including the Eagles, Steelers, Colts, Ravens, and Bears — are set to return all five starters in 2019. Given that the offensive line is an extremely cerebral position group where all five members are consistently working as one, it makes sense that the most productive lines are those were familiarity is a constant.

But what about when things go wrong? The 2018 Bills ranked 30th in adjusted line yards, Football Outsiders’ attempt to filter out what part of a team’s rushing performance can be attributed specifically to its linemen. While Buffalo finished in the middle of the pack with 41 sacks allowed, they ranked just 23rd in adjusted sack rate, which accounts for down, distance, and opponent. The Bills ended the season as a bottom-five club in pressure rate allowed, and Pro Football Focus listed Buffalo as a bottom-seven offensive line in overall grading.

The Bills’ struggles can’t be blamed on offensive line changes. As Vincent Verhei of FO wrote in April, Buffalo actually ranked 10th in offensive line continuity score, which factors in the number of starters a team used, the number of weekly changes to its front five, and the longest starting streak of any single five-man unit. The Bills can’t point to injuries, either, as they finished with only 5.5 adjusted games lost along their offensive line, sixth-best in the NFL.

So what exactly was the problem for the Bills’ line last season? Frankly, it was a question of talent. Buffalo didn’t have a single offensive lineman grade among PFF’s top-60 OLs, while only one — left tackle Dion Dawkins — ranked top-90 positionally. Non-starting-caliber players such as Russell Bodine, Jordan Mills, Vlad Ducasse, and Ryan Groy each played more than 500 snaps a season ago.

In order to rectify their offensive line issues, the Bills deployed an interesting offseason plan: throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. Buffalo struck quickly in February, signing interior veteran Spencer Long just a week after he’d been released by the division-rival Jets. Long is no world-beater, but he’s got 44 games worth of starting experience under his belt, can play center and both guard positions, and will cost less than $4MM against the Bills’ 2019 salary cap before a series of options kick in 2020-21.

The Bills waited until the free agent market officially opened in March before making their big-ticket purchase, inking former Chiefs center Mitch Morse to a four-year, $44.5MM deal that made him the NFL’s highest-paid pivot. The 27-year-old Morse would prove to be Buffalo’s only high-priced addition to its front five, as the club wisely avoided an exploding offensive tackle market that saw Trent Brown reel in $16.5MM annually and Ja’Wuan James collect $12.75MM per year.

Instead, the Bills targeted mid-level veteran contracts to improve their offensive line, a strategy often employed by the Patriots (albeit typically at other positions). Buffalo stole tackle Ty Nsekhe from the rest of the league, signing the 33-year-old away from the Redskins on a two-year deal worth only $10MM. Nsekhe, who didn’t garner regular NFL playing time until he was 30 years old, sat behind two high-quality tackles in Washington but produced whenever he was called upon.

Buffalo didn’t stop there, and continued to add role players throughout the rest of March and April. Former Raiders backup Jon Feliciano came to town on a two-year, $7.25MM pact, tackle LaAdrian Waddle received a one-year, $2MM deal, and 48-game Titans starter Quinton Spain got one year and $2.05MM.

The Bills’ final offensive line improvement came in Round 2 of the draft, when general manager Brandon Beane moved up from No. 40 overall to No. 38 by trading the Raiders a fifth-round pick. That swap enabled Buffalo to select Oklahoma guard/tackle Cody Ford, a prospect whom many analysts had pegged as a first-rounder. In the Bills’ excellent behind-the-scenes draft video, Beane and his staff are seen attempting to trade back into Day 1 for Ford, expressing disappointment when they believed he was headed to the Panthers at No. 37, and registering elation realizing they’ll acquire the ex-Sooner.

Now that Buffalo has added seven offensive linemen capable of starting, the team has some decisions to make. Who exactly will play where? Morse, at center, is seemingly the only player locked into a certain position. At the Bills’ most recent practice sessions, the line has been Dawkins-Long-Feliciano-Wyatt Teller-Ford from left-to-right, but with both Morse and Spain battling injuries, that’s probably not a fair representation of what the front five will look like when the regular season begins. A more realistic guess at the 2019 starting unit might be, from left-to-right, Dawkins-Spain-Morse-Ford-Nsekhe.

An improved offensive line should do wonders for second-year quarterback Josh Allen, who struggled after being selected seventh overall in the 2018 draft. Allen finished 29th in adjusted net yards per pass attempt during his rookie campaign, and his 4.37 mark was the sixth-worst figure by a rookie signal-caller since 2011 (minimum 300 attempts).

While Next Gen Stats charted Allen with the most time to throw in the NFL (3.22 seconds), that was likely a result of the Wyoming product’s scrambling ability — Allen’s legs allowed him to escape the pocket and continue the play until he could attempt a pass. Allen also led the league in both average intended air yards and air yards differential, meaning that while he was attempting a high number of deep throws, Allen wasn’t very effective with such passes. A more established pocket could allow the 23-year-old to go deep with greater efficiency.

And go deep he will. Allen showed late-season rapport with undrafted rookie wideout Robert Foster, who posted 19 receptions, 285 yards, and two touchdowns over the final four games of the season. Per PFF, Foster posted the highest average depth of target of any receiver who played at least 25% of his club’s offensive snaps. Free agent addition John Brown, signed to a three-year, $27MM contract, ranked sixth in aDOT.

Eric Eager and George Chahrouri of Pro Football Focus have researched the tremendous value of simply improving from replacement level to average along the offensive line. In fact, based on their wins above replacement metric, a team will realize a greater benefit from a front five going from below replacement level to average than it would from one that improved from average to elite.

That’s essentially the strategy the Bills have employed this offseason. No new member of their offensive line, not even Morse, qualifies as an elite level player. But Buffalo has significantly raised the overall floor of their offensive line, and could reap the benefits in 2019.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Quenton Spain Has Surgery

  • New Bills guard Quinton Spain recently underwent surgery on his thumb, as Joe Buscaglia of WKBW writes. It doesn’t sound like the issue is all too serious, so Spain should be back to practice in short order. Before his injury, Spain was working as Buffalo’s starting right guard. The Bills made offensive line improvement a point of emphasis this offseason by signing Spain, Ty Nsekhe, Mitch Morse, Spencer Long, LaAdrian Waddle and Jon Feliciano before adding Oklahoma’s Cody Ford in the second round of the draft. Spain, Long, Feliciano, Ford, and Wyatt Teller are all competing for time at guard.