While the 2011 collective bargaining agreement prohibited teams from extending their draft picks until they had played at least three seasons, as does the 2020 agreement, the 2006 CBA did not do so. The Bills took advantage of this to lock up one of the top draft finds in franchise history.
The Bills and defensive tackle Kyle Williams came to a few extension agreements during his 13-year tenure with the team; the first of those transpired on July 3, 2008. Less than two years after the former fifth-round pick signed his rookie contract, he came to terms on a three-year, $14.4MM extension. This through-2012 deal came with $5.2MM guaranteed and became a bargain for the Bills.
Despite arriving as a late-round pick, albeit one who played a role on LSU’s national championship-winning 2003 team, Williams broke into Buffalo’s starting lineup as a rookie. His first Pro Bowl, however, came during this initial extension. Williams ended up making five more Pro Bowls during what became a historically long stay in the Bills’ starting lineup. In the franchise’s 61-year history, only Hall of Famers Andre Reed and Bruce Smith and offensive lineman Joe Devlin made more starts for the team than Williams’ 178.
The 300-plus-pound defender played three seasons on his 2008 extension and emerged as one of the NFL’s top D-tackles. From 2009-10, he combined to tally 30 tackles for loss. His 16-TFL/5.5-sack 2010 season led to a Pro Bowl nod and preceded the biggest extension of Williams’ career. For the second time, the Bills extended Williams with two years remaining on his previous contract. In August 2011, they gave him a six-year, $39MM extension.
Teaming with 2011 first-round pick Marcell Dareus to form one of the league’s top D-tackle duos, Williams made three Pro Bowls from 2012-14 and peaked with a 10.5-sack season in 2013. Williams ended up outlasting Dareus in Buffalo. The Bills traded the former top-three pick to the Jaguars during the 2017 season.
Although team success eluded the Bills during most of Williams’ career, he was on the fourth of his five Bills deals when they snapped their 17-season drought and made the 2017 AFC playoff field. Williams retired after the 2018 season, playing only with Buffalo. He finished with a Bills-most 103 tackles for loss in the 21st century. Among pure interior D-linemen in this span, that total ranks behind only Aaron Donald and Kevin Williams.
January 23rd, 2019 at 5:55pm CST by Dallas Robinson
The Jets are expected to hire former Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack for the same position, tweets Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Pollack did a solid job with Cincinnati in 2018, but he was revered for his work with the Cowboys’ front five from 2013-17. He drew interest from the Packers after being fired by the Bengals, but will now head to New York, where the Jets ranked dead last in Football Outsiders‘ run-blocking metric and 18th in pass protection. Before hiring Pollack, the Jets also had interest in former 49ers assistant OL coach Adam Stenavich, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News (Twitter link). Stenavich has since joined the Packers’ staff as offensive line coach.
Here’s more from the NFL’s two East divisions:
Dez Bryant regularly criticized the Cowboys‘ front office and coaching staff before and — especially — after being released, and now another Dallas receiver has taken the same tact. “Honestly, the front office pushes who they want to get the ball to,”Cole Beasleytweeted on Tuesday. “I haven’t been a huge priority in that regard. Maybe that will change but I’m not sure. More balls come my way in 2 minute drill where nothing is planned.” In 2018, the 29-year-old Beasley ranked second on the Cowboys in targets, receptions, and yardage, and tied for second with three touchdowns. His four-year, $13.6MM extension expires in March, at which point he’ll hit the free agent market.
NFL agent Damarius Bilbo was suspended for three months and fined $12,500 for violations of the NFLPA’s Regulations Governing Contract Advisors, as Darren Heitner tweets. Bilbo’s clients include Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry, Saints running back Alvin Kamara, Chargers running back Melvin Gordon, and Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard. Howard, notably, is entering the final year of his rookie deal and scheduled to hit free agency after the 2019 season, but Bilbo won’t be able to negotiate on his behalf for the time being. Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald looked at Howard’s case for an extension earlier today.
Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams has no intention of reversing his decision to retire, as he tells Mike Rodak of ESPN.com (Twitter link). “I make a decision, I’ve got to go with it…” said Williams. “You couldn’t dream about coming back and trying to replicate [my final game]. That was such a great day. It’s something I’ll remember forever.” Williams, 35, spent the entirety of his 13-year career in Buffalo, appearing in 178 games during that time.
Kyle Williams is calling it a career. The Bills announced (via Twitter) that their long-time defensive tackle will be retiring. Williams’ final career game will be this Sunday against the Dolphins.
“This isn’t easy,” said in a letter on the team’s website. “It was never going to be. There’s no perfect time to retire from a game, a franchise, and a city that mean so much to me and my family. But it’s time to hang up my cleats.”
Following a standout career at LSU, the Bills used a fifth-round selection on Williams during the 2006 draft. The defensive tackle quickly earned a starting gig with Buffalo, and he’s been a stalwart of the Bills defense for more than a decade.
While the 35-year-old will have an opportunity to add on to his totals on Sunday, Williams is already the Bills’ franchise leader in a number of statistics, including tackles for loss (102) and QB hits (141). He also ranks in Buffalo’s top-10 in solo tackles (384, 9th), assisted tackles (223, 2nd), and sacks (48.5, 5th). While it won’t hit the record books, it’s also worth noting that the 303-pound lineman scored a touchdown on his only career carry. During his 13-year career, Williams had earned five Pro Bowl nods and a spot as both a first- and second-team All-Pro.
Last offseason, Williams signed a one-year, $5.5MM deal with the Bills that included $4.5MM in guaranteed money. The 35-year-old has continued to be productive, compiling 31 tackles, five sacks, and one forced fumble. Pro Football Focus has also been fond of his performance, ranking him 53rd among 118 interior defenders. Perhaps even more importantly, Williams has had a chance to mentor third-round rookie Harrison Phillips, who could have an opportunity to take over as the starter next season.
Running back Marcus Murphy continues to improve his chances of making the Bills’ 53-man roster. The 2015 seventh-round had a brief cameo with Buffalo last season, but he had showed some intriguing flashes during his tenure with the Saints. His talents have been on display during the preseason, as he’s compiled 74 yards and one touchdown in 11 carries (he’s also hauled in four catches).
“I just want to make a play,” Murphy told Branson Wright of Cleveland.com. “Whenever an opportunity is given, I just want to make the most of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s being a running back, punt returner or kick returner. I just want to be a playmaker whenever I get the chance.”
“I appreciate the coaching staff giving me an opportunity. I want to show them that they can trust me to make a play and show that I’m able to execute whenever they need me to.”
Let’s take a look at some more notes out of Buffalo…
While Skurski is willing to hand Murphy a roster spot, he wonders if tight end Nick O’Leary is on the roster bubble. While the 25-year-old did finish last night’s preseason win over the Browns with a team-leading four catches for 70 yards and one touchdown, he didn’t end up taking the field until the second half. If the former sixth-rounder has any hopes of making the Bills, he’ll have to beat out Jason Croom, Logan Thomas and Khari Lee for backup reps behind Charles Clay. O’Leary finished last season with 22 receptions for 322 yards and two touchdowns in 15 games (five starts).
Quarterback A.J. McCarron suffered a hairline fracture in his collarbone during last night’s preseason game. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets that the signal-caller will end up missing “several weeks,” but a definitive timetable hasn’t been set. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Mike Rodak isn’t ready to hand the starting quarterback gig to first-rounder Josh Allen. The reporter notes (on Twitter) that head coach Sean McDermott has a high opinion of backup Nathan Peterman, and McCarron’s injury shouldn’t force the coach to “stray from his “calculated” plan about Allen.” Rodak believes the two healthy quarterbacks will split reps during next weekend’s game against the Bengals, although he also wonders if the team may end up adding another quarterback to the roster.
Defensive lineman Kyle Williams went down with a knee injury during last night’s game, but Rapoport tweets that the Pro Bowler’s ACL wasn’t injured. If the MRI confirms that prognosis, the 35-year-old “could return this season.” That still sounds like a rather grim outlook for the defensive tackle, but the MRI will likely provide specific details on the severity of the injury. The five-time Pro Bowler has spent his entire 12-year career with Buffalo, and he finished last season with 41 tackles and three sacks. If he is indeed forced to miss time, the Bills will likely turn to Harrison Phillips or Adolphus Washington for a bigger role.
Perhaps the most memorable part of the Bills’ playoff celebration involved Kyle Williams rejoicing after 11 years of regular-season-only football in Buffalo. After Williams’ 12th doubled as the Bills’ first 21st-century playoff berth, he plans to stay on board for a 13th year.
The Bills are re-signing the defensive tackle stalwart on a one-year deal, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. It’s a $6MM agreement including $5MM fully guaranteed, Rapoport reports (on Twitter).
The five-time Pro Bowler has played in at least 15 games in five of the past six seasons, offering stability to an evolving Buffalo defense. The Bills pivoted back to a 4-3 scheme last season and relied on Williams, who gave them 16 starts. He will turn 35 in June.
He’s recorded 43.5 career sacks — fifth in team history and far and away the most by a Bills defensive tackle — and will be in position to add to that total next season.
NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. After looking at offense on Monday, we’ll tackle defense and special teams today.
Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each defensive position. These rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts – or the amount of guaranteed money – that each player is expected to land in free agency. These are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account.
Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents, as well as players who received the franchise tag, aren’t listed here, since the roadblocks in place to hinder another team from actually acquiring most of those players prevent them from being true free agents.
We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some free agents than you are, so feel free to weigh in below in our comments section to let us know which players we’ve got wrong.
Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by defensive position for 2018:
As a positional group, pass rushers comprise interesting market on the defensive side of the ball. It’s not often that a list of best available players is topped by a 38-year-old, but Peppers is the top free agent edge defender after the Cowboys and Lions deployed the franchise tag on Demarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Ansah, respectively. As with quarterbacks, NFL clubs are extremely reluctant to allow pass rushers to hit the open market, so top-tier options are rarely ever truly “available.” Peppers, for his part, hasn’t even declared whether he’ll return in 2018, but indications are that he’ll suit up for a 17th campaign after posting 11 sacks last year.
Alongside Peppers, other veterans populate the edge market, and while William Hayes may not be a household name, he’ll be a contributor for whichever team signs him. A stout run defender, Hayes is also capable of generating pressure despite managing only one sack in 2017. The Dolphins used Hayes on only 271 defensive snaps a season ago, and have since replaced him by acquiring fellow defensive end Robert Quinn from the Rams. Now that he’s entering his age-33 season, Hayes should come cheap, but will almost assuredly outplay his contract.
Nearly every other available pass rusher has some sort of flaw which will likely limit his market next week. Trent Murphy is only 27 years old and put up nine sacks in 2016, but he missed the entirety of the 2017 campaign with injury. Pernell McPhee, Alex Okafor, Junior Galette, and Derrick Shelby have also been plagued by health questions in recent seasons. And Adrian Clayborn famously registered the majority of his 2017 sacks (and 20% of his career sack total) in one game against overwhelmed Cowboys backup Chaz Green.
The two names that I keep coming back to are Aaron Lynch (49ers) and Jeremiah Attaochu (Chargers). Yes, Lynch has been suspended for substance abuse, struggled with his weight, and was reportedly in danger of being waived prior to last season. He’s also extremely young (he won’t turn 25 years old until Thursday) and ranked fifth in the league with 34 pass pressures as recently as 2015. Attaochu, a 25-year-old former second-round pick, also has youth on his side, and while he hasn’t quite flashed as much as Lynch, he’s also been buried on LA’s depth chart for much of his career.
Interior rushers are getting more respect in today’s NFL, but that still hasn’t translated to them being paid on the level of edge defenders — the 2018 franchise tag for defensive tackles, for example, is roughly $3MM cheaper than the tender for edge rushers. While the 2018 crop of interior defenders boasts some impressive top-end talent, none of the available players figure to earn a double-digit annual salary. Sheldon Richardson may have the best chance to do so, but Seattle determined he wasn’t worth a one-year cost of $13.939MM, so is any other club going to pay him $10MM per year? I’d guess he comes in closer to $9MM annually, which would still place him among the 25 highest-paid defensive tackles.
Dontari Poe will be an intriguing free agent case after setting for a one-year deal last offseason, but the most interesting battle among defensive tackles will take place Star Lotulelei and Muhammad Wilkerson, and I’m curious to see which player earns more on the open market. Both are former first-round picks, and it’s difficult to argue Wilkerson hasn’t been the more productive player — or, at least, reached higher highs — than Lotulelei. Wilkerson also won’t affect his next team’s compensatory pick formula given that he was released, but his off-field issues, which include a reported lack of effort and problems with coaches, could limit his appeal.
While Beau Allen and Denico Autry are potentially candidates to be overpaid based on their youth, there are bargains to be had at defensive tackle. Tom Johnson is 33 but he’s offered consistent pressure from the interior for years — his last contract was for three years and $7MM, so he shouldn’t cost much this time around. Haloti Ngata was injured in 2017 but plans to continue his career, and he can still stop the run. And Dominique Easley was outstanding as a 3-4 end in 2016 before missing last season with a torn ACL, meaning the former first-round pick could be a value play for any number of teams.Read more
Although there are a number of high-quality starting linebackers available in free agency this year, I predict most contracts signed by LBs over the next few weeks will come in lower that most expect. The linebacker market is relatively stagnant, and unless the player is a legitimate star or inking an extension with his original club, he’s usually disappointed with his annual value. The most expensive deal for an unrestricted free agent ‘backer who signed with a new team was Bruce Irvin‘s $9.25MM/year pact with the Raiders, and Irvin can almost be considered an edge rusher. After Irvin, it’s Danny Trevathan, whom the Bears signed for a $7MM annual value in 2016.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise if no linebacker listed above is able to top Trevathan’s two-year-old average, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t starting-caliber LBs on the market. Zach Brown, the poster boy for having to accept cheap contracts, is coming off another solid season, but is reportedly asking for top-three inside linebacker money. Good luck. Similarly, Demario Davis is looking for $8-10MM annually, while the Jets — who have interest in re-signing him — view him as a $3-4MM/year player.
Nigel Bradham and NaVorro Bowman should both come in around Trevathan’s $7MM average after posting excellent 2017 campaigns. While the Eagles would surely prefer to re-sign Bradham, the club’s dire cap situation may mean Bradham will hit the open market next Wednesday. Bowman, meanwhile, was traded from the 49ers to Raiders last season, and he seems like a good bet to stay with Oakland after new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther heaped lavish praise on the 29-year-old.
Top-to-bottom, the cornerback market is the deepest positional group on the defensive side of the ball. Need a No. 1 defensive back with experience in both man and zone? Trumaine Johnson is your guy. How about a top-end cornerback who, while admittedly up-and-down at times, has the ability to shut down opposing wide receivers? Malcolm Butler has you covered. A former first-round pick who has finally played up to his potential over the past two seasons? Take a look at Morris Claiborne. Or is a career journeyman who posted 10 excellent games last year more your speed? Look into Rashaan Melvin.
Slot cornerbacks are also prevalent in this year’s defensive back market, and while I ranked Aaron Colvin, T.J. Carrie, Patrick Robinson, and Nickell Robey-Coleman in order of my preference, they could each be plugged into a starting nickel package immediately. I originally though Robinson could land a disappointing deal given his age (31) and his track record of underwhelming play prior to 2017, but he’s already garnering interest from the Giants, Raiders, and Cardinals, so his market should allow him to reach at least $5MM annually. Colvin could garner even more than Robinson thanks his youth (26), and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com expects Colvin to have a “legit” market.
If teams are looking for a bargain at cornerback, they should target Ross Cockrell, whom the Steelers dealt to the Giants last year for a seventh-round pick. Cockrell has always been overlooked in the NFL, but he keeps producing results. In 2017, Cockrell finished first in Football Outsiders’ success rate, which measures cornerbacks on their ability to consistently stop opposing wideouts short of the sticks. In fact, Cockrell was one of only eight defenders who stopped a receiver short of a successful gain on over half their tackles a season ago, as FO’s Aaron Schatz recently tweeted, but the league consistently undervalues him and his skill-set.
The best free agent safety was taken off the board earlier today when the Rams used the franchise tag on Lamarcus Joyner, and the remaining market is extremely top-heavy. Eric Reid, Morgan Burnett, Tre Boston, and Kenny Vaccaro could all be in line for at least $5MM annually, but the rest of the class could struggle to find multi-year deals. Among the top-tier safeties, Vaccaro stands out as perhaps the most interesting name. A first-round pick in 2013, Vaccarro has posted three exemplary campaigns and two dreadful years; in 2017, Pro Football Focus ranked Vaccaro as the single-worst safety in the league among 87 qualifiers. But given his draft pedigree and his ability to man the slot, Vaccaro should land a solid deal.
While I like Reid and Burnett a bit more as players, it wouldn’t be a shock if Boston actually lands the largest contract. Reid and Burnett spend a lot of time close to the line of scrimmage, and both have been used as de factor linebackers from time to time. Boston, on the other hand, is a deep safety who can play coverage, and that repertoire is much more difficult to find on the open market. Similarly, Tyvon Branch has been great in coverage during his career with the Raiders, Chiefs, and Cardinals, so he could also see a nice pay bump next week.
After Branch, the crop of available safeties steeply drops off. Every other free agent we’ve listed above will be at at least 29 years old when the 2018 gets underway except for the Lions’ Tavon Wilson, and he was one of the NFL’s worst starting defensive backs last season. Veterans like Corey Graham or Ron Parker can still play as third safeties who see time in “big nickel” packages, but if you’re looking for a starting safety, you’ll want to bring in one of the top six defensive backs on the board.
February 28th, 2018 at 11:37am CST by Zachary Links
The NFL is expected to change the rule to allow teams to hire coaches, even while their teams are still active in the playoffs (Twitter link via Judy Battista of NFL.com). There has been talk of doing this before, but there was a renewed focus on the rule change this offseason after Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels bailed on becoming the Colts’ new head coach at the last minute.
While McDaniels gears up for another year as New England’s OC, here’s more from the AFC East:
Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola is eligible for the open market, but he wants to stay put. “I’m a free agent this year, so let’s say — the unknown. We’ll see what happens. I definitely want to be here. To tell you the truth, I don’t want to leave. But it’s a business. I’ve learned that,” Amendola said (via Mike Reiss of ESPN.com). Amendola earned just over $3MM last season as he caught 61 passes for 659 yards and two touchdowns. The 32-year-old could earn cash in elsewhere, but he sounds pretty intent on staying in New England.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott says that releasing quarterback Tyrod Taylor is not currently in the team’s plans. “Tyrod is a good player,” McDermott said (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter). “It’s way too early to take anything off the table, other than cutting him at this point, which is not in our plans.”
Bills GM Brandon Beane says that he has been in contact with the agent for defensive tackle Kyle Williams (Twitter link via Joe Buscaglia of WKBW). At this point, Beane is unsure as to whether Williams is considering retirement. Last year, the Bills reportedly had to convince him to return for a 12th NFL season.
The Bills made deals with the Ramsand Eagles on Friday and secured two additional draft picks. They now have six selections in the first three rounds next year. However, in trading away their top cornerback and wide receiver, Bills brass are aware they have to sell these deals to fans and players.
Sean McDermott commented about how these trades could be perceived as weakening this year’s team — and hindering the chances of breaking major American sports’ longest playoff drought — in order to build for the future in the eyes of some fans.
“I get it. I absolutely get it. That’s why I didn’t sleep last night because these are tough decisions,” McDermott said, via Tim Graham of the Buffalo News. “I’m a part of that. When I signed my name to that dotted line, I became a part of that 17-year time period. I’m invested. I feel what (the fans) feel.”
New GM Brandon Beane said he was not actively aiming to trade Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby. Beane added these trades came together around the same time, inducing the back-to-back announcements.
“These aren’t easy decisions. I laid both trades out for Terry Pegula and Sean McDermott last night. This was absolutely a ‘we’ decision,” Beane said. “… People forget that we just signed (Anquan) Boldin. This isn’t a throw-in-the-towel move. You don’t know me if you think I’m throwing in the towel.”
Convincing veterans these were the right moves weighed on Beane’s mind. That process has already begun. An AFC GM, however, approves of the haul the Bills got for Watkins and Darby. The exec texted Graham that second- and third-round 2018 picks for players the Bills didn’t ultimately view as cornerstones was a good return. This follows the draft-weekend deal that allowed the Chiefs to move up to No. 10 and select Patrick Mahomes, dropping the Bills 18 spots in Round 1. Of course, Beane wasn’t yet on board when that occurred.
“Well, it’s hard,” Beane said of selling the move to the locker room. “They don’t necessarily know Jordan (Matthews) or E.J. (Gaines) So hopefully they’ll reserve judgment until those guys get in and strap the pads on and jump in with them. We’ll see where it goes from there.”
Speaking of Boldin, the veteran wide receiver said Friday he would have joined the Bills with or without Watkins. Boldin signed a one-year contract late last month. The Rams now have Watkins on a one-year deal since the Bills didn’t pick up the former No. 4 overall pick’s fifth-year option.
Back for a third season as the starting quarterback, Tyrod Taylor toed the company line as well after the Bills have now fully revamped his receiving corps.
“I have faith in our management, have faith in coach McDermott that they made a decision based on the betterment of this team,” Taylor said, via Graham.
Graham notes Kyle Williams needed to be convinced to return for a 12th season. The defensive tackle said his experience with NFL transactions makes this easier. As does the fact Matthews and Gaines are on the way.
“You could view it one way from my perspective if we got a pick (in 2018), two more two years from now,” Williams said. “We’re actually getting guys that are coming back to play those positions.”