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Bills have myriad options to replace Jordan Phillips via free agency

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Wild Card Round - Buffalo Bills v Houston TexansPhoto by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What will the Bills do?

The Buffalo Bills have a big decision to make regarding one of the biggest, in both the literal and figurative sense, players on the defense this offseason. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, claimed off waivers during the 2018 season, is an unrestricted free agent coming off his best season. He led the Bills in sacks with 9.5 and tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with 13.

While many, myself included, have speculated that Phillips would command too much money on the open market for the Bills to spend, it’s possible that another thing happens altogether. There are so many talented defensive tackles available on the free-agent market that the supply may drive prices down for teams looking for stout interior linemen. At first, when our readers speculated this could be the case in comment sections, I didn’t really think it could happen. However, after scouring the list of available players, that possibility feels not only plausible, but likely.

Below is a list of some defensive tackles who the Bills may want to consider as replacements for Phillips should he elect to test the open market. Intentionally left out are some of the players expected to break the bank with beacoup bucks (Shelby Harris, Javon Hargrave, D.J. Reader), as well as players who just wouldn’t make sense (Could anyone see the Bills reaching out to Marcel Dareus if the Jacksonville Jaguars decline his $14 million club option?).

Michael Brockers

The veteran former first-round pick has spent his entire career with the Rams, first in St. Louis and now in Los Angeles, but he turns 30 this year and the Rams have moved on from defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Brockers is a big-name player who could be left out in the cold in terms of cashing in on one last big-time contract thanks to the glut of younger, equally talented players on the open market. While he isn’t a true three-tech, which is what Buffalo would want to replace Phillips and rotate with Ed Oliver, he is an extremely versatile piece who could actually play all along the defensive line. At varying times in his career, he’s been used as a one-tech, a three-tech, and even as a five-tech defensive end in a 3-4 front. He’s coming off a solid year in which he made 63 tackles, and if the price is right, the Bills would be hard-pressed to find a better football player.

Vernon Butler

Carolina Panthers alert! Butler was drafted in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft when Bills head coach Sean McDermott was still Carolina’s defensive coordinator. After toiling as a reserve behind Star Lotulelei, Kawaan Short, and Dontari Poe for his first three seasons, Butler finally earned a starting gig in year four, and he blossomed. Butler had 32 tackles, seven tackles for loss, eight quarterback hits, and six sacks—all career-highs this year. What’s more, the success coincided with Carolina’s coaching staff playing him at three-tech rather than at one-tech, where he spent most of his time for the previous three seasons. Butler is a candidate to sign a very Jordan Phillips-like deal with his current team (one year, $5 million) to gamble on himself prior to entering free agency next season, but with a new staff there, he could be looking for the prove-it deal elsewhere. I think that Butler will be Buffalo’s top target, as the 6’4”, 330-lb defensive tackle is essentially Phillips with a first-round pedigree. If Buffalo can’t re-sign the guy they know who was on the roster last year, I think they’ll look to bring in the guy they know who was on the roster when most of Buffalo’s decision-makers were together in Carolina. This is a solid breakdown of Butler’s play this season from The Riot Report.

Danny Shelton

So this doesn’t fit, per se, in that Shelton is a one-tech, and the Bills already have two of those under contract next year (Star Lotulelei and Harrison Phillips). However, the biggest weakness in Buffalo for the last three years has been the run defense, as the Bills have allowed no fewer than 4.2 yards per attempt since McDermott arrived. Rotating a big fella like Shelton, who is 6’2” and 345 lbs, in with someone like Harrison Phillips would make Buffalo’s run defense stronger, as it would give the Bills two solid anchors in the middle. With Shelton and Lotulelei in the middle together, it would bring back memories of another heavy Bills front from the early-2000s, when the team deployed Sam Adams and Pat Williams together in the middle of the defensive line. It would give the Bills an in-house replacement for Lotulelei in 2021, as well, if the team wanted to move on from Star’s huge contract at that time. And hey, it would weaken the New England Patriots, as well, which is always a nice bonus. Shelton set career highs this year in tackles (61), quarterback hits (6), and sacks (3) while playing 48.8% of the snaps on arguably the league’s best defense last year.

David Onyemata

Another player who earned a starting gig in the final year of his rookie deal is Onyemata, a three-tech with the New Orleans Saints. At 6’4” and 300 lbs, he is the prototypical size for a three-tech, and he has the quickness to collapse the pocket as a pass rusher. He set a career high in 2019 with ten quarterback hits, adding three sacks in his first year as a full-time starter. Given the number of talented players on the market and his lack of sustained production, Onyemata seems like someone who, while talented, won’t receive a huge payday. All of those factors could combine to make him a solid target as a rotational piece in Buffalo. Don Kellum at Canal Street Chronicles broke down Onyemata’s play last season in a game against the Dallas Cowboys, and it’s a nice little highlight reel for a player who clearly has some untapped potential. He did miss a game this season as a result of an offseason arrest for marijuana possession.

Maliek Collins

In terms of size, strength, and athletic profile, Collins is another ideal fit for Buffalo’s defense. The former third-round draft choice had five sacks and 13 quarterback hits during his rookie year, but nagging injuries limited him throughout the better part of his second and third seasons. While it speaks to his toughness that he has only missed three games in his NFL career, he has dealt with foot and knee injuries at various times throughout it—something that would obviously limit a defensive lineman’s effectiveness. This year, however, Collins bounced back. He had four sacks—his best total since his rookie year—and ten quarterback hits, also the second-best total of his career. At just 25 years old, the 6’2” 308-lb lineman still has plenty of time left to show that he can be an impactful player like he was as a rookie. He profiles as a solid “buy-low” candidate who could turn into a great find for the Bills once the top names on the market sign elsewhere.

Jarran Reed

Here’s a player who might be a hair out of Buffalo’s price range, but if teams are afraid of his 2019 season, which was shortened by a suspension for a violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy, and his price drops, then adding him would make Buffalo’s defensive line an absolute nightmare for opponents. Reed only played in ten regular-season games this year as he was suspended for alleged domestic violence. He was not charged with a crime. He also had sports hernia surgery in April of 2019. Reed had 27 tackles and two sacks this season, just one year after he had 50 tackles, 10.5 sacks, and 24 quarterback hits while playing in all 16 games. If the Bills look into his past and are comfortable with the fact that he was investigated but ultimately not charged with a crime, then he would be a tremendous addition to the team. If it turns out that there’s more to the initial police report (which can be found in summary here—admittedly, it doesn’t sound good, and it’s definitely unsettling to read about) or the Bills aren’t comfortable bringing someone in with that kind of mark on their history, it would be understandable. It’s worth noting that the team does have a player, practice squad linebacker Tyrel Dodson, who was accused of domestic violence and suspended by the league, currently on the roster.

A’Shawn Robinson

This is another guy who I think is going to end up a bit out of Buffalo’s price range, but he would be a tremendous addition to the defense, both literally and figuratively. He’s 6’4” and 330 lbs, and he has the ability to play as both a one-tech and a three-tech—giving him the versatility this coaching staff covets. Robinson was described as being Detroit’s most improved player on defense by Jeremy Reisman of Pride of Detroit back in July, and Robinson ended up having another solid, if unspectacular, season. He notched 40 tackles, three tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, 1.5 sacks, and three pass breakups in 13 games this year. At the right price, he’d be a solid rotational piece for the Bills.

Jordan Phillips

Yes, the man himself may end up being his own replacement. As he will, most likely, become a free agent, the Bills very well could allow him to test the market, come back to them with whatever deal he finds, and then have Buffalo either beat or match the deal. While I find this scenario to be unlikely, it’s possible that after the big-name guys on the free-agent list take up the big-time contracts, teams are looking to make more budget-friendly decisions on their cap. This is how Buffalo ended up with starting left guard Quinton Spain last season. If Spotrac’s valuation on Phillips (three years, $18.5 million) ends up correct, perhaps the wisest move would be to retain the player we already know fits the defensive scheme well.

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The Buffalo Bills....










To Fitzpatrick, Levitre, Kelsay, Mcgee, Barnett, Wilson, Jones, Nelson, Rinehart, McIntyre, Merriman, Shepperd, Scott, White, Wanny, and Mr. Chan Gailey...


It was real, it was fun, it just wasn't REAL FUN!






NEWVILLE MUD DAWGS FEVER BABY! We might not be very good right now, but we have infinite heart! Alot like the Bills! ;) HALLA!


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