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Bills training camp positional preview: Will Tremaine Edmunds stay in Buffalo long term?


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The Bills haven’t had to worry much about their linebackers for the last four seasons. Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano have been an excellent starting pair since 2018.

The team also hasn’t had to depend much on depth over the last four years. Edmunds and Milano have missed only 15 total regular-season games out of a combined 130. The duo is back for the 2022 season, but the depth chart beyond them and what the team does past this season remains in question.

How will the linebacker group shake out this season? Here is a detailed outlook for when the Bills return for training camp in late July.

What’s changed?

Edmunds and Milano return as the starting duo for a fifth straight season, but to open up some much-needed salary-cap room, the Bills had to move on from top backup A.J. Klein in the offseason. Klein’s inclusion on the roster was a luxury they could afford while both starters were on their rookie contracts. But once Milano re-signed last year and Edmunds’ expensive fifth-year option began this season, keeping Klein at a $5.6 million cap hit in 2022 became untenable. That move helped set the table for the Bills’ second move during the draft.

The team had been linked to Day 2 linebackers throughout the draft process. With Edmunds entering the final year of his deal and Klein out of the picture, the Bills struck in the third round, drafting Baylor’s Terrel Bernard. A fast and intuitive linebacker, Bernard will have the chance to step into a major reserve role as a rookie. The Bills added another linebacker in the seventh round with Baylon Spector. Besides those two, the rest of the group remains the same. Tyrel DodsonTyler MatakevichAndre Smith and Joe Giles-Harris all return from last season, and Marquel Lee returns for a second straight training camp.

Biggest question

How should the Bills handle Tremaine Edmunds’ contract?

Outside of safety Jordan Poyer’s current contract situation, the Edmunds discussion is the most significant unknown. The Bills view Edmunds as an integral defender in their scheme, someone who has grown exponentially in his role while still having the potential to improve. But with Milano on the books at $13 million in 2023 and 2024, and with Edmunds possibly commanding close to $15 million per year, would the Bills feel comfortable committing so much cap space at linebacker?

Although Edmunds has had some regrettable performances, for the most part, he has been an asset for the defense — particularly in pass coverage. It would be somewhat of a surprise to see general manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott choose to move on from such a building block when Edmunds (turned 24 in May) is almost four years younger than Milano (turns 28 in July). So for the Bills to move on from Edmunds now, they’d be setting themselves up to replace him next year and Milano in the not-so-distant future. By re-signing Edmunds, they’d keep their duo intact for two more years and then could decide on Milano when he’s a free agent for his age-31 season in 2025.

With how well Beane has prepared for the future with roster decisions a year or two in advance, it makes sense for the Bills to invest in Edmunds. They can structure a long-term deal with lower cap hits in the first two years to balance Milano’s deal and then hope for a big increase in the league’s salary cap before the 2024 season. The 2024 season is also when the Bills can save $7.5 million by moving on from Milano. Bernard appears to be a better fit for Milano’s outside linebacker position than Edmunds’ middle linebacker spot and could be a starting option down the line if developed correctly.

It would not be a surprise to see the Bills try to reach a long-term deal with Edmunds before the season ends. They also need to figure out the Poyer situation and what to do with tight end Dawson Knox’s contract year. But if the Bills feel as strongly about Edmunds long term as they project in their actions and public statements about him, he should be on the team for the foreseeable future.

Potential camp battle

Terrel Bernard vs. Tyrel Dodson

With Klein out of the picture, there is a clear void for the primary backup job in 2022. It’s not as big of a role as it was in previous years because nickel cornerback has effectively gobbled up all of the third linebacker snaps in the base defense. The only exception is when the Bills face heavy personnel formations with multiple tight ends and six offensive linemen. Still, it is one of the only jobs completely up for grabs at training camp.

Bernard and Dodson represent the two primary options, especially with Andre Smith suspended for the first six games. The Bills used a substantial draft pick on Bernard in April and likely feel bullish about his future. But they also do not give rookies substantial workloads unless they outperform others on the roster. That’s where Dodson comes in.

Dodson has been in the Bills’ system for three full seasons and even has some experience in the defensive scheme on game days. If he uses his training and experience to get an early advantage on Bernard, it could springboard him into the third linebacker role early in 2022. The job will likely eventually belong to Bernard because of his draft status, but Dodson has the skills to earn the full-season role if he performs well enough. But make no mistake, a tie will go to the rookie.

Bubble watch

Andre Smith

Smith’s future on the 53-man roster took a sizable hit when the NFL announced a six-game suspension for a violation of the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Smith maintained his innocence and said he’s been appealing the ruling since November, but he’ll be out the first six games unless something changes before the season. Smith will not count against the roster, so he can technically remain with the team throughout his suspension. But he will not be allowed to be around team facilities during his suspension, possibly putting his roster spot in jeopardy once the six weeks are up.

By that point, the impressions bubble players make in the preseason begin to fade, and any injury-based variables could change the Bills’ roster priorities. The team may have found a suitable special teams player to replace Smith on the roster by then, and the Bills may have no choice but to release him after his suspension expires.

Sleeper potential

Baylon Spector

For Spector to make the 53-man roster, he will need to provide a tangible upgrade to the Bills’ special teams units over someone else. Oddly enough, he’ll likely need to prove he can be a better core special teams player than Bernard, the team’s third-round pick. Spector will need to show that he’s worth keeping safe from waivers over a 10th offensive lineman, a seventh receiver, a sixth cornerback or a third tight end. The Bills usually like to hang on to their draft picks if the rest of their roster construction allows it, which gives him a definite chance this summer. Keep an eye on Spector on kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return coverage in the preseason. The better he does, the better case he’s making to crack the 53.

Special teams

The linebacker position is the most important to the Bills’ special team efforts every year. Last season the team kept four linebackers who all contributed on special teams to varying degrees. Dodson, Smith and Tyler Matakevich were every-snap special teams players, while Klein was a part-timer. This preseason, the Bills will see if Bernard can fill the Smith role on special teams and if Spector can play his way onto the 53-man roster through that phase. It’s a lock that the Bills keep five linebackers, and a sixth could happen if special teams coordinator Matthew Smiley thinks Spector or veteran Joe Giles-Harris will take that unit to the next level.

Who makes it and why?

Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Terrel Bernard, Tyrel Dodson, Tyler Matakevich

This group of five appears relatively safe. Edmunds and Milano are the starters, Bernard and Dodson will compete to be the third linebacker while being special teams assets, and Matakevich is one of the Bills’ best special teams players. Although Spector was a draft pick, he misses the cut for now. The Bills can likely make up for Klein’s part-time special teams role elsewhere on the roster and save the spot for a different position. Linebacker is usually a position that doesn’t often get claimed through waivers, so the Bills may believe they can sneak Spector onto the practice squad.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

 

Twitter: @HKTheResistance

 

HipKat, on *** other h***, is genuine, unapoli***tically nasty, and w**** his hea** on his ******. jc856

I’ll just forward them to Bridgett. comssvet11

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4 minutes ago, SpikedLemonade said:

Then Beane should be arrested for his stupidity.

 

Edmunds has his deficiencies, but he also has A LOT of responsibilities in this scheme. His elite athleticism allows the defense to do more. He is a young player and I expect him to improve on his instincts over time. I expect he will take a home town discount similar to what milano did. I think it will be a 4 or 5 year deal averaging 14 mil per year. 

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2 minutes ago, f8ta1ity54 said:

Edmunds has his deficiencies, but he also has A LOT of responsibilities in this scheme. His elite athleticism allows the defense to do more. He is a young player and I expect him to improve on his instincts over time. I expect he will take a home town discount similar to what milano did. I think it will be a 4 or 5 year deal averaging 14 mil per year

FIRE BEANE!!!

Do Your Part to Improve The Range -- Please put the TRIO OF TRUMP FLUFFERSTM  on IGNORE

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On 7/14/2022 at 9:23 AM, f8ta1ity54 said:

Do you have an argument or..?

 

Does he ever?

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“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

 

Twitter: @HKTheResistance

 

HipKat, on *** other h***, is genuine, unapoli***tically nasty, and w**** his hea** on his ******. jc856

I’ll just forward them to Bridgett. comssvet11

Seek help. soflabillsfan

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Edmunds elite talent disappointing results.  Consistently picks the wrong gap cant cover anyone with any sort of talent, total lack of game changing or impact plays.  

His mediocrity is on full display when he's not there.  The defense doesn't skip a beat.

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Well to be fair, the defense is elite and deep....defense didn't skip a beat loosing a lot of players.  I don't think they missed Trey White until KC game.  

Edmunds is a good LB, he makes some mistakes but his athletic ability helps hide some of those mental break downs.  he is still young and has room to improve.  Is he a pro bowl LB....no, but he is def a good LB for this particular defense

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On 7/19/2022 at 7:11 PM, Zan186 said:

Well to be fair, the defense is elite and deep....defense didn't skip a beat loosing a lot of players.  I don't think they missed Trey White until KC game.  

Edmunds is a good LB, he makes some mistakes but his athletic ability helps hide some of those mental break downs.  he is still young and has room to improve.  Is he a pro bowl LB....no, but he is def a good LB for this particular defense

Care to explain that conclusion.

Do Your Part to Improve The Range -- Please put the TRIO OF TRUMP FLUFFERSTM  on IGNORE

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On 7/25/2022 at 10:25 PM, SpikedLemonade said:

Care to explain that conclusion.

His speed and wingspan make it difficult for QBs to anticipate passing lanes.  He can start near the line of scrimmage and still has the speed to drop back into the middle of the field. He is able to run sideline to sideline in the run game and has the speed to run with backs and TEs. He is often put in conflict of whether to pick up routes underneath or cover the deep middle. That's the design of the defense. Is he a perfect player? obviously not. His height does not allow him great change of direction skills, and he has slow eyes sometimes. The kid is still 24 years old. There are still rookies coming into the league older than him. I dont think the bills should break the bank on him, but I think they should lock him up long term. He makes all the calls on the defense. I dont think that he would be easily replaced in one off season. Letting him walk would be a huge hit to the defense. 

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Just now, f8ta1ity54 said:

His speed and wingspan make it difficult for QBs to anticipate passing lanes.  He can start near the line of scrimmage and still has the speed to drop back into the middle of the field. He is able to run sideline to sideline in the run game and has the speed to run with backs and TEs. He is often put in conflict of whether to pick up routes underneath or cover the deep middle. That's the design of the defense. Is he a perfect player? obviously not. His height does not allow him great change of direction skills, and he has slow eyes sometimes. The kid is still 24 years old. There are still rookies coming into the league older than him. I dont think the bills should break the bank on him, but I think they should lock him up long term. He makes all the calls on the defense. I dont think that he would be easily replaced in one off season. Letting him walk would be a huge hit to the defense. 

also add in that the team completely revamped the interior defensive line. If Edmunds is able to play free without linemen getting to the second level, we might see a considerable jump if he isnt fighting through trash all the time to make tackles. 

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12 hours ago, f8ta1ity54 said:

His speed and wingspan make it difficult for QBs to anticipate passing lanes.  He can start near the line of scrimmage and still has the speed to drop back into the middle of the field. He is able to run sideline to sideline in the run game and has the speed to run with backs and TEs. He is often put in conflict of whether to pick up routes underneath or cover the deep middle. That's the design of the defense. Is he a perfect player? obviously not. His height does not allow him great change of direction skills, and he has slow eyes sometimes. The kid is still 24 years old. There are still rookies coming into the league older than him. I dont think the bills should break the bank on him, but I think they should lock him up long term. He makes all the calls on the defense. I dont think that he would be easily replaced in one off season. Letting him walk would be a huge hit to the defense. 

On paper, yes. But none of those skills seem to translate onto the playing field. He's athletic as they come, but maybe a little slow between the ears for what they're asking of him. He's too busy thinking to make enough plays to warrant that kind of money. He's had 4 years, and I don't see an improvement from 1 year to the next. He's a decent player, but not franchise tag material. He can be upgraded IMHO. 

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13 hours ago, The Chosen said:

On paper, yes. But none of those skills seem to translate onto the playing field. He's athletic as they come, but maybe a little slow between the ears for what they're asking of him. He's too busy thinking to make enough plays to warrant that kind of money. He's had 4 years, and I don't see an improvement from 1 year to the next. He's a decent player, but not franchise tag material. He can be upgraded IMHO. 

A draft pick in the first 3 rounds of the last draft would have done it.

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15 hours ago, The Chosen said:

On paper, yes. But none of those skills seem to translate onto the playing field. He's athletic as they come, but maybe a little slow between the ears for what they're asking of him. He's too busy thinking to make enough plays to warrant that kind of money. He's had 4 years, and I don't see an improvement from 1 year to the next. He's a decent player, but not franchise tag material. He can be upgraded IMHO. 

Tremaine was always going to be a project. He was an OLB in a blitz heavy scheme at VT. Now he plays in completely different scheme which relies on making the proper reads and playing in light boxes. Quite often he is up close to the LOS showing blitz and then post snap he uses elite speed to back pedal to get back into coverage. Like Hyde and Poyer, Edmunds offers a lot of pre and post snap versatility to confuse QBs.

In the run game we have to remember that this is a base 4-2-5 defense most of the time. Its not a defense that is going to consistently be +1 in the box to stop the run. So some of Tremaine's issues can be attributed to the scheme itself. The bills as a team were among the top in the league in % of 2 high safety looks. That means he is responsible for multiple gaps a long with his coverage responsibilities. This isn't even taking into account the quality of DL play in front of him the last couple years. The bills went out and revamped the entire interior of the line to be more stout against the run. Everyone wants Edmunds to make more splash plays like Milano does. I totally agree, but Milano has different responsibilities. Milano is able to play more free and be the back end pursuit player/match up linebacker. He has more opportunities to make plays from because of his role. Keep in mind Milano misses way more tackles than Edmunds as well. However, their skillsets really mesh well together within this defense.

Tremaine needs to get better in a couple areas. In particular, zone coverage. He has a lot of area to cover and he needs to have more eye discipline. He needs to stay disciplined and be less easily manipulated by QBs. He needs to stay disciplined and understand when the Frazier's pattern matching responsibilities turn back to man coverage.

In the run game he needs to get better at getting off and fighting through blocks. He needs to stack and shed better, but again, he hasn't had a lot of help up front the last couple of years. I think that his mental processing in the run game has improved year over year, and he is considerably better than he was his rookie season.

Keep in mind, letting Edmunds go will require considerable changes to the defense. The defense is able to function the way it does based on the superior athleticism he posses. You're not going to be able to just plug and play a guy with a different skillset into this defense and try to continue to run the defense as it currently exists.

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