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What is Tremaine Edmunds’ future in Buffalo? It’s trickier than you think


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Only four players on the Buffalo Bills’ roster have started more games than middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.

The 24-year-old is in his fourth season as a captain and in his fifth season calling out the defensive plays.

Yet, he’s younger than 31 rookies who made NFL debuts two weeks into 2022. And if Edmunds steps on the field just 10 more times this season, he will have played the most NFL games by any player so young.

Where he plays the rest of his career won’t happen so naturally.

Edmunds is in the final year of his contract, and the cost might not fit Buffalo’s plans. He’s mainly a coverage linebacker on a nickel defense that pays its defensive linemen to pressure quarterbacks.

Edmunds is coming off a terrific game against the Tennessee Titans on “Monday Night Football.” He recorded only two tackles, but in the span of four plays sacked Ryan Tannehill and dropped Derrick Henry in the backfield. Edmunds tipped the pass safety Jordan Poyer intercepted in the third quarter.

Yet those types of game-changing plays have been rare for Edmunds in a defensive scheme that doesn’t aggressively deploy him very often.

 

The Bills picked up the fifth-year option on Edmunds’ rookie contract and are paying him $12.7 million. He could enter a free-agent market that will pay him substantially more.

Contract database Spotrac.com shows Edmunds has the highest base salary of any inside linebacker this season. At the moment, Buffalo also ranks fourth in 2023 defensive line spending, accounting for $50.8 million of next year’s salary cap space.

Something will have to give.

Edmunds’ rare combination of youth, experience and size is enthralling. His stature is imposing, and evaluators believe his game has room to grow.

“Avatar, that’s Tremaine,” New York Jets coach Robert Saleh said at the end of last season. “He’s like a unicorn in the linebacker world. The guy’s 6-foot-5. He’s got ridiculous length, speed, range, knock-back. He’s got all of it. There isn’t anything he doesn’t have.

“So he is special in every sense of the imagination. The amount of space he takes away just by his mere presence in the middle of the field is unlike anything that’s been seen in a very long time. I think (Brian) Urlacher would probably be one of those guys.”

But off-scrimmage linebackers now are making about $19 million a year. Although Edmunds lacks splashy stats, all it will take is one interested team to impede Buffalo’s hopes to re-sign him at a manageable price point.

A compromise must be struck, with Edmunds maybe taking a little less to stay and the Bills paying a little more than they’d like for a position they don’t consider a critical priority.

The Bills already have invested in their pass rush and in premier cover cornerback Tre’Davious White. They value elite safeties. And with quality players required to protect franchise quarterback Josh Allen and keep him flush with weapons, more money will tilt toward the offense in coming years.

Most damaging to the hopes of Edmunds and Buffalo staying together is a marketplace that three years ago went catawampus.

Bills general manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott know precisely what a superstar middle linebacker should look like from their days with the Carolina Panthers, when Luke Kuechly roamed. The first-ballot Hall of Famer retired early because of concussion concerns, but Kuechly’s last contract would have paid him an average of $12.3 million through last season.

But in 2019, the Etch A Sketch was shaken for non-scrimmage linebackers. The Jets lured C.J. Mosley away from the Baltimore Ravens with a five-year contract that averages $17 million.

Based on that hallmark, two play-making inside linebackers from Edmunds’ draft class signed boffo five-year extensions in 2021: The Indianapolis Colts extended three-time All-Pro Shaquille Leonard at an average of $19.7 million with $52.5 million in guarantees; the San Francisco 49ers kept Fred Warner, an All-Pro two seasons ago, at an average of $19 million with $45 million in guarantees.

Leonard and Warner were second- and third-round picks in 2018. The Bills traded up six slots to draft Edmunds 17th overall. They were eager to replace Preston Brown, who was out of NFL two seasons later and spent his final seven weeks bouncing around three teams.

Edmunds has proven to be a fine draft choice. Bills left guard Rodger Saffold, formerly of the Titans, used to worry about ways to stop Edmunds.

“We saw he was all over the field,” Saffold recalled a few days before Monday night’s game, “and usually with guys like that the discussion in the meeting room is, ‘Let’s keep this guy covered up so we can gain yards.’

“To get on top of him, you really have to focus on not getting out of control and being balanced. I know that’s what they’re talking about in the Titans’ meeting room: Get on this guy as fast as you can.”

Edmunds certainly was a problem for Tennessee, but as scintillating as his highlights were, such performances for him have been atypical.

 
 
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BUF - LB
Tremaine
 
Edmunds
CAREER REG. SEASON STATISTICS
GAMES
63
INT
4
PBU
29
FF
2
FR
0
SACKS
6.5
QBH
16
TFL
28
CAREER PLAYOFFS STATISTICS
GAMES
6
INT
0
PBU
3
FF
0
FR
1
SACKS
1
QBH
5
TFL
0

The sack Monday night was his first in 24 games. Edmunds hasn’t forced a fumble since the fifth start of his career, 68 games ago. He has one interception in his past 57 games.

“It’s always hard to creep into that next upper echelon where you become one of the greats,” Saffold said. “That just comes with doing what you need to do, consistently, day in and day out, which he has been doing. There is no ceiling for him.

“He hasn’t even reached his prime, and he’s already in Year 5.”

Spotrac co-founder and managing editor Michael Ginnitti considers Edmunds “a really tough case study, honestly.”

Another factor is Matt Milano, the Bills’ other linebacker, who last year signed an extension that averages $10.37 million through 2026. Milano, although smaller and injury-prone, is a ball hawk. He had a pick-six Monday night. Milano in his career has six interceptions, 28 pass breakups, two forced fumbles, seven recoveries, nine sacks, 31 quarterback hits and 46 tackles for losses in only nine more games than Edmunds.

“For my books,” Ginnitti said, “Edmunds has become almost solely a coverage defender and a really good one at that. But his poor run-defense metrics and lack of pass rush — at least in Leslie Frazier’s system — really limit his overall value.”

Ginnitti noted a “best-case scenario” for Edmunds would be Myles Jack’s second Jacksonville Jaguars contract, which averaged $14.25 million before they cut him as part of their rebuild.

Ginnitti predicted the Bills wouldn’t spend that much, though, and forecasted the club would be happy at four years for $50 million, with $24 million guaranteed at signing and two seasons guaranteed at $12 million each.

“We’re in a business,” Edmunds said last week. “You can only control what you can control. The biggest thing for me is to come out every day with a positive mindset and to work. I control my preparation, what I do every day at practice, every day inside this building, how I play on the field. Everything else is going to take care of itself.”

Buffalo has allocated deep funds toward its pass rush, and while we cannot expect repeated dominance like we saw opening night in Los Angeles — seven sacks, 16 quarterback hits — it’s obvious the organization values third-degree passer harassment.

Even without Von Miller last year, the Bills ranked second in Pro Football Focus’ pressure percentage (dropbacks impacted by hurries, hits and sacks), agitating quarterbacks 11.2 percent of the time.

Top pass-rushing teams, however, tend not to invest in middle linebackers.

2021 pressure percentage leaders - MLBs/ILBs
TEAM PFF % LINEBACKERS INT PD FF FR SACKS TFL QBH
11.4
Denzel Perryman
0
3
1
2
0
5
3
11.2
Tremaine Edmunds
1
4
0
0
0
7
1
11
Elandon Roberts
1
4
2
0
1
6
2
 
 
Jerome Baker
1
4
1
0
5.5
9
15
10.9
De'Vondre Campbell
2
5
2
1
2
6
6
 
 
Krys Barnes
0
4
0
2
1
4
1
10.9
Leighton Vander Esch
1
2
0
0
1
4
1
10.6
Fred Warner
0
4
1
3
0.5
7
3
10.4
Kenny Young
0
1
1
1
2
6
2
 
 
Ernest Jones
2
4
0
0
1
1
3
10.2
Devin White
0
3
0
1
3.5
8
18
 
 
Lavonte David
0
3
2
1
2
5
4
10.2
Ja'Whaun Bentley
0
2
3
0
1
5
5
9.9
Germaine Pratt
1
2
2
2
0.5
5
2
9.8
Anthony Walker
0
2
0
0
1
2
1
9.6
Nick Bolton
0
3
0
1
0
11
3
9.6
Myles Jack
0
0
0
0
0
3
2
 
 
Damien Wilson
1
5
1
0
3
5
5
9.6
Jermaine Carter
0
1
0
1
0
3
3
 
 
Frankie Luvu
0
1
1
3
1.5
8
5

Pressure percentage courtesy of Pro Football Focus

*3-4 base

The Las Vegas Raiders rated first in pass rushing at 11.4 percent, with middle linebacker Denzel Perryman registering zero sacks and three quarterback hits. Perryman also intercepted zero passes and broke up just three — although he did force a fumble and recovered two. He went to the Pro Bowl.

Of the 14 clubs that ranked above the league average in PFF’s pressure percentage, the San Francisco 49ers have the only 4-3 base defense with a middle linebacker among the NFL’s 25 highest-paid at his position.

Warner and San Francisco proved to be the exception, with a play-making, off-scrimmage linebacker on a successful 4-3 pass-rushing defense. Over his first four seasons, Warner notched three interceptions, one for a touchdown, five forced fumbles, six recoveries, 4.5 sacks, 17 quarterback hits and 22 tackles for losses.

(Leonard, meanwhile, is the nexus of Indy’s defense, which is slightly below average in pass rush efficiency and surrendered the eighth-most yards per play. Leonard last year recorded four interceptions, eight pass breakups, eight forced fumbles, three recoveries, zero sacks, four tackles for losses and three quarterback hits — a career stat line for other middle linebackers his age).

On that list of good pass-rushing teams, a smattering of 3-4 inside linebackers also are paid among the top 25, but the paychecks plummet even on decent defenses.

Lavonte David is making $12.5 million a year because he’s a 32-year-old Tampa Bay Buccaneers fixture who enjoyed great success early in his career. He’s tied for seventh in average salary with the Miami Dolphins’ Jerome Baker.

Green Bay Packers inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell is tied for ninth at $10 million, Jack (now with the Pittsburgh Steelers) is 13th at $8 million and Buccaneers inside linebacker Devin White ranks 14th at $7.33 million on his rookie deal.

For his part, Edmunds insisted he’s enjoying the ride too much to worry about his next contract and from where it will come.

“I don’t get too caught up in that stuff,” Edmunds said. “I’m here to win, and that’s where my focus is right now.

“We’ve got a great group of guys that trusts me. I trust them as well. What wakes us up every morning is the chance to win and compete at a high level.”

 

 

“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.”
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*The Bills picked up the fifth-year option on Edmunds’ rookie contract and are paying him $12.7 million.

*He could enter a free-agent market that will pay him substantially more.

 

The NFL is a business.   Contracts and salaries do matter.   AND, he is a linebacker.   So on paper you would let him test free agency, and hope you can sign him to team-friendly deal.

If some team stuffs his pockets, and he leaves, he is replaceable.   He is not Luke Kuechly.  

Or, you franchise tag him for one year.   That doesn't lock you into years of a high contract. 

I guess I would feel more wanting to keep him if he filled gaps quicker, and/or had more interceptions.   Name the games over the past 4 years he was a true difference maker and it meant the difference between winning or losing the game.

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Please name the games Tremaine Edmunds was a true "difference maker" over the last 4 years?

Not a game where he had 6 tackles and knocked down one pass.   All middle linebackers do that every week.   That is there job.

I am talking games where he got a pick 6 to turn the tide in the 3rd quarter and the momentum gave the Bills the win in a close game. 

Or a game where he had 16 tackles.   
Or a game where he strip sacked the QB, and the fumble was recovered by the Bills and the Bills scored 3 plays later to win by 4 points. 

Starting middle linebackers are going to have tackles every game.   They are right there in the middle of the field and some plays come right at them.  They will make a play once in awhile.

But what about difference making games

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