The Buffalo Bills enter the offseason on a mission to find the final puzzle pieces necessary to go on another deep postseason run in 2022—ideally, this time not stalling out when matched up with the Kansas City Chiefs. The challenging part of that proposition is that general manager Brandon Beane delivered a Super-Bowl-caliber roster in 2021 but the egregious mismanagement of the final 13 seconds of the divisional round playoff loss to the Chiefs cost the Bills the opportunity to advance further in the playoffs.
With every new league year comes expiring contracts and opportunities to address needs. While the Bills aren’t armed with much in the way of salary-cap space, there are several common-sense moves that can be made with existing contracts to give Buffalo some money to use in free agency. Let’s examine three options on offense and three on defense that should be targets for Buffalo.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Washington Commanders
The Bills enjoyed the security of Mitchell Trubisky as the backup to Josh Allen in 2021, but Trubisky is expected to sign with a team in free agency that offers him a legitimate opportunity to start after a rehab year in Buffalo. His departure creates a massive need at backup quarterback and the Bills don’t have anyone else on the roster. Buffalo’s roster is too good for there to not be a legitimate backup to Allen, who plays the game in a way that lends itself to injury despite having good fortune in that regard over the last three seasons.
Ryan Fitzpatrick would be perfect if he’s willing to accept a role as a backup where he has no chance to start. A former Bill that has often raved about his time in Buffalo, Fitzpatrick was at the Bills’ home playoff game against the New England Patriots where he was shirtless in frigid temperatures cheering on his former team. If Fitzpatrick wants to play another season in the NFL after missing virtually the entire 2021 season with injury, going to Buffalo to be part of a championship run as Allen’s backup makes a lot of sense for both parties.
Cordarrelle Patterson, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Devin Singletary finished the 2021 season as one of the hottest running backs in the NFL after taking over as the lead option for the Buffalo offense. The Bills have typically embraced a committee approach when it comes to the running back position, but Zach Moss and Matt Breida proved to be unreliable options.
While Singletary has earned the opportunity to continue as the featured back, Buffalo needs depth and Cordarrelle Patterson offers a useful skill set for the Bills. Not only can Patterson serve as another worthy ball-carrier alongside Singletary, he’s a multifaceted weapon that can also line up at receiver in addition to being an exceptional kick returner.
The Bills were last in the NFL in yards after catch per reception in 2021, which is a metric Patterson can affect with how the Bills can utilize him in the passing game. They also have a need at kick returner. Patterson should be a high priority for the Bills to diversify the offense and introduce a skill set that currently cannot be found among the current skill players on the depth chart.
Will Dissly, TE, Seattle Seahawks
Buffalo carried only two tight ends on the active roster last season. One was Dawson Knox, who delivered a breakout season and is entrenched as the team’s starter. The other was 2019 seventh-round pick Tommy Sweeney who, after 12 games, was a healthy inactive for Buffalo and the Bills opted to only dress one tight end on game days—something I have never seen before in my time covering the NFL.
The need for depth behind Knox is obvious. And while I don’t expect the Bills to suddenly become a heavy 12-personnel offense, Buffalo does like to flex Knox into the slot and even use him occasionally out of the backfield. The Bills are more than willing to use a reserve offensive line as a “big tight end,” but Buffalo clearly needs more depth at the actual tight end position.
Will Dissly is a terrific candidate for the Bills to consider in free agency. He is an exceptional blocking tight end that can handle basic functions catching the football, which is all the Bills need behind Knox who is emerging as a dynamic pass-catching talent.
Sidney Jones, CB, Seattle Seahawks
Already paying notable money for Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Taron Johnson, and Tre White in the secondary, the Bills need a lower-cost option to balance out the spending when it comes to the defensive backfield. Levi Wallace has been a reliable starter for the Bills but is likely looking to maximize his earnings potential in free agency by testing the market. If the Bills and Wallace agree on contract value, I could easily see him back, but as a former UDFA and quality starter for a top passing defense that has his best opportunity for a big-money deal, Wallace could find another team to be the highest bidder.
Should Wallace’s playing days be over in Buffalo, the Bills will need to find a starting-caliber option in free agency, especially with White coming off an ACL tear that he had surgery for in December. With a 9-12 month expected recovery time, that puts the start of the 2022 season in jeopardy for White.
A bargain option the Bills should target in free agency is Sidney Jones. A former 2017 second-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jones battled injuries over the first two seasons. He gained more playing time in 2018 and 2019 with the Eagles and flashed before signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020. He again had plenty of positive moments and was traded early in the 2021 season to the Seattle Seahawks where his game really took off after becoming a starter in Week 4.
Jones is an excellent zone corner and tackler that has the foot speed and quickness to play in man coverage. While the Bills play mostly zone, Buffalo showed a willingness to use more man coverage in 2021 so the schematic versatility that Jones offers is ideal.
Jones is only 25 years old and I can see his career skyrocketing in Buffalo where Sean McDermott, Leslie Frazier, and John Butler have an incredible track record of developing defensive backs.
DaQuan Jones, IDL, Carolina Panthers
The Bills enter the offseason with questions at 1-technique with Harrison Phillips’ contract set to expire and Star Lotulelei struggling to be available for the team. Even if Phillips is re-signed, the questions surrounding Lotulelei create a need for more options alongside Ed Oliver—and the Bills like to rotate defensive linemen.
DaQuan Jones is an ideal target. After an excellent stretch as a starter for the Tennessee Titans from 2014-2020, Jones spent the 2021 campaign in Carolina where he performed well. Jones is a 6-foot-4, 320-pound run-stopper that the Bills can play in the a-gaps and become stouter against the run. He knows how to maintain his run fits and is an unselfish player in terms of his willingness to eat blocks and enable the second level to trigger downhill. The Bills need a player like that and Jones would be a welcomed addition.
Whitney Mercilus, EDGE, Green Bay Packers
In Gregory Rousseau, AJ Epenesa, and Boogie Basham, the Bills have recently invested a first-round selection and two second-round selections to infuse the defensive end depth chart with much-needed youth. Rousseau and Epenesa were the Bills' top picks in 2021 and 2020, respectively.
While the young talent is appealing, the trio hasn’t proven much and they are all that remain on the depth chart. Veterans Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison, and Efe Obada are all expiring contracts and McDermott is renowned for wanting to have a veteran in every position room. Perhaps Hughes or Addison return and fill that role, but if that’s not the case, the Bills will have to look elsewhere and Whitney Mercilus is an intriguing option that may be able to be had on a value deal.
A first-round pick of the Houston Texans in 2012, Mercilus went from signing a four-year, $53.5 million deal in December 2019 to being released in October 2021—he only played in 19 games under that new extension. He signed a modest one-year, $1.1 million contract with the Green Bay Packers just two days after his release from the Texans. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn bicep in Week 10 which ended his season just four games after signing in Green Bay.
At 31 years old and not far removed from delivering high-impact seasons in Houston, Mercilus could be the perfect veteran to add to the young mix of defensive ends in Buffalo.