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CAPACCIO: Bills UFAs - Linebackers

By Sal Capaccio

Twitter: @SalSports


The Bills have 23 unrestricted free agents set to hit the open market next month. This week, I’ll be summarizing and stating what I think the team’s approach should be with each one.  

Today, a look at the linebackers:

OLB Lorenzo Alexander

Let’s face it.  If Alexander had been signed for the vet minimum by the Patriots then had the season he did, he’d be the poster child as another example of how they’re the greatest ever at finding talent at cheap rates.  But I digress.  The point is, Alexander was an afterthought as a free agent signing last offseason, then was one of the best defensive players in the entire league for most of the year.  At 33 years old, he had a career year, finishing third in the league with 12.5 sacks on top of playing at a very high special teams level.  He was rewarded by being named to the Pro Bowl.  Even without those accolades, Alexander would be great to have back simply for his locker room presence and leadership.  But with the season he had, there’s no way the Bills can have him for the same veteran minimum they did last year.  He’s going to command a lot more money.  The questions are how much more and where does he fit in the new 4-3 Under defensive scheme?  He could very well be a strong side option depending how Sean McDermott and Leslie Frasier see other backers and their roles.  Alexander hasn’t played nearly as many snaps as a lot of other players his age, and takes great care of his body.  So his age should matter somewhat, but shouldn’t force the Bills to dismiss him for another year or two.  He isn’t irreplaceable, but he’d certainly be a nice piece to keep in the fold.  This will be a tricky one.   

Verdict: If the current staff feels Alexander can start on the new defense, but not a third-down player, they should offer him a two year deal at the going rate for a starting 4-3 OLB, which is between $3-4 million/year, with a chance to make more through incentives.  If they see him playing on third downs, as well, then it should be closer to $5 million/year.  However, if he wants starting edge-rusher type of money because of the season he had (which is understandable from his perspective), that will be upwards of $5-6 million/year and too much for the Bills to swallow.  Especially since that’s not where he projects to play for them in a 4-3.

OLB Zach Brown

There are a lot of similarities between Brown’s and Alexander’s situation.  Both were signed to cheap one-year deals and both had career years.  In Brown’s case, he was at the top of the NFL in total tackles most of the season, finishing second in the league and leading the Bills with 149 of them.  But, the differences are Brown’s age (he’ll only be 27 when next season begins) and the fact that he not only has a spot on this defense, but he’s actually exactly what it calls for - an athletic linebacker who can cover in the passing game.  In fact, with Reggie Ragland and Preston Brown both most likely either starting or playing a lot somewhere at LB, the Bills desperately need more of what Brown offers at the position.  Neither of the others is nearly as fast or has the same ability to cover.  Brown will be cashing in on free agency at the perfect time for him…..and the worst time for the Bills.  They don’t have much flexibility with there salary cap and would probably have to be creative to retain Brown.  But that’s exactly what they should at least try to do.

Verdict: Try to retain Brown with a 3-4 year deal so they can give him enough money upfront to make it worthwhile for him, and have the ability to spread the money over the life of the deal for salary cap purposes.

ILB Ramon Humber

Humber signed for the vet minimum last year with the sole purpose to be a core special teams player, and that’s exactly what he was.  He actually led the Bills playing over 72% of the team’s special teams snaps and very little on defense (less than 6% of plays).  No reason he’ll be signed by any team for anything more than that again.

Verdict: There are plenty of players every offseason just like Humber who can be signed for the veteran minimum.  They should offer that to him but not care if he chooses to go elsewhere.

Update - After this article was published, the Bills re-signed Humber to a one-year, veteran minimum deal.

OLB Lerentee McCray

McCray is very similar to Humber as far as contribution in 2016, but actually playing more as a backup on defense, lining up for about 15% of snaps.  He was third on the team playing 55% of the special teams plays, and that’s even with missing three games near the end of the season with a concussion.  However, McCray is still only 26 years old and the Bills actually gave up an asset to get him.  He’s the reason they do not have a seventh round draft pick this year, after they traded it to the Packers for him.  So, there’s some investment there.  McCray can also play both 3-4 OLB and 4-3 DE, so he should be a little higher on their list of players to call than Humber.  The good news is since McCray now has four years in the league he qualifies for the vet minimum cap benefit.  The Bills can give him a cash raise to the minimum for a four year player, which will be $775K, but only have $615K count against the cap. 

Verdict: Make McCray a “high priority veteran minimum” player.  He should be one of the first players fitting that profile the team wants back.

ILB Brandon Spikes

A fan favorite over his two seasons in Buffalo (he was out of football in 2015), Spikes was used sparingly in Rex Ryan’s defense or on special teams last year, and was even inactive several games.  And considering Sean McDermott’s scheme prefers athletic linebackers who can run, he’s not a very good fit as a true MLB for them, which is what he would be in that defense.  That said, Jim Schwartz wasn’t afraid to use Spikes on 3rd and long situations in the middle while using nickel personnel since Spikes only had to cover a smaller zone area and could still watch for any draws or screens.  McDermott could do the same with him if he wanted to keep a player that shouldn’t cost a lot to retain and then have a veteran backup MLB to either Reggie Ragland or Preston Brown.

Verdict: Spikes will probably be a street free agent most of the offseason, if he gets signed anywhere at all.  He won’t have teams beating down his door.  He should only be an option for the Bills to resign if there’s a shortage at the middle linebacker spot when training camp comes around - or during camp - due to injury or other circumstances.

See more UFA reports and verdicts:

Offensive Skill Position Players

Offensive and Defensive Linemen

Follow me on Twitter @SalSports

02/15/2017 3:51PM
CAPACCIO: Bills UFAs - Linebackers
Please enter your comments below.
02/15/2017 4:47PM
Looking better
Not much crab here.
02/15/2017 5:01PM
Zo & Zack are no-brainers,I'd like to see them both back.They need a healthy Ragland and another FA that can play better against the run.Our run D was terrible last year,nobody could tackle worth a ****!
02/15/2017 6:44PM
High Priority To Keep Zach and Lorenzo...
They were among the few on the defense who played well for most of the year. The Bills should make them the best offer possible, and make sure that they keep at least one of these guys.
02/15/2017 8:48PM
Sal Sal Sal
So that what Billy Buffalo thinks? Nice Job
02/16/2017 2:21AM
Lorenzo Alexander...
Let him walk. He'll be 34 years old, and I don't buy the "less wear and tear" BS. He's 34 and has played 10 seasons, constantly having to switch positions and gain/lose weight. He's too slow to play 4-3 OLB and I certainly wouldn't want him taking snaps from Shaq Lawson. And if he thinks he's worth $5M-$10M a year, that's comical. If Whaley gave that to him, he should be fired on the spot. If he wants to sign for one year at $2M, sure, let him stay, otherwise he's not worth keeping around here. The only one worth keeping is Zach Brown.
02/16/2017 8:43AM
OK with letting go of Alexander
He's was a nice story last year and made some really impressive plays. But he's old, and it looks like at any minute his bicep is just going to explode. His special teams play is nice to have, but we're already against the cap so it'stough. Maybe this station should drug test Bulldog because it's no secret he smokes marijuana and has used cocaine before. Really hoping something bad happens to him and his family.
02/16/2017 9:21AM
build the defense
Ryan destroyed the one we had.
02/16/2017 9:38AM
MIKE GLENNON: Buffalo Bills: 5 Potential Free Agent Signings This Offseason
Wow this guy is a real piece of vomit. Good going Terry and Douglas. Watch ticket sales TANK faster than a toilets tank
02/16/2017 9:53AM
Terrys son needs to run the Bills
So were going to cut Shady? WHY? Release TYROD? WHY? Etc., etc. All you guys do is promote false hope and false promises in excellence that never arrives. How them Sabres doing? Seems that you have a mutiny on hand. One thing that is a constant is that you hire General Managers who spend money like drunken sailors on roached out players and they in turn cant hire the right coach. You guys are so smitten with yourselves you put both teams into situations that backfire because your timing is always wrong and you end up overpaying or miss firing on a coaching hire. How's Jimmy Vesey doing. He figured out that your organization smells just like many other veteran free agents
02/16/2017 9:57AM
True or false? Is this really fake news? Just look into the mirror and click your heels three times and wish your were not in Buffalo any more. This guy needs to get his screws tightened in his head. He's like a Cheektowaga hunter out hunting at scattered sounds with shots all over the place. That's why I quit hunting back in '98
02/16/2017 10:03AM
Lets HOLD a PARADE when they resign Marquise Goodman
Another BUST compliments of Buddy Hicks with strong support by Douglas Whaley. Whaley propped up EJ for several years and thanks to Rex they kept Goodwin around. Well Goodwin, Rex likes you so much you can become his full time car washer since he has enough money. Then again maybe will by a car wash and you can manage it.
02/16/2017 10:08AM
Pennsylvania State University and CREEPS
Simply DISGUSTING relating to the fall of the 2nd Sandusky. HEY JOE SAY IT AINT SO!
02/16/2017 12:18PM
The reason the Bills are in cap jail was Whaley overspent on players not performing up to the money the Bills gave them.
02/16/2017 12:41PM
Get MORE Salary Cap SPACE
Restructure the contracts of Dareus and McCoy, and every other super high salaried players who aren't delivering the value of their contracts. Both players mentioned may be "good" players, but they are not giving the Bills the value of what they're paying for. In Dareus' case, it's because he's underperforming (renders himself unavailable to the Bills due to misconduct suspensions and avoidable injuries [various pulls and strains] as a result of lazily and irresponsibly failing to stay properly conditioned). In Shady's case, it's not so much any "fault" or "underperformance" on his part (although he, like everyone, has occasional marginal games); rather, in his case, it's mostly an issue of the modern NFL offense no longer placing the same premium value/use on the RB position as the NFL offenses of yesteryear did. In today's NFL, essentially NO running back ought to gobble up as much salary cap space out of a team's total salary cap pie as our starting RB does. To be a competitive team with a shot at the playoffs, the Bills must reallocate the salary structure to keep a greater number of quality players in the fold. If the disproportionally high-salaried players aren't willing to restructure their contracts to improve the TEAM, they need to no longer be on the team. And the front office "executives" who made the bad deals to hamstring the team need to walk the plank.
02/16/2017 10:09PM
Zack Brown
Gotta re-sign Zack, He's a "McDermott" MLB, a poor man's Kuechle. Unfortunately, Preston Brown AND Ragland are not. Both are 3-4 ILB's, too slow for a 4-3 under defense at any LB position
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Are you sold on Robin Lehner as the Sabres #1 goalie?
  Yes. His play the last 2 months has sold me.
  Not yet. I need to see him play well/stay healthy the rest of the season.
  No. He's not the answer. I wouldn't re-sign him.
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