Through the first few days of the free agency signing period last week, my reaction to the moves from the Buffalo Bills was "meh". It changed when the Bills added Brandon Spikes.
It was hard to get excited about the signings of Chris Williams and Keith Rivers, a pair of former first round draft picks about to play for their third NFL team. I liked the addition of Corey Graham but it still wasn't worthy of a text to your buddy saying "Hey! Guess who the Bills just signed?"
Spikes has been the best player out of the group, fills a need on the Bills defense, should make the biggest impact out of the four and should certainly be motivated after signing just a one year deal.
The Bills needed to get tougher and more physical in the linebacking corps and Spikes will bring those attributes. One of the top off season priorities has been to improve the run defense and the former Patriot graded out as the best run stuffing inside linebacker in the NFL the last two years according to Profootballfocus.com.
The story out of New England is that Spikes isn't an every down player and he could be a liability on passing downs. I don't care since he doesn't need to be out there on passing downs. The Bills, like most teams in the NFL, don't have three linebackers on the field for every down due to sub packages. All I need Spikes to do is be a monster inside when it comes to run defense. There are other linebackers who can handle coverage responsibilities, with Kiko Alonso being at the top of the list.
Spikes coming in to play middle linebacker in what is expected to be a 4-3 defense from new coordinator Jim Schwartz, allows the Bills to move Alonso to the outside. As much fun as it was to watch Alonso make plays inside last season, his speed and playmaking ability might be better suited outside. Spikes also comes in with a chip on his shoulder as his time in New England didn't end well. I'm sure he'd love to knock off Bill Belichick and the Patriots and since he is playing on a one year deal, you know Spikes will be driven to have a big season before heading back out on the free agent market next March.
As to the other signings, I'm skeptical on the addition of Williams and Rivers. Williams was shown the door in Chicago and even though he was the only Rams offensive lineman to play in every game last season, St. Louis didn't seem to make re-signing him a priority. It would seem the Williams move means the Bills will at least be better off at left guard than they were last season but that shouldn't take much.
Rivers' story is similar to Williams. Rivers, who was drafted by Cincinnati, was traded by the Bengals to the New York Giants but they decided they'd seen enough after last season. The book on Rivers claims he can handle himself against the run, which again is something the Bills needed, but isn't much on passing downs. Despite that, Bills GM Doug Whaley told WGR they envision Rivers as an every down player. We shall see.
It will be interesting to see what role Graham will have this season. He could be anywhere from starting opposite Stephon Gilmore, to nickel corner to fourth corner. Leodis McKelvin is the incumbent and is coming off a strong season but I can definitely see the Bills saying that spot is open for competition and let the best man win the job. Nickell Robey was a revelation last season, coming in as an undrafted free agent and solidifying the nickel spot. The depth chart after that was shaky so Graham certainly helps in that area and if he doesn't start, he can easily take over if there's a run of injuries at cornerback as was the case last season.
Improving special teams was another item on the Bills list of things to do this off season and Graham will help there too. A former special teams Pro Bowler, Graham played on the four main units during his time in Baltimore.
Are the Bills done in free agency? Perhaps not. I would think they're looking at the possibility of bringing in a veteran safety at least for depth purposes. Jairus Byrd's departure opened up a starting spot but the team has not re-signed free agent Jim Leonhard so maybe they look to fill his spot.
I'd still like to see them address the offensive tackle position although the ship has probably sailed for getting a starter at that spot. Its more likely the Bills will make a move for tackle help in the draft.