We finish this 2 part series with the offseason plan with the defense. Last season the Bills defense took a giant step forward as the stench of Rex and Rob Ryan was no more and Sean McDermott changed the scheme to more something that the Bills were better fit for. However there is still some areas they could improve.
The Bills struggled to rush the passer in 2017 as their team leader in sacks only had four. Jerry Hughes didn’t revert back to 2013-2014 form where he was part of one of the best defensive lines in football and could very well be a cap casualty. Shaq Lawson was the best against the run on the defensive line and while he will never be a double digit sack guy, 6-8 sacks a year is very possible. Outside of those two, the Bills really have no depth at the edge. Ryan Davis was decent as a rotational end and Lorenzo Alexander will probably move back to defensive end after being a weird hybrid the past year. Sean McDermott’s defense were known for rushing the passer in Carolina he was consistently in the top 10 in sacks. However this year the Bills were in the bottom in sacks. A true edge pass rusher will definitely be needed but I’m expecting that to be in the draft and not free agency. But pass rush is the most important need behind QB for the Bills.
The biggest target for the Bills will be at defensive tackle to replace Marcell Dareus who is a big hole to fill. I’m expecting the Bills to go after Star Lotulelei who McDermott used to coach in Carolina to replace him. Star will be a good anchor in the middle of the defense and with Kyle Williams expected to retire in the near future, could become the leader of the defensive line as well. Star would fill a big need as outside of Kyle Williams who might come back, the Bills lack depth in the defensive line with the only real depth being Adolphous Washington. The good news is the Bills seem to do a very good job at finding defensive tackle depth and I expect this to be a bargain free agent move or late draft picks. If they miss out on Star, I expect the Bills to go draft one in the 1st round.
The Bills linebacker position in 2018 will be led by Matt Milano who played well down the stretch to entrench himself to be the starting Weakside Linebacker. He is also the most athletic linebacker on the team and the only one who isn’t a liability in coverage. Preston Brown is the key free agent for the Bills and I expect him to be let go. Brown is very good at getting tackles and solid against the run but he is a liability in coverage and I expect Jim Schwartz to try to lure him into Philly. A true middle linebacker will be a need especially someone who is solid in coverage. Unless Luke Kuechly is cut, the draft is where the Bills look to address it. Other than that, the Bills might get some backup linebackers but outside of Milano, the rest of the linebacking position needs a total makeover.
Last year the Bills made some big signings in safety Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Both played exceptionally well and Poyer has to be a priority re-signing. At cornerback EJ Gaines will be a free agent and when healthy was solid. However Gaines might get overpaid by some either team and with his health concerns, I wouldn’t give him anything more than a two year deal. Leonard Johnson is someone I would re-sign as he was a solid depth corner who played well when forced into duty. With the zone defense the Bills play I expect them to focus on getting cheap corners as there is less athleticism required and they already have a really good #1 corner in Tre White. The secondary will probably be the area with the least activity.
Overall the front seven should be the offseason priority for the Bills as they are a few pieces away from having a dominating defense that could win games by itself. The pass rush is the area where the biggest boost is needed and I expect the Bills to try to upgrade that whether through the draft, free agency or scheming pressure better.