The Buffalo Bills defense! With Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier at the helm, it’s a predictably well-coached and disciplined unit. They were just that last season: fine, coming in with the 12th-ranked unit by DVOA. But for all of the good work they did on the chalkboard, this defense needs more talent at all three levels.
With critical free agents in Josh Norman, Matt Milano, Trent Murphy, and maybe Levi Wallace, the Bills have some internal housekeeping to do before they can figure out just how aggressive they’ll get in free agency. But for a team that was one game off of the Super Bowl and lucked into another year with Brian Daboll at the helm of the offense, I’d expect them to get aggressive.
A couple of big free agent additions could push this team over the edge and put both units near or at the top of the AFC. So I went for big swings that may come with a hefty price tag, but if the Bills hit on just one, it could provide the jolt on defense that they need. Let’s get aggressive.
J.J. Watt, EDGE, Houston Texans
My favorite landing spot for Watt is in Buffalo. I think the culture fit is great, as Watt leaves a team in fragments and goes to a team with complete oneness of mind in Buffalo. The Bills are a Super Bowl contender for as long as Josh Allen and Daboll stay elite, but they need an improvement to their pass rush to consistently beat playoff-caliber teams. Watt is that improvement.
Watt also fits the mold of what they’re looking for at the position. The Bills added Mario Addison in free agency and A.J. Epenesa in the draft in an effort to secure a big end with interior rush ability to play opposite Jerry Hughes. Watt is an immediate improvement over both, and with that depth considered, he won’t need to play 100% of the snaps—which should increase his likelihood of staying healthy late into the season.
Signing Watt to an incentive-laden, short-term deal is the move of a competitor—something the Bills have been hoping to be for quite some time. This is a big step for them.
Romeo Okwara, EDGE, Detroit Lions
If the Bills are unable to win the Watt sweepstakes, there’s another large defensive end who’s younger, coming off his best season as a pro, and may even be cheaper when it’s all said and done: Romeo Okwara.
Okwara was a well-kept secret by a bad Lions team last season, as his 10 sacks went largely underappreciated and the true dominance of his pass-rush arsenal went similarly unnoticed. Okwara blossomed in what was only his second season as a healthy starter, pulling together the length, power, and quickness that has made him an intriguing development prospect for the last few seasons. Now that things are coming together, he’s ready for a deserved payday.
Okwara has availability concerns like Watt, but he can rotate with Addison, Hughes, and Epenesa to keep the snap count down while becoming the Bills’ go-to one-on-one pass-rusher.
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Indianapolis Colts
If you rewind the clock to 2013, you’ll see that Rhodes was drafted by the Frazier-led Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings fired Frazier after the 2013 season, and Rhodes became a strong starter for the Mike Zimmer-led Vikings for the duration of his rookie contract. But initially, he was a Frazier (and general manager Rick Spielman) selection.
Frazier is now the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator in Buffalo, and Rhodes is a free agent after a one-year prove-it deal with the Colts went fairly well. Injuries have sapped some of Rhodes’ athletic ability, but he’s well-suited for Cover 2 play that will allow him to use his size in the contact window and quality zone eyes in short zones. Rhodes should be an improvement on last year’s veteran redux in Josh Norman—though really, the Bills would ideally address the position with a quality draft pick.