The Buffalo Bills were expecting a much better season than their 8-8 record implies and there were several games in which they crumbled late. With an owner that isn’t afraid to spend money to build a winner, Terry and Kim Pegula hired Rex Ryan to lead the Bills in 2015, but it wasn’t necessarily a success. As the team heads into the offseason, it is important to see where they sit with an exit interview.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Starting quarterback, rushing attack, linebacker corps, cornerback
Quarterback: The emergence of Tyrod Taylor as the Bills starting quarterback this season was a pleasant surprise that many fans never saw coming. And it was a good thing that Ryan brought him over to lead the Bills’ offense because EJ Manuel was too inconsistent in the past and he can learn from Taylor as a veteran NFL player. In his fifth season, Taylor threw for 3,035 yards, 20 touchdowns, six interceptions, a 63.7 completion percentage, a 99.4 QBR, 568 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns in 14 games.
Rushing: The Bills had the No. 1 ranked rushing attack in the NFL this season and it was something that Ryan said would happen at the beginning of the season. The Bills picked up LeSean McCoy in a trade with the Eagles and drafted RB Karlos Williams in the 2015 NFL Draft. They also signed Mike Gillislee late in the season when McCoy and Williams were banged up. As a team, the Bills had 509 carries for 2,432 yards, a 4.8 average and 19 rushing touchdowns while averaging 152.0 yards per game.
Linebackers: After parting ways with LB Kiko Alonso last offseason in a trade with the Eagles, the Bills linebackers were a question mark. Although the rise of MLB Preston Brown in his first two years made the transition a little easier for the team with Alonso’s departure, and Brown was tied for the team lead in interceptions (2) in 2015. The only need here might be depth at the position, but the grouping of Brown and Nigel Bradham is a solid duo to build around; re-signing Brown is an important piece to the puzzle though..
Cornerback: With the addition of Ronald Darby, the Bills chose a player that was a variable for the defensive secondary. Now that the season has ended for Buffalo, it is apparent that Darby and Stephon Gilmore can be a cornerback duo that is a legitimate threat every time the ball is in the air. While they only combined for five interceptions, they also had 39 passes defensed between them. If safety Aaron Williams can come back from a neck injury in 2016 there is a possibility that the Bills’ secondary could be one of the best with another solid starting safety.
Defensive line, offensive line, defensive coordinator
Defensive Line: Having a defensive line with Kyle Williams (injured), Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes should lead a defense to have more than 21.0 combined sacks. The Bills had trouble pressuring opposing quarterbacks this season, which was not the case the past few seasons. If Mario Williams is cut this offseason, it still doesn’t cure the lack of sacks by the defense and their stout defensive line. They can slide Manny Lawson into Williams role and get as much pressure on the quarterback and save $12 million a year.
Offensive Line: The offensive line was better than it has been and it helps when you have a mobile quarterback like Taylor. With that being said, they need to get better at the position through free agency and the draft.
Defensive Coordinator: Ryan usually has a solid defense on his teams and Dennis Thurman knows defense too. If that is the case, why did the Bills suffer mightily on that side of the ball this season? If the defense isn’t addressed properly, it won’t matter how good the offense is. Former Bills’ defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has been fired by the Browns and could come back to the Bills as their DC. Jim Schwartz is also still hanging around, and they both have proved to work wonders with the Bills. Don’t count on them having a reunion anytime soon though.
Players to re-sign:
G Richie Incognito
G Cordy Glenn
LB Nigel Bradham
DB Bacarri Rambo
Free agent targets (-$373,991 2016 projected cap space):
2016 NFL First Round Draft targets:
OT Taylor Decker (Ohio State)
DE Shaq Lawson (Clemson)
OLB Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame)
Read Salute Magazine‘s other NFL exit interviews:
AFC West: San Diego Chargers