Weighing the Pros and Cons of Buffalo's Top Free-Agent Targets
With the likely departure of Jairus Byrd, the Buffalo Bills front office will need to have a strong offseason to bring back up the spirits of the fanbase.
This doesn't mean it needs to sign the top free agent available but focus instead on signing free agents who can contribute and help eliminate weaknesses.
It will not be an easy task as there are a number of holes within the roster, particularly at offensive line, tight end, linebacker and probably free safety (depending on what happens to Byrd). All these positions will not be able to be filled in free agency. If the team is able to address a few before the draft, it will allow them to be more flexible in May.
This list breaks down the positive and negatives of those free agents and which could play a role in whether the Bills will pursue them or not.
ILB Brandon Spikes
At the NFL Scouting Combine, general manager Doug Whaley floated the idea out there that they believe Kiko Alonso would excel as a weak-side linebacker. This would open up a glaring hole at inside linebacker and a player like Brandon Spikes would seem to be the best fit.
The biggest reason Buffalo would consider signing New England's Brandon Spikes is that he is the best linebacker available in stopping the run. Last year, the Bills defense struggled to stop the run, giving up 128.9 rushing yards per game, and surrendering a number of long rushing plays.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Spikes missed only four tackles last year and finished with the best rating against the run among inside linebackers. His stats are even more impressive considering he didn't have Vince Wilfork, who generally commands the attention of numerous offensive linemen, playing in front of him.
There are two big issues that come with the signing of Brandon Spikes: pass coverage and potential injuries.
While he excelled in run defense, his pass-coverage ability is not as stellar, and this could prevent him from being a three-down linebacker. Last year he was thrown at 27 times while in coverage and allowed 18 receptions for 191 yards.
The other concern the Bills could have about signing Spikes is the fact that he finished the year on injured reserve. However, whether he was really hurt enough to be designated for IR is open to debate. According to Michael Whitmer of The Boston Globe, Spikes did not want to go on IR at the end of the year, and it was not a mutual decision as the Patriots had initially said.
As long as he is cleared medically by doctors, this should not be a major concern for the Bills when deciding to pursue Spikes.
RT Zach Strief
Addressing the Bills offensive line should be a major focus of the front office this offseason, as left tackle and center are for the time being the only two positions the Bills needn't worry about.
A player like Zach Strief could instantly add some stability at the right side and keep EJ Manuel a little more upright.
Zach Strief finished the year as the league's best right tackle, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), with an overall grade of plus-26.5. This positive rating was largely due to his ability as a pass-blocker where he finished third among all tackles (first among right tackles) with a rating of plus-21.1, giving up only three sacks last year.
Even though Strief is one of the better tackles available on the market, the Bills still should have some concerns. The first is that 31-year-old is getting up there in age, and if the Bills sign him to a long-term deal, they may wonder if he can perform at a high level over the course of the contract.
The other concern is whether Strief is really a major upgrade over current right tackle Erik Pears. Pass-blocking was not necessarily Pears downfall (he had a rating of 5.6) but rather run-blocking where he finished near the bottom of the NFL with a rating of -15.2.
Run-blocking is not Strief's strong suit as he was average at best finishing the season with a rating -0.1. It is clear that Strief is a better player than Pears at right tackle, but does he improve the offensive line enough to validate the substantial contract he would receive in free agency.
OG Jon Asamoah
The guard position is another part of the roster the Bills must address this offseason, particularly on the left side. The front office was never able to find an adequate replacement for Andy Levitre, and this failure had a profound effect on the offensive line's effectiveness throughout 2013.
This is why a player like Jon Asamoah would be a great target for the Bills.
At only 26 years of age, Jon Asamoah still has a great deal of football ahead of him and should continue to develop into one of the better guards in the NFL. Last year, the Bills guards allowed 45 (38 percent) of the team's 118 quarterback hurries. Pass protection is one of Asamoah's better attributes, as he surrendered only 13 quarterback hurries last year.
The biggest red flag associated with Asamoah is the fact that he did lose his starting job this past year when he went down with an injury Week 11. This doesn't necessarily mean he was playing poorly last year, but rather his replacement, Geoff Schwartz, played exceptionally in his absence.
S Louis Delmas
With the Bills deciding not to franchise tag Jairus Byrd, they are now in the market for a free safety. It will be tough for the front office to find a player of Byrd's caliber but one player who could be his replacement is former Detroit Lion Louis Delmas.
The first, and probably biggest positive, is the fact that Delmas already knows new the defense of new Bills coordinator Jim Schwartz, former head coach of the Lions. There will not be a major learning curve for Delmas when compared to some of the other players.
More importantly is the fact that he has played pretty well in this defense while in Detroit. Last year, he had three interceptions, and according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Delmas finished with a solid pass coverage rating of 5.4.
At only 26 years of age, he should just be starting to enter his prime and could be the perfect replacement for Byrd.
The biggest issue with Delmas is that his aggressiveness and tendency to take poor angles leaves him susceptible to giving up big plays.
Last year he had the lowest completion percentage against among safeties at 43.8 percent, allowing only 14 receptions on 32 targets. However, he gave up 313 yards and allowed an NFL worst 22.4 yards-per-catch average.