A breakdown of the first week of free agency for the Buffalo Bills:
Most significant signing: Safety Micah Hyde. The Bills released both of their starting safeties, Aaron Williams and Corey Graham, in the opening days of free agency. They signed Hyde to a five-year, $30.5 million deal and former Cleveland Browns safety Jordan Poyer to a four-year, $13 million contract. Hyde played both cornerback and safety for the Green Bay Packers and returned punts, which makes him valuable to Buffalo in several areas of need. If all goes well for new coach Sean McDermott, he scouted and found two safeties who will be able to run his defensive scheme from the back end. That position was a disaster for Rex Ryan last season after Williams suffered his second season-ending neck injury.
Most significant loss: Cornerback Stephon Gilmore. From the time Gilmore sat out organized team activities last spring, it was clear that the Bills and their top cornerback were far apart on contract negotiations. Their decision not to assign him the $14 million franchise tag this offseason was the final indication that they were ready to let Gilmore go to the highest bidder. The shock came when the typically stingy New England Patriots gave Gilmore the massive deal he was seeking: five years, $65 million with $40 million guaranteed. The Bills were not going to pay Gilmore that money, but now they will have to play him twice every season. They also have yet to find a replacement starting cornerback, with 2016 sixth-round pick Kevon Seymour penciled in as the new starter opposite Ronald Darby.
Player they should have signed: Linebacker A.J. Klein. One of the common regrets Ryan expressed after his defense struggled in Buffalo was that he did not bring along a former player to "translate" the scheme to his new players -- as he did by signing former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard to the New York Jets in 2009. One of McDermott's former players, Klein, was available as a free agent before signing a four-year, $24 million contract with the New Orleans Saints. McDermott knows Klein better than anyone, but one has to wonder whether signing Klein would have made for a smoother transition for the entire defense to McDermott's scheme. The Bills have a pair of starting-quality linebackers in Preston Brown and Reggie Ragland, yet that position could still use help.
What’s next: While contract details on a few of the Bills' free-agent signings have yet to be filed, the team is expected to have roughly $15 million in cap space when the dust settles. That is enough space to allow for some more lower-level deals, and there are still some position holes to be filled. Even after signing Corey Brown and Jeremy Butler, the Bills are thin on numbers and overall depth at wide receiver. They are similarly thin at cornerback, where only Marcus Roberson, Jonathan Dowling and Charles Gaines remain on the roster beyond Darby and Seymour. Athleticism at linebacker continues to be an area of need.
Overall grade: B-minus. It wouldn't be fair to dock the Bills too much for the losses of Gilmore and receivers Robert Woods (five years, $34 million) and Marquise Goodwin (two years, $6 million) in free agency. Those losses were expected, given the players' price tags. However, it is very difficult to say on March 16 that the Bills have improved their roster since the end of last season. Without Gilmore and Woods, they have no bona fide No. 1 cornerback or No. 2 receiver. They swapped out two safeties, Williams and Graham, for two safeties, Hyde and Poyer. They replaced kicker Dan Carpenter with Steven Hauschka, and switched fullbacks from Jerome Felton to Patrick DiMarco. Some of those changes might prove to be upgrades, but the glaring holes at receiver and cornerback are hard to ignore. The draft might ultimately determine whether quarterback Tyrod Taylor has the targets to be successful this season and whether Buffalo has the talent at cornerback to slow down Tom Brady in two key games this season.