Bills pay modest price for Lorenzo Alexander, but his role is uncertain

With 12.5 sacks, Lorenzo Alexander tied for third in the NFL in sacks last season. Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills began free agency this week with 22 unrestricted free agents. On Saturday, outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander became the first of that group to re-sign with Buffalo.

Here is more on the deal:

Terms: Two years for $9 million, with $4.1 million guaranteed (per ESPN NFL Insider Josina Anderson)

ESPN 150 ranking: No. 45

Grade -- B: The Bills got a better-than-expected price for Alexander, who tied for third in the NFL last season in sacks and seemed poised for a late-career payday. The modest guaranteed money and per-year average ($4.5 million) of his deal pale in comparison to the league's top pass-rushers and should not constrict the Bills' salary cap. It remains to be seen where Alexander will fit in coach Sean McDermott's 4-3 defensive scheme, but at the very least he provides a veteran presence in the locker room and will contribute on special teams.

What it means: Alexander, 33, was one of the bright spots on the Bills' defense last season, playing in 73 percent of snaps as an outside linebacker and subpackage pass-rusher. The question is whether he has the athleticism required to play outside linebacker in McDermott's scheme, a spot that figures to be less about setting the edge in the running game and more about making plays in space. If Alexander isn't a good fit for that role, he could still contribute as an edge rusher in subpackages alongside Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson, who are the presumed starters at defensive end.

What’s the risk? Alexander turns 34 in May, but he is a professional who takes care of his body, and he stayed healthy last season despite playing a bigger workload than most players on the roster. If he can sustain his performance from last season, the deal will make plenty of sense for Buffalo. Yet the brutal reality of the NFL is that the end of the road often comes quickly for players in their mid-30s. If Alexander starts to slow down, or if he can't settle into a role in McDermott's defense, the Bills will be paying a premium for his help on special teams. Like any other free-agent signing, there is a downside for the Bills that is partly reflected in the modest price they paid for Alexander.