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Bills likely to dip into draft to bolster defensive line in 2016

Continuing a position-by-position look at the Buffalo Bills' roster with an eye toward free agency and the draft:

Position: Defensive line

2015 snaps:

Stat of note: The Bills pressured opposing quarterbacks on 23.8 percent of drop backs, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the fourth-lowest rate in the NFL. However, opposing quarterbacks averaged 2.32 seconds before each pass, the second-quickest rate in the NFL.

Pending free agents: Carrington (unrestricted), Bryant (restricted), Charles (restricted)

2016 cap hits (position rank):

  • Mario Williams: $19.9 million (highest among NFL defensive ends)

  • Dareus: $14.55 million (second-highest among NFL defensive tackles)

  • Kyle Williams: $8 million (sixth-highest among NFL defensive tackles)

  • Hughes: $7.575 million (19th among NFL defensive ends)

  • Jarius Wynn: $1.125 million

  • Worthy: $675,000

  • Edwards: $675,000

  • Barnes: $600,000

  • Enemkpali: $600,000

  • Cedric Reed: $450,000

Money line: The most obvious storyline is Mario Williams' astronomical cap number and the Bills' likely decision to release him in the coming months. Doing so will save $12.9 million against their 2016 salary cap. Otherwise, expect the rest of their financial structure at this position to largely stay in place. Bryant and Charles can both return next season if the price is right; for Charles, that might mean a deal less than the NFL's minimum restricted free agent tender. Carrington is coming off a season-ending injury and his status might be determined later in the spring.

Market watch: Pending free-agent edge rushers include Von Miller, Tamba Hali, Greg Hardy, Courtney Upshaw, Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Robert Ayers, Bruce Irvin, Jeremy Mincey, Jason Jones, Junior Galette, Anthony Spencer, Olivier Vernon, Adrian Clayborn, Mike Neal, Kroy Biermann, Andre Branch, Larry English, Vinny Curry, Derrick Shelby, Darryl Tapp, Wallace Gilberry, Dwight Freeney, Jason Babin.

Pending free-agent 3-4 defensive ends include Muhammad Wilkerson, Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson, Kendall Reyes, Jarvis Jenkins, Mike DeVito, Cullen Jenkins, Cedric Thornton, Ricardo Mathews, Jared Crick, Henry Melton, Kedric Golston, Mitch Unrein, Leger Douzable, Stephen Bowen, Carrington, Billy Winn, Red Bryant.

Pending free-agent defensive tackles include Pat Sims, B.J. Raji, Nick Hayden, Terrance Knighton, Brandon Mebane, Damon Harrison, Steve McClendon, Haloti Ngata, Kevin Williams, Ahtyba Rubin, Ian Williams, Sammie Hill, Tyrunn Walker, Nick Fairley, Akiem Hicks, Sealver Siliga (restricted), Cam Thomas, Al Woods, Markus Kuhn, Brandon Thompson, Barry Cofield, Jaye Howard, Letroy Guion, Kyle Love, Jermelle Cudjo, Bryant (restricted), Charles (restricted).

Draft need: Medium -- Releasing Mario Williams will open a hole at defensive end, necessitating the Bills find a player capable of playing that five-technique spot. There should be some options at that position in the first round and second round, although the Bills will likely stick to their best-player-available principle. If they somehow strike out on that position in the draft, they could try shifting some pieces around -- moving Kyle Williams outside, as one example -- to try to make the defense work. Elsewhere, they could use pass-rushing depth behind Hughes. Their only option last season was Enemkpali.

Crystal ball: It would be a shock if the Bills did not release Mario Williams, but the picture is murkier beyond that. General manager Doug Whaley has stated the team won't be big players in free agency as they were last offseason, so don't expect anything more than a lower-level signing along the defensive line to add some depth. The most likely scenario is that Rex and Rob Ryan identify the linemen in the draft whom they feel will fit their system, and that the Bills take a swing at one of those players if they're on the board in late April.

Quote of note: "I think they finally realized at the end of the year that when I ask for opinions, when I ask for -- because this isn’t just me, I am not just, 'This is the way, I am ram-roading this system.' I have always had a system that relies on the players. The best, putting our players in the best position to be successful for all 11, not one. It is not just built for one man, it is built for all 11 men and I think that is what they got to understand. But when I ask specifically, 'What do you not like? What are you uncomfortable with?' I finally at the end of the year started getting some answers. Like, 'Oh yeah, hey,' some feedback, 'Yeah this, this, I don’t know what it was.' So making adjustments on the sideline, I felt a little more trust as the season went on." -- Ryan on players' feedback to his defensive scheme, Jan. 22.