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Bills can go in several directions to revamp linebacker unit

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

Position: Linebacker

2015 snaps:

Stat of note: Brown, Bradham and Lawson posted a total of three sacks this season. In 2014, Jets starting linebackers Calvin Pace, David Harris and Demario Davis combined for 14 sacks in Rex Ryan's defense. In 2013, those three players made a combined 13 sacks for New York.

Pending free agents: Bradham (unrestricted), Ty Powell (restricted)

2016 cap hits (position rank):

  • Lawson: $3.4 million (15th among NFL 4-3 outside linebackers)

  • Brown: $793,750

  • Reddick: $675,000

  • Johnson: $615,933

  • Steward: $555,957

  • Tarpley: $525,000

  • Valles: $525,000

Money line: The Bills' spending remains relatively low at this position but Brown, a bargain in 2014, became a liability this season and Bradham is an unrestricted free agent. Will Bradham be back? He's clearly not as high on the Bills' priority list as left tackle Cordy Glenn or left guard Richie Incognito, and they might decide the price is too high to retain Bradham if offers come in too high. Lawson's cap number stands out but unless they can get him to take a pay cut, he's likely to stay; at times last season, the sharp veteran was the glue trying to hold together a fractured defense.

Market watch: Pending free agents include Derrick Johnson, Bradham, Davis, Sean Weatherspoon, Chad Greenway, Jerrell Freeman, Rolando McClain, Danny Trevathan, Kelvin Sheppard, Brandon Marshall (restricted), O'Brien Schofield, Paul Worrilow (restricted), Tahir Whitehead, Mason Foster, Jasper Brinkley, Sean Spence, Lorenzo Alexander, Zach Brown, Jonathan Freeny, Philip Wheeler, Desmond Bishop, Danny Lansanah (restricted), Albert McClellan, Powell (restricted), Vincent Rey, Erin Henderson, Craig Robertson, Jamari Lattimore, Keenan Robinson, Tank Carder, Kyle Wilber, Audie Cole, Dane Fletcher, Casey Matthews and Jason Trusnik.

Draft need: Medium-to-high -- Even if the Bills re-sign Bradham, they could use depth at a position where they were forced to elevate role players like Tarpley and Reddick into full-time duty when injuries struck this season. If Bradham goes elsewhere, then the Bills have a gaping hole at linebacker they'll need to fill. If the right player is there in the first round, the possibility of going that high for a linebacker shouldn't be discounted.

Crystal ball: Given Bradham's play this season -- he wasn't nearly as effective in Rex Ryan's defense as he was in Jim Schwartz's scheme in 2014 -- the Bills shouldn't go much higher than $4 to 5 million per season for him. Even then, they would be stretching the limits of what they could afford after some of their recent big-ticket free-agent signings. Instead of potentially overpaying for Bradham, the Bills could probably get by with a combination of Brown, a draft pick and Powell (assuming they re-sign him as a restricted free agent) at inside linebacker. A mid-level free-agent signing like Davis, who played for Ryan with the Jets, shouldn't be ruled out, either.

Quote of note: "I have no idea what he’s talking about. See again, you guys assume I know what’s going on. I have no idea." -- defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman, Dec. 31, when asked about Preston Brown's comments that play calls were coming in late from the coaches' booth during the season.