Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley has emphasized since taking the job in 2013 that he would like to fill holes on his roster as much as possible each offseason before the draft. Doing so, he says, allows his team to select the best player available and not "reach" to choose a player at a position of need.
True to his word, Whaley has filled holes this offseason at left tackle by assigning the franchise tag to free-agent Cordy Glenn and at left guard by re-signing free-agent Richie Incognito. Especially in the case of Glenn, getting both of those starters under contract for next season prevents the Bills from having to make a pick at those positions early in April's draft.
However, the Bills still have several thin spots on their roster, and given their tight salary-cap situation, Buffalo might have no choice but to address those problem areas in the draft next month.
With about $4.5 million in cap space as of Thursday, the Bills could try to create more space by agreeing to long-term extensions with Glenn or cornerback Stephon Gilmore, lowering their 2016 cap hits in the process. They could also attempt to restructure other players' deals, but one way or another the Bills aren't likely to be in the market for the vast majority of free agents that remain on the market.
Which positions could the Bills use some help? Here would be my top five areas of concern:
Analysis: After re-signing Glenn and Incognito, the Bills were virtually out of cap space and had to pull out of the running to sign Nigel Bradham, who instead joined the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bills also opted not to spend $1.67 million to assign the lowest restricted free agent tender to Ty Powell. They could try to bring him back at a lower price, but Powell is free to shop around with other teams. As it stands, this position could pose the biggest problems for the Bills. Brown and the defensive coaching staff did not seem to be on the same page last season, eventually leading to outside linebacker Manny Lawson taking a bigger role in running the defense on the field. The Bills will need a second inside linebacker to start alongside Brown and that player might not be on their roster at the moment. Steward, Tarpley and Reddick were all special-teams-oriented players last season. If the Bills don't sign a low-level free agent to compete for the starting job, they will need to address the position early in the draft.
Analysis: There isn't much clarity after Watkins, and especially after Woods. The Patriots are hosting Hogan on a visit Thursday and could extend him an offer sheet that the Bills would have five days to match. Easley, a special-teams-oriented player, is returning from a major knee injury and might not be ready for the start of training camp. Goodwin could be out for a portion of the preseason if he qualifies for the Olympics in Brazil. The Bills are hoping that one of Salas, Little, Boykin or Lewis steps up and competes for the No. 3 receiver job, but that's no guarantee. A draft pick would help to solidify the depth chart.
Analysis: The Bills are expected to use more three-man defensive lines this season than they used last season, which necessitates having a third big body alongside Dareus and Williams. Wynn and Bryant are both slightly undersized as 3-4 defensive ends, although either would be serviceable in a starting role. With so many quality defensive linemen expected to be available in the first round of the draft, the Bills shouldn't need to address this spot in free agency, but the depth chart is thinner than it has been in recent seasons.
Analysis: There hasn't been much talk about this position but the Bills need more than just Clay to contribute next season. Gragg, now entering his fourth NFL season, has yet to emerge as a productive piece of the offense. O'Leary could contribute as a receiver but he's undersized as a blocker -- a significant disadvantage in a run-oriented offense that often uses multiple tight-end sets. An injury to Clay would be a major blow to the offense unless the Bills can find a way to build depth here.
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE
Analysis: Depth is the issue here. The Bills released Kraig Urbik, their top backup at both center and guard last season. There's no clear replacement for him unless one of Groy, Richardson or Patrick steps up. The Bills could also use some insurance for Miller, a third-round pick who started immediately last season but struggled at times.