A breakdown of the Buffalo Bills' 2019 free-agent signings.
John Brown, wide receiver
What it means: The Bills were interested in signing Brown last offseason, according to multiple reports, but the deal never materialized. Instead, the Bills get Brown a year later as he will transition from a quarterback in Lamar Jackson who averaged only 22.6 pass attempts per start to Josh Allen, who averaged 27.7 pass attempts per start last season but is expected to throw the ball more next season to a restocked receiver room. Brown's speed (4.34-second 40-yard dash) is also appealing to Buffalo after it lacked big-play ability from Zay Jones and especially Kelvin Benjamin last season. The hope for the Bills is that Allen, whose average of 10.54 air yards per pass last season was second-highest in the NFL, and Brown's speed can combine to force defenses to defend the deep ball each play.
What's the risk: Brown's deal with the Bills averages $9 million per season, which puts him in the salary range of a low-level No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL. If Brown does wind up being the Bills' No. 1 receiver -- and team officials have resisted needing to use that label on anyone this offseason -- then the contract is a projection that Brown, 28, will take a step forward in his sixth NFL season. His 2015 season, when he caught 65 passes for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns, by far remains his best. Repeating his more recent seasons in Buffalo would be somewhat of a disappointment, although it is still possible the Bills will address wide receiver in April's draft and Brown's deal could allow them an early out.
Cole Beasley, wide receiver
The Bills announced Wednesday that they have signed Beasley to a 4-year deal worth up to $29 million. Here's a closer look at the wide receiver who spent the previous seven seasons with the Dallas Cowboys:
What it means: For several seasons, the Bills have lacked a prototypical slot receiver such as Beasley. The Bills are likely hoping that offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, an ex-Patriots assistant, can use a reliable pass catcher in the slot the same way New England has used Julian Edelman, Wes Welker and others over the past two decades. On passes that traveled seven or fewer yards in the air last season, Allen finished 32nd in the NFL in completing only 65.2 percent of those throws. That was partly the fault of Allen, who acknowledged last summer that short passes can trip up his cannon of an arm, but it also was a reflection on the Bills lacking a player who can consistently get open underneath.
What's the risk: Turning 30 next month, Beasley is the second-oldest of the Bills' free-agent signings this week behind Frank Gore, 35. However, Beasley is getting one of the Bills' longest and richest deals with $14.4 million guaranteed, a source said. That presents two layers of risk for Buffalo: first, the risk that Beasley's ability to gain separation will decline as he progresses into his early-to-mid 30s. Second, there is a risk that Beasley is being overpaid for his respectable but not eye-opening production in Dallas, and for what his role might be in Buffalo. Ultimately, Allen's shaky accuracy and propensity to throw deep might prevent Beasley flourishing in the same way slot receivers do elsewhere.
Ty Nsekhe, offensive tackle
The Bills announced Wednesday that they have signed Nsekhe to a two-year deal worth up to $14.5 million. Here's a closer look at the offensive tackle who spent the previous four seasons with the Washington Redskins:
What it means: This is an impressive late-career payday for Nsekhe, who spent 2009-12 in the Arena Football League before getting his first NFL chance with the Colts in 2012. He later spent time in the Canadian Football League and again in the AFL before settling into a swing tackle role with the Redskins in 2015. He never was a full-time starter for Washington, who had established starters in Trent Williams and Morgan Moses. However, he clearly played enough while making 16 spot starts for the Redskins to get on the Bills' radar. He projects to be the Bills' starting right tackle, taking the job from now-free agent Jordan Mills. However, his versatility to play left tackle or guard could result in the Bills shuffling their offensive line. 2017 second-round pick Dion Dawkins' job at left tackle should not be considered rock solid.
What's the risk: The combination of age, cost and lack of starting experience are the three risk factors for Buffalo. Because he was late to find a spot in the NFL, Nsekhe will turn 34 this October during what will be only his fifth full season. That means he is unlikely to be the Bills' long-term answer at the position in the way that Mitch Morse, another Bills free agent signing, is at center. Nsekhe's agent said his deal includes $7.7 million guaranteed, which is a sign of faith from the Bills that Nsekhe will perform well in a full-time starting role. If not, he will be an expensive backup. At $7.25 million per season, Nsekhe's salary is firmly among that of mid-to-upper range starters at his position in the NFL.
Kevin Johnson, cornerback
The Bills announced Tuesday that they have signed Johnson to a one-year deal worth up to $3 million. Here's a closer look at the cornerback who spent the previous four seasons with the Houston Texans:
What it means: Johnson didn't make the impact the Texans wanted when they selected him No. 16 overall in 2015 and he will have a chance to turn around his career in Buffalo. At best, he could earn the No. 2 cornerback job that Buffalo tried (and failed) to fill with Vontae Davis and Phillip Gaines last season. At worst, Johnson could lose out in the competition for the No. 2 job to Levi Wallace, who played well as an undrafted rookie last season. In either case, Johnson will provide a veteran presence to a position group that needs it. Tre'Davious White, with only two NFL seasons under his belt, was the Bills' most experienced cornerback (in terms of snaps played) before Johnson's signing.
What's the risk: The obvious factor will be Johnson’s health after he played in only one game last season after two concussions. He was also limited to six games in 2016 because of a foot injury. That lack of availability seems to be reflected in Johnson’s contract, which guarantees him only his $400,000 signing bonus. That is a minimal financial risk to the Bills, although they could be devoting a roster spot to a player with a lengthy injury history and passing up a player who might be more reliable. If Wallace wins the No. 2 cornerback job but struggles, the Bills might depend on Johnson to be a stopgap.
Frank Gore, running back
The Bills announced Wednesday that they have signed Gore to a one-year deal worth up to $2 million. Here's a closer look at the running back who spent the previous season with the Miami Dolphins:
What it means: Unless there is another move in the Bills' backfield yet to happen, fans will be scratching their heads about why signing Gore was the right move. He turns 36 in May and joins fellow Bills rushers Chris Ivory (30) and LeSean McCoy (30) as the three oldest running backs under contract in the NFL. There could certainly be value in bringing aboard Gore, who averaged 4.7 yards per carry last season for the Dolphins. But unless that means Ivory or McCoy is moved off the roster, the positives that Gore could bring risk being overshadowed by the Bills getting even older at a position that has trended younger in the NFL.
[Updated] Oldest NFL running backs under contract for 2019:— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) March 11, 2019
1. Frank Gore, 35, BUF (5/14/83)
2. Chris Ivory, 30, BUF (3/22/88)
3. LeSean McCoy, 30, BUF (7/12/88)
4. Andre Ellington, 30, TB (2/3/89)
5. Rex Burkhead, 28, NE (7/2/90)
What's the risk: Financially, Gore's contract seems low-risk, even at his age. The specifics of the deal have yet to be reported, but the Bills will likely have a way out of the deal if Gore looks to have lost a step during training camp this summer. The bigger risk for the Bills is whether having Gore lessens the urgency to draft and develop a younger running back who can be paired with quarterback Josh Allen for the future. Even if Gore is an upgrade over Ivory to back up McCoy next season, the Bills risk entering 2020 without any answer at the position.
Tyler Kroft, tight end
The Bills announced Wednesday that they have signed Kroft to a three-year deal worth up to $21 million. Here's a closer look at the tight end who spent the previous four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals:
What it means: The Bills had a desperate need at the position after releasing Charles Clay last month. Clay, 30, caught only 21 passes last season for 184 yards and had not caught a touchdown since Week 3 of 2017. Kroft, 26, gives the Bills a younger option with more upside. A broken foot limited him to only four catches in five games last season, but Kroft caught a career-high 42 passes for 404 yards and 7 touchdowns while playing the full 2017 season. Buffalo is banking on Kroft's career getting back on track and him providing the red zone presence that Clay did not.
What's the risk: Kroft's deal averages $6.25 million and can max out at $7 million per season, a source said, which puts him among the middle of the NFL pack of tight ends. However, the deal is structured so that Buffalo will pay him $6.3 million up front in 2019 ($2.4 million signing bonus, $1.8 million guaranteed salary and $2.1 million roster bonus) with little financial commitment in 2020 or 2021. The up-front cost is somewhat of a risk for the 2015 third-round pick whose career production to this point still leaves something to be desired, but the deal allows Buffalo an easy out after one season. The Bills are certainly hoping they are catching Kroft on the upswing as he hits free agency for the first time. At the moment, their only other tight end under contract is Jason Croom, an undrafted rookie in 2017 who debuted last season and caught 22 passes for 259 yards.
Mitch Morse, center
The Bills announced Wednesday that they have signed Morse to a four-year, $44.5 million contract. Here's a closer look at the center who spent the previous four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs:
What it means: All eyes were on the Bills to sign one of the top two centers on the market: Morse or Denver's Matt Paradis. They secured Morse's services, which should make general manager Brandon Beane rest easier Monday night. After nine seasons (2009-17) of Eric Wood holding down the center spot, his sudden retirement last offseason because of a neck injury left the Bills scrambling for his replacement. Neither Russell Bodine nor Ryan Groy seemed to fill the job in a way that made Buffalo comfortable with either snapping for Josh Allen long term. Morse will be the centerpiece of an offensive line overhaul in Buffalo that also saw coach Juan Castillo fired this offseason and could also include the departures of right guard John Miller and right tackle Jordan Mills in free agency. Spencer Long, the former Jets center/guard whom the Bills signed in February, is now the favorite to start at right guard.
What's the risk: Morse’s deal will average more than $11 million per season, which will make him the highest-paid center in football. There is a level of risk inherent with that level of contract, but the Bills seemed comfortable devoting a chunk of their $75 million in salary-cap space to the position. Beane spoke this offseason of preferring to sign a veteran center over drafting one and having a rookie lead the offensive line's communication. In that sense, the Bills are taking on financial risk in order to mitigate the risk to the rest of the offense if center had remained a weak spot.