Bills quietly fortify defensive line after making big splash at receiver

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Entering this NFL offseason, the Buffalo Bills' top priority was upgrading their wide receiver room. A close second was retooling a defensive line that would lose its two most productive players from the 2019 season -- Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson.

After trading four draft picks for Minnesota Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs, Bills general manager Brandon Beane immediately turned his attention to his team's next-biggest need: adding three defensive linemen in the first week of NFL free agency.

Long term, the position group is not resolved, but Beane's signings fall right in line with Buffalo's plans for the immediate future.

Phillips (9.5) and Lawson (6.5) led the team in sacks in 2019, and both received three-year contracts this offseason -- Phillips with the Arizona Cardinals and Lawson with the Miami Dolphins.

"We do want to continue to get young [at defensive line]," Beane said in January. "We added some young guys last year in Ed Oliver. Harrison Phillips will come back, a young player -- I know everyone probably forgets about him because he got injured early in the year. You know, Darryl Johnson, I thought did some really good things.

"But yeah, we do have to pay attention to that. We believe in being strong up front, so we'll definitely have to look at it."

Beane did more than look at defensive linemen in free agency, adding former Carolina Panthers veterans Mario Addison (end) and Vernon Butler (tackle) and versatile former Seattle Seahawks lineman Quinton Jefferson.

Addison, 32, doesn't fit the "continue to get young" plan Beane outlined, but the Bills have a recently opened Super Bowl window that prioritizes winning now over building for the future. Addison has recorded at least nine sacks in each of his past four seasons for a total of 39, the 11th most in the NFL over that span. He is not likely a long-term building block, but he can bounce to outside linebacker and should be a more-than-adequate replacement for Lawson.

Jefferson, 26, adds positional flexibility at end and tackle, allowing coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier to get creative with where they play him. Butler, 25, broke out with a career-high six sacks in 2019, pushing his career total to eight. He had been largely ineffective for his first three NFL seasons, but he could earn himself a long-term home if he's able to build on last season.

The next phase of Buffalo's plan at defensive line will take place over the next two seasons, as both Jerry Hughes' and Trent Murphy's contracts will run out by the 2022 season. The Bills still could use another developmental player at defensive end, and they could fill that need with one of their seven picks in the April draft.

For now, however, Beane has improved a defense that hopes to maintain -- or improve upon -- its top three finishes in each of the past two seasons.