Buffalo Bills' NFL free-agent signings 2022: Defense adds a difference-maker in Von Miller

Linebacker Von Miller has at least 8.0 sacks in 10 of his 11 NFL seasons. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

NFL free agency is underway, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2022 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The first round of the 2022 NFL draft begins April 28 on ESPN.

The Buffalo Bills are coming off a second straight season ending in disappointment at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs. Once again, the Bills are tasked with building a team that can compete with the elite quarterbacks and offenses in the AFC. Quarterback Josh Allen is under contract through 2028 and the focus can stay on building around him. The biggest team needs include a cornerback opposite Tre'Davious White, a speedy wide receiver and help along the defensive line. The Bills are projected to return 19 of 22 starters and are set up to be a top contender once again.

Here's a breakdown of every 2022 NFL free-agent signing by the Bills, and how each will impact the upcoming season:

Isaiah McKenzie, WR

McKenzie agreed to terms on a new two-year deal worth $4.4 million to stay with the Bills.

What it means: With the Bills granting Cole Beasley's request to seek a trade, bringing back McKenzie on a two-year deal gives the team an option at slot receiver and a versatile weapon for new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey. McKenzie has shown the ability to be a dynamic receiver and has the speed to help Allen. McKenzie also should compete for the returner position again after losing the role midway through the 2021 season due to fumbling issues. Surrounding Allen with as many weapons as possible is a top priority and re-signing McKenzie does just that.

What's the risk? There's not significant risk involved here, which is part of what makes it a logical deal for the Bills. McKenzie did have a mixed 2021 season that included him being a healthy scratch for two games, but his career-best performance (11 catches, 125 yards) in a vital Week 16 win over the New England Patriots showed how much he can do to support Allen and the Bills offense.

Rodger Saffold III, G

Saffold agreed to terms on a one-year deal.

What it means: The Bills added needed depth to the interior of the offensive line with a strong veteran player on a short-term deal. It’s not the flashiest move in the world, but it’s logical. After Buffalo moved on from Jon Feliciano and Daryl Williams, Saffold will be slated to start at left guard as he reunites with his former offensive line coach on the Rams, Aaron Kromer. The Bills spent the first day of free agency focusing on shuffling offensive lineman to create cap space and attempt to improve the line from last year to better protect quarterback Josh Allen.

What's the risk? Saffold dealt with multiple injuries in his final season with the Titans, playing 81% of the offensive snaps in 2021. Adding a soon-to-be 34-year-old offensive lineman that has a recent injury history will always have risks involved. The guard said that he took an entire month off from working out for the first time in his career to rehab his injury and currently has no issues. His pass block win rate has declined over the last two seasons, but he is coming off his first Pro Bowl season and a short-term deal lessens the risk involved for the Bills.

Tim Settle, DT

Settle agreed to terms on a two-year deal.

What it means: The Bills need depth on their lines and general manager Brandon Beane addressed both sides of the ball quickly. Adding Settle is a win-win as Buffalo has multiple members of the defensive line hitting free agency, including Efe Obada. Settle could fill a similar role to Obada as a rotational pass-rusher. The fifth-round pick out of Virginia Tech will join former teammate Tremaine Edmunds and have more opportunities to show what he can do.

What's the risk? As has been the theme for the Bills in free agency thus far, there’s not much risk involved. Buffalo has the luxury of players wanting to come there to play. Bringing in a 24-year-old with four years of playing experience on the Washington defensive line is a win for a team that needs depth and help getting after the passer. A two-year deal gives Settle the long-awaited opportunity to show what he can do to earn more money down the road and the Bills get to take a chance on a quick player with potential to be better.

DaQuan Jones, DT

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

What it means: Signing Jones continues to show the Bills’ priority to address the interior of the defensive line. The eight-year veteran has not missed a game since the 2016 season and has started 110 games over the course of his career. The 30-year-old has improved his run stop win rate over the last two seasons, but he has not proved to be a dominant pass-rusher (10.2% pass rush win rate in 2021). Jones, a 6-foot-4, 320-pound tackle, will be part of the Bills' defensive line rotation, which has lacked size in recent years, and could be a boost with some uncertainty surrounding Star Lotulelei's future production and cap situation.

What's the risk? Age and decreasing production are the biggest risks the Bills are taking on with Jones, but once again, there’s not much for the Bills to lose here. This is a team that needs a lot of help along the defensive line, and while it would have been nice to get a higher performing player, the team is making use of the limited cap space available.

Von Miller, LB

Miller agreed to terms on a six-year deal worth $120 million, with $51.5 million guaranteed including $45 million fully guaranteed at signing.

What it means: The Bills may have filled the biggest hole missing from a Super Bowl run, while making the most significant free-agent signing in franchise history -- seriously. Buffalo has been on the hunt for a veteran pass-rusher to add to the front seven and it doesn’t get much better than a two-time Super Bowl champion with 115.5 career sacks. Adding Miller will give the Bills' defense a presence on the edge that was missing, while also taking attention away from the likes of Ed Oliver and Greg Rousseau and creating more one-on-one opportunities for other players. A much-needed presence in a competitive AFC.

What's the risk? It’s a big contract for a player that is just about to turn 33 years old. The Bills -- a team that came into the offseason with limited cap space -- are making a significant investment in a player toward the backend of his career. But Miller has not missed more than two games in a single season since 2013 when he was suspended for six games. Outside of 2013, he has finished every season with at least eight sacks. That’s worth the risk.

O.J. Howard, TE

Howard agreed to terms on a one-year deal worth $3.5 million that could be worth up to $5 million.

What it means: Buffalo has a veteran tight end to pair with Dawson Knox, who is coming off a career season (nine touchdowns). Howard provides quarterback Josh Allen with yet another weapon and will allow for more versatility within the offense under first-time coordinator Ken Dorsey. Howard had 400-plus receiving three straight seasons to start his career in Tampa Bay but had less of a role after the arrival of Rob Gronkowski. He should have more opportunities in Buffalo. After having two or more tight ends in on a league-low 100 plays last year, the Bills will be able to take advantage of having two attention-grabbing players on the field.

What's the risk? Adding the former 19th overall pick on a one-year deal at a position that lacked depth? Not much to lose in this situation. Howard is 27 years old and has shown what he can add to an offense. The Bills don’t have to put too much on him as Knox continues to develop into one of Allen’s favorite targets. He should complement the tight end room well at a low cost.

Jordan Phillips, DT

Phillips agreed to terms on a one-year deal.

What it means: Rebuilding the defensive line was clearly the priority for the Bills this offseason. Phillips was originally acquired off waivers by Buffalo from Miami in 2018 and then spent the 2019 with the Bills. He signed a big contract with the Cardinals in 2020 -- three years, $30 million -- but he was released this offseason and wanted to return to Buffalo. Phillips is so attached to the Bills that he watched all of the team's games while he was away. A logical return for a player who had 9.5 sacks with the Bills in 2020.

What's the risk? Phillips suffered a knee injury in December and didn't play again for the Cardinals. He did not have any long-term concerns about the injury and said that he is taking new approaches to staying healthy. He was limited to nine games in 2021 due to different injuries (back and knee). Other than that, there's zero risk. A good player on a one-term deal who wants to be in Buffalo is a win-win.

Shaq Lawson, DE

Lawson agreed to terms on a one-year deal.

What it means: The Bills are really into reunions? All jokes aside, bringing back Lawson -- a first-round pick by the Bills in 2016 -- gives Buffalo another veteran pass-rusher who has plenty of experience in coordinator Leslie Frazier and coach Sean McDermott's scheme. Lawson's best season came in 2019, finishing with 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. He didn't have much success with the Jets this past year, but he could fit into the Bills' rotation.

What's the risk? From what we know, there's little to lose here. Again, it's a short-team deal that brings back a popular player in the locker room and someone who is already familiar with how things work in Buffalo.

Matt Barkley, QB

Barkley agreed to return to the Bills on a one-year deal.

What it means: With Mitch Trubisky signing in Pittsburgh and Davis Webb joining his former offensive coordinator on the Giants, the Bills had to add to the quarterback room. Josh Allen hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season, but backup quarterback remains an important part of the roster. Buffalo filled those spots by signing Barkley and trading a seventh-round pick for Browns quarterback Case Keenum. Bringing Barkley back -- he was with the Bills from 2018-20 -- gives Allen a quarterback he is already comfortable around, like Webb, to work with and provides the team depth behind Keenum.

What's the risk? There’s nothing to lose here. Is Barkley a player who could come in and keep the Bills’ offense rolling and winning games if Allen has to miss time? Probably not, but that’s what the Keenum trade is for. Signing Barkley to a one-year deal adds depth and a player already comfortable in Buffalo. That’s exactly what the Bills should have been looking to add to the quarterback room.

Duke Johnson, RB

Johnson agreed to a one-year deal.

What it means: The Bills needed to bring in depth at running back after J.D. McKissic elected to re-sign with the Washington Commanders, despite originally agreeing to a deal with Buffalo. Adding Johnson does just that. The 28-year-old had success as a receiving back at the beginning of his career with five straight seasons with 400-plus receiving yards. He also showed what he can do on the ground at the end of his time in Miami with two 100-yard rushing games. Johnson doesn’t give Buffalo a weapon on McKissic's level -- Johnson will likely be fighting for opportunities like Matt Breida was last season -- but he does add a different skill set to the group overall.

What's the risk? On these cheap, short-term deals, there really isn’t much for the Bills to lose. No, Johnson isn’t the receiving threat McKissic is, but Buffalo needed to add depth and he’s a logical fit. His skill set and experience are valuable to the running back room, especially if the Bills invest in the position again in the draft, as they should.

Jamison Crowder, WR

Crowder agreed to a one-year deal.

What it means: The Bills needed help at slot receiver after Cole Beasley was released last week and bringing in Crowder is a logical fit for Buffalo’s offense. Crowder, who turns 29 in June, has produced consistently. He caught 132 passes from the slot from 2019-21 with the Jets, eighth-most during that stretch, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also led the Jets in receptions in each of the last three seasons. Crowder has the potential to develop into a consistent target for Allen on third downs. Of his 14 touchdowns with the Jets, eight came on third down and of his 56 third-down receptions over those three years, 43 resulted in first downs.

What's the risk? Health is the concern with Crowder. His production dropped each year with the Jets as he went from 78 catches to 59 to 51, with injuries as a big factor. After catching six touchdowns in each of his first two seasons with the Jets, Crowder had two in 2021. He has only played a full season three times in his career and last did so in 2019. Buffalo should still look to make a significant invest in the wide receiver room through the draft.

Taiwan Jones, RB

Jones agreed to return to the Bills on a one-year deal.

What it means: The Bills are bringing back a core special teams player. Jones, who turns 34 in July, is entering his 12th NFL season. He spent four of the last five years in Buffalo and played 70.5% of the Bills’ special teams snaps in 2021. While Jones does provide depth at running back, he has played only a combined 10 offensive snaps over four years with the Bills. The team prioritizes investing in special teams and bringing back a reliable and strong special teams contributor like Jones is another example of that.

What's the risk? Jones has dealt with injuries and is among the oldest players on the roster, but really there's not significant risk with bringing him back for another season. Having reliable special teams players is a good thing and the Bills are likely signing Jones to a minimal deal.

Ike Boettger, G

The Bills signed him to a one-year deal worth $1.18 million with $127,500 guaranteed.

What it means: Boettger, 27, started 10 games last season at left guard and played well overall until going down with a torn Achilles in Week 16 against the New England Patriots. He has started 17 games in his career. The Bills needed depth for the interior of the offensive line, so bringing back Boettger on a one-year deal makes sense. His ability to compete for a roster spot may come down to the timeline of his injury rehab.

What's the risk? How quickly Boettger can recover from the injury is the biggest question mark, but giving him this type of low-end contract removes any risk for the Bills. There's far more upside that Boettger can add depth to the offensive line if he is able to recover.

Ryan Bates, G

The Bills signed Bates to a four-year deal with the first two years fully guaranteed, per source.

What it means: The Bills elected to bring back Bates after placing an original-round tender on the restricted free agent, and then matching the offer sheet that he signed with the Chicago Bears. The signing shows that Bates is valuable to Buffalo, especially at guard and center, but also because he is able to play all five positions along the line. The offense showed improvement when he was on the field for the final four regular-season games of 2021, in addition to the two playoff games. After the Saffold signing, Bates is slated to compete/start at right guard.

What's the risk? Can he play up to the level he showed in a small sample size? Bates has only started four regular-season games, but by guaranteeing the first two years of his deal, the Bills are showing they at least hope that he can start more games than that over the next couple of years. Buffalo had an opportunity to let Bates walk, but elected to bring him back while dealing with a tight cap situation. He'll have to show that he can perform over an extended period of time to earn the starting job.