What to expect from cap-strapped Bills in free agency

It could be a challenge for the Bills retain linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The time of the offseason has arrived when rosters start to take shape. Teams can begin signing free agents Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET.

Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane has stated his philosophy going into free agency is to fill as many of the team’s roster holes as possible in order to create more flexibility in making draft choices.

But their resources to shop for free agents will be somewhat limited. The Bills still stand around $19 million over the cap, all of which could be recouped by restructuring quarterback Josh Allen’s deal. There are other moves the team can make, like restructuring pass-rusher Von Miller's contract. The Bills have taken their time leading up to the deadline to be cap compliant to make those moves.

“[Allen’s potential cap savings] definitely it's one of the bigger numbers that you can create space. So, we would definitely have to strongly consider,” Beane said at the combine last week. “We've got kind of our A list and our B list of how we do it. And so, we're having those conversations right now.”

When the Bills do make room, what kind of options and positions of need await in free agency?

In-house players set to be free agents: Who might be gone?

The two biggest free agents are safety Jordan Poyer and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. Poyer has not been shy about his interest in seeing what options present themselves in free agency after requesting a contract extension prior to the 2022 season. Poyer’s price tag might end up being too high for the Bills, and the team has been noncommittal publicly on the ability to re-sign one of their top team free agents, let alone both.

“We're still trying to get a feel for their market, as I'm sure their camp is doing too,” Beane said on Poyer and Edmunds last week. “...We're going to look at everything, we'll keep an open mind. And in a perfect world, you keep them both. But it's a business, and they got to do what's right for them as well, and so do us. But, you know, I feel like if we could work it out, both would want to be back, if we can make it fit.”

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on NFL Live this week the Bills are expected to lose Edmunds. If the Bills are not able to come to an agreement with Edmunds, who will enter his sixth season at 25 years old and is coming off his best season, per coach Sean McDermott, Buffalo will have a major hole to fill.

Middle linebacker and safety would immediately become major needs for the Bills with depth at safety already a concern. Safety Micah Hyde’s contract is up after this season and Damar Hamlin continues to visit specialists to determine if he can get clearance to return to football. Sixth-round pick Christian Benford is a potential candidate to shift from cornerback to safety, but McDermott said the current plan is to have him at cornerback.

Potential outside free agent fits at safety: Packers safety Adrian Amos, 49ers safety Jimmie Ward, Giants safety Julian Love, Eagles S Marcus Epps (former college teammate of Allen, but may be out of Bills' price range).

Last year’s third-round pick, Terrel Bernard, is a potential replacement for Edmunds after mostly playing special teams last season. He played middle linebacker at Baylor, and McDermott said his sliding into that role for the Bills is “on the table.”

“We need, in this case, Bernard to go into his second year and have a great offseason,” McDermott said. “Because I think what you see some sometimes is players who have played in Year 1 don't always sustain that or grow off of that foundation that they've established.”

Potential free agent fits at middle linebacker: Colts LB Bobby Okereke, and Panthers LB Shaq Thompson, if he is released by the Panthers for cap reasons. Thompson knows McDermott, new senior defensive assistant Al Holcomb and senior defensive assistant/defensive line coach Eric Washington. He would be a natural fit as a short-term veteran addition.

Major positions of need to watch

Offensive line and offensive skill positions are the other big areas the Bills need to take care of. Starting guard Rodger Saffold is set to hit free agency, along with offensive linemen David Quessenberry, Greg Van Roten and Bobby Hart, and wide receiver is a position of need.

Protecting Allen is a major priority -- Allen is coming off the second-highest sack total of his career (33) -- but finding help at the price the Bills can pay may be difficult. The team already re-signed Ike Boettger, who could compete for a starting role. They will likely address the line in the draft, but the team could sign some depth.

Potential free agent fits at offensive line: Ravens G Ben Powers, Rams G David Edwards (connection to offensive line coach Aaron Kromer), Chiefs OL Andrew Wylie, Broncos OL Dalton Risner

Gabe Davis fell short in the No. 2 receiver role last year for various reasons -- team-high nine drops -- and slot receiver had to be addressed throughout the season with the late addition of Cole Beasley. But this free-agent class of receivers isn't that strong, so help for the Bills may need to come from the draft.

But the Bills could add to the offense beyond the wide receiver position.

“We’re always looking for playmakers, and whether that’s a receiver, a running back, a tight end, you’re always looking for guys that are weapons with the ball,” Beane said.

While the Bills signed Dawson Knox to a four-year extension worth for $53.6 million, including $31 million guaranteed, they have been searching for another tight end to pair with him to giving opposing defenses more of a challenge. They tried to do that last offseason with veteran O.J. Howard, but he was cut before the season started.

Running back Devin Singletary is also going to be on the market with Beane saying last week that second contracts for running backs “it's not a thing that you're going to do with a lot of guys."

Potential free agent fits at offensive skill positions: Jets WR Braxton Berrios (returner potential as well), Colts WR Parris Campbell, Titans TE Austin Hooper, Dolphins TE Mike Gesicki, Saints TE Juwan Johnson (RFA)