BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The beginning of June is typically the start of a quiet period in the NFL. But the Buffalo Bills have been very busy, with the team making a number of defensive moves to help both now and in the future.
The Bills on Saturday signed defensive tackle Ed Oliver to a four-year, $68 million extension with $45 million guaranteed, linking him to the team through 2027. Two days later, they agreed to terms with former Los Angeles Rams pass-rusher Leonard Floyd on a one-year deal and then on Wednesday signed cornerback Cameron Dantzler to a one-year deal.
Let’s break down the Bills’ recent moves.
Oliver's stats don't scream for a big extension. What does he bring to the table?
First of all, Oliver hears the doubters questioning his contract extension.
“I feel like I’mma outplay the contract, to be honest. That's just the way I think,” Oliver said Tuesday. “I just want to shut everybody up who said I was overpaid or something like that. Just sit back and watch.”
Part of the reason the Bills decided to get something done with Oliver is they believe his best football is still to come. The No. 9 overall pick from 2019 arguably hasn’t played up to where he was drafted -- with 151 tackles and 14.5 sacks over four seasons -- but he has had splash moments and shown his potential. His run stop win rate (41.5%) was 10th best in the league last season.
General manager Brandon Beane said he has seen growth in Oliver, 25, in “more ways than just what you see on the field,” while senior defensive assistant/defensive line coach Eric Washington noted Oliver's growth in terms of leadership.
Beane also acknowledged, however, that there are plays Oliver has left out on the field, and both the general manager and Washington noted Oliver could improve on his understanding of how offenses are defending him and being able to anticipate what they are doing.
“The more he plays, the more experience he gets understanding at times what teams are trying to do to him,” Beane said. “Ed's greatest trait is his get-off, and sometimes people use that against him, and he may run himself out of a play, just a misdirection or whatever. Knowing what they're trying to do to him, reading his keys -- those are the types of things that can take him another step.”
The right ankle Oliver injured in the season opener last year against the Rams hampered his season after a stronger 2021, and he added he was also dealing with pec and calf muscle injuries. Factoring into the equation of whether to extend Oliver -- something the Bills first explored last offseason -- is that talented defensive tackles are hard to find, per Beane.
Prior to this move, the Bills didn’t have a defensive tackle under contract for 2024.
Why did the Bills sign Floyd?
Floyd is a good pass-rusher -- 29 regular-season sacks in the last three seasons -- and the Bills felt the pass-rush group could use more talent. It's as simple as that.
The Bills wanted to add another player to the defensive line rotation, and someone with Floyd’s experience is a boost. He had nine sacks last season, which would have led the Bills (defensive end Greg Rousseau and pass-rusher Von Miller were tied for the most with eight).
Miller, one of four other former Rams now on the roster, is working his way back from a major right ACL injury, and his availability in Week 1 is in question. But that wasn't a factor in signing Floyd, according to Beane.
“This wasn’t a move of, 'Oh, Von might not be ready,'" Beane said of adding Floyd. "This was about adding to our group, adding another player. You know, we like to rush in waves.”
From Floyd's perspective, he gets to join a team that had the No. 2 scoring defense last season and a top quarterback in Josh Allen.
“Shoot, I want to win. I want to win the Super Bowl,” Floyd said on why he came to Buffalo despite potentially getting more money elsewhere. “And I'm examining teams and looking at the rosters, and the Bills’ is the best, you know what I'm saying? And I just felt like if I come here, I can help the team get there.”
What might the starting front seven look like in Week 1?
Miller's availability will play a key role in this as he’s shooting for a Week 1 return -- there’s a nine-month recovery timeline from his injury suffered on Thanksgiving -- but ACL injuries can be tricky.
Let's assume for now Miller isn’t quite ready in Week 1. With the Bills' heavy rotation in mind, Floyd and Rousseau will start for the pass-rushers, and it’ll be Oliver and DaQuan Jones in the middle. Matt Milano will, of course, start at outside linebacker. While the competition at middle linebacker is tight, 2022 third-round pick Terrel Bernard will get the nod for now, with Taron Johnson continuing to play a heavy role at nickel corner.
The players most likely to be impacted by Floyd's signing are defensive ends Boogie Basham, Shaq Lawson and AJ Epenesa -- who were all first- or second-round picks for the Bills. The team has invested heavily in the pass rush through the draft, but there are only so many roster spots to go around.
“Sometimes there's moves you got to make. It'll cause us a little heartache at the 53,” Beane said. “How we have to do things -- whether it's push some money down the line or release a player, trade a player that has value, you know, we'll consider all that, especially at positions that we feel we're deeper.”
What do these recent moves mean for the salary cap?
Oliver's extension opened up about $5.775 million in 2023 cap space after he was set to account for $10.753 million under his fifth-year option. That helped the Bills sign Floyd to a contract with a max value of $9 million, but it counts for only $2.624 million against the cap.
Per Beane, if the team had to reduce the roster to 53 players right now, they would be about $3 million to $5 million over the cap. That means they don’t have a lot of room to work with for the likes of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Beane did say that he will always be looking, and if “somebody wants to come for cheap, come on down.”
Aside from middle linebacker, where else is there competition for a starting spot?
The No. 2 outside cornerback spot opposite Tre’Davious White is one to watch. Last year’s first-round pick, cornerback Kaiir Elam, has not earned a starting job for next season. There are plenty of candidates competing for it, including Dane Jackson, Christian Benford and likely Dantzler.
It’s a spot where the Bills rotated several players last season, in part because of injuries, but the Bills will want to find someone to hold down that spot.