Brandon Beane said he was sick to his stomach that his buffalo bills couldn’t get the job done against the Kansas City Chiefs at the end of last season.
I wasn’t alone.
Fans, players and the entire city of Buffalo will have to wrestle with the heartbreak of that loss for a generation. What made the season’s end acutely painful was the fact that the Bills were, arguably, the best team in the league. They scored 12 touchdowns in 8 quarters of playoff ball. Josh Allen in just his third season reached levels most QBs only dream of. Buffalo could have hosted the AFC title game at Highmark Stadium.
The Bills just had to beat the Chiefs.
If not for those pesky 13 final seconds, the Bills might have written a different ending to last season.
That’s where Beane’s job began in late January: He’s got to take one of the best rosters in the NFL and make it better.
The Bills roster currently stands at 85 players, including undrafted free agents reportedly signed after the draft. Getting that list to 53 isn’t as difficult as in years past. The starting lineup is mostly set, and role players are in place.
There will still be a few camp battles that will be fun to watch. So let’s go through each position and look at which returning players have some work to do the next few months to try and make the roster.
Josh Allen, Case Keenum (2)
Cuts: Matt Barkley
There is a legitimate argument to make that Keenum is one of the top 32 quarterbacks in the NFL. That makes him perhaps the best backup in the league on a team with arguably the greatest quarterback in the league. Beane made this position as strong as it was a year ago with Mitch Trubisky as the backup by trading for Keenum. His story of him with Stefon Diggs in Minnesota makes him a perfect fit. Barkley is a slam dunk addition to the quarterbacks room, too. He’ll provide depth, knowledge, and experience on the practice squad.
Devin Singletary, James Cook, Zack Moss, Taiwan Jones (4)
Cuts: Duke Johnson, Reggie Gilliam, Raheem Blackshear
The Bills inked Duke Johnson to a one-year deal with less than $400,000 guaranteed for 2022. That was the best Beane could do after losing out on JD McKissic, a dual threat back who decided to return to Washington instead of joining Buffalo’s backfield. Johnson has had some nice stretches in the league. But when the Bills drafted Cook with the No. 63 pick last month, Johnson became expendable. He could wind up back on the Bills’ practice squad but it’ll be hard to crack the 53 with the three guys in front of him. A lot of Bills fans are down on Moss after a disappointing 2021 season. But Beane said the third-year back is healthy and expects him to bounce back. If the Bills don’t re-sign Singletary next offseason (he’s an unrestricted free agent after the upcoming season), Moss perhaps could slide in as RB1 in 2023.
Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Jamison Crowder, Marquez Stevenson, Khalil Shakir (6)
Cuts: Jake Kumerow, Isaiah Hodgins, Tanner Gentry, Keith Corbin, Neil Pau’u, Malik Williams
One bold prediction I’ve been discussing is the idea that Crowder doesn’t make this roster. The combination of Shakir and McKenzie make the veteran a bit more expendable, especially if the Bills want to keep some size around in the form of Kumerow or Hodgins. But in this first run through the projection, Crowder earns a role in the offense. If the Bills keep three tight ends and Howard has a more impactful role than any backup tight end did a year ago, the Bills don’t have as big of a need for Kumerow. Stevenson’s potential development and possible impact on down-the-field throws makes him interesting.
Dawson Knox, OJ Howard, Tommy Sweeney (3)
Cuts: Quintin Morris, Jalen Wydermyer
Sweeney is going to have to beat out a few interesting undrafted free agent tight ends, but his experience should help him in the competition. The Bills could ultimately keep only two tight ends, but if they keep a third it should be Sweeney.
Dion Dawkins, Mitch Morse, Rodger Saffold, Ryan Bates, Spencer Brown, David Quessenberry, Cody Ford, Greg Mancz, Ike Boettger, Tommy Doyle (10)
Cuts: Bobby Hart, Jacob Capra, Luke Tenuta, Derek Kerstetter, Alec Anderson
Boettger could be in a situation where he has to start the season on the Injured Reserve list after suffering a torn achilles last season. The Bills may think he can make his way back at some point this season. In that scenario, he’ll be on the 53 and then moved to IR. Doyle is going to have to earn a spot after the team added veteran Quessenberry, who is the favorite to win the swing tackle job. Ford projects as the top guard off the bench but could push Bates for a starting job opposite Saffold. Bates can play all five positions and the Bills loved his versatility as a depth option in years past. He had a breakout season and was strong as a starter last year.
Von Miller, Greg Rousseau, Ed Oliver, DaQuan Jones, Boogie Basham, AJ Epenesa, Shaq Lawson, Jordan Phillips, Tim Settle (9)
Cuts: Mike Love, Kingsley Jonathan, Brandin Bryant, Eli Ankou, Prince Emili
If the Bills need a roster spot there could be an interesting battle at the defensive end position. Epenesa has had a quiet first two seasons and the Bills added veteran Lawson, who returns to Buffalo after two seasons away. Epenesa is going to get every chance on a rookie contract, but Lawson has to prove he has something to offer after a forgettable season for the New York Jets in 2021.
Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Terrel Bernard, Tyrel Dodson, Andre Smith, Tyler Matakevich (6)
Cuts: Joe Giles-Harris, Marquel Lee, Baylon Spector
Spector is going to be a priority practice squad target if he doesn’t make the roster. He’s going to have to beat out Dodson and Smith, who both have a few years in Leslie Frazier’s defense. They both also excel on special teams. Baylor is an undersized linebacker who flies around and plays an edgy brand of football. Giles-Harris had a great training camp last year and could also put some pressure on Dodson and Smith. Matakevich is set to make close to $4 million. If the Bills move on they can save almost $3 million. If any of the young linebackers stand out they could take his job from him.
Tre’Davious White, Kaiir Elam, Taron Johnson, Dane Jackson, Siran Neal, Christian Benford (6)
Cuts: Cam Lewis, Nick McCloud, Olaijah Griffin, Tim Harris, Travon Fuller
Cam Lewis has been versatile for the Bills the past few seasons. He’s stepped in to play on the boundary and in the slot when starters have been injured. He could very well earn a roster spot but the Bills seem to love rookie sixth-round pick Benford. He will start as a cornerback but he has some flexibility to play both spots and eventually even at safety. Nick McCloud is a wildcard to knock a few players out of a spot if he blows the doors off during camp.
Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Jaquan Johnson, Damar Hamlin (4)
Cuts: Josh Thomas
Josh Thomas is worth monitoring this spring and summer because of how good he was this time last year. He spent the season on the Bills practice squad and the team loves what he brings. Hamlin is a draft pick, though, and Beane has mentioned him this offseason as a player that could be on the rise. Johnson is a valuable special teams player.
Tyler Bass, Matt Araiza, Reid Ferguson (3)
Cuts: Matt Haack
Araiza is going to spend the next few months concentrating on his holding skills. If he’s even able to be average during the preseason, Haack’s run with the Bills should be over.
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