BBD Staff Writer: Joseph Curtis
With the NFL Draft now passed, the Buffalo Bills’ roster is unlikely to see many changes heading into training camp. The Bills drafted eight players and added 16 more as undrafted free agents. There is a lot of talent among the 24 rookies and each of the undrafted players stands a good chance to make the roster. With the roster standing at about 90 players, some veterans could have a hard time competing with this fresh crop of players to make the team.
With first-round pick E.J. Manuel likely competing with free-agent acquisition Kevin Kolb for the starting quarterback job, Tarvaris Jackson looks to be the odd man out.
Jackson joined Buffalo in 2012 and is one of the better backups in the league. However, he faces a similar situation as he did a year ago when the Seahawks signed Matt Flynn and drafted Russell Wilson.
Undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel will also challenge for a roster spot. Tuel possesses the physical tools desired in a quarterback and would be an ideal developmental third-stringer.
The biggest loss if the Bills cut Jackson would be his experience and leadership skills at the quarterback position. Jackson also presents a more comparable skill set to Manuel and could be a better mentor for the rookie quarterback. However, he would count $2.25 million against the cap, which is far above the norm for a third-string quarterback. Cutting him would save $1.75 million.
The Bills drafted two wide receivers, Robert Woods in Round 2 and Marquise Goodwin in Round 3. Undrafted free agent Da’Rick Rogers may be the most talented rookie receiver, but character concerns caused him to go undrafted. Brandon Kaufman may not have top receiver potential, but he has size (6’5”, 216 pounds) that no other Bills wideout has. It is likely either Rogers or Kaufman makes the roster — or even both — along with the two draft picks, Stevie Johnson and T.J. Graham.
While Brad Smith has playmaking ability, he is at best the No. 4 wideout on the roster. Smith joined Buffalo in 2011 on a four-year, $15 million contract. He’s due to get another $6.75 million over the next two seasons. Cutting him would save $2.75 million in cap space this season.
The biggest attributes Smith bring to the team are his versatility and explosiveness. His throwing abilities as a former quarterback also give Buffalo to engineer trick plays with Smith at quarterback, while he also contributes as a runner and receiver. Special teams is where Smith contributes most, as both a return specialist and a good member of the coverage unit.
Still, on a Bills team with much less receiver talent last season, he only had 14 receptions and 14 carries. Ultimately, the big question for management is whether his likely decreasing offensive snaps and special teams abilities are worth the value of his contract.
Another receiver that may have a difficult time making the team is Marcus Easley. While management and coaches praise Easley’s abilities, he just hasn’t been on the field to showcase it. Easley was part of Buddy Nix’s first draft class as Bills general manager and Nix has been one of his biggest supporters (including during this year’s pre-draft press conference), but health issues have stunted his production.
Appearing in only three games in his three years as a pro, he has yet to record a reception. Easley faces a more talented group than before and will have to live up to the hype to make the team. Cutting Easley would save $1.21 million over the next two seasons.
When the Bills decided to use a sixth-round pick on Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins, it signaled the likely end to Rian Lindell’s time in Buffalo. The 35-year-old Lindell was able to beat out 2012 seventh-round pick John Potter for the job last season, but Hopkins is much tougher competition than Potter.
Both Hopkins are Lindell are very accurate kickers, but leg strength may be the deciding factor. Several times last season, the Bills chose not to attempt long field goals due to Lindell not having enough leg to consistently make long kicks. Hopkins possesses a much stronger leg which will allow for longer field goal attempts and more touchbacks.
Lindell did sign a four-year, $11 million contract last season so the cap savings this season would be minimal (just $300,000), but it would save them $6.4 million over the next three seasons. Hopkins, the NCAA FBS record holder for points scored by a kicker, would fit right in on the special teams unit with fellow Florida State alumni punter Shawn Powell and long snapper Garrison Sanborn.