BBD Editor: Dan Hope
There was reason to be skeptical when the Buffalo Bills signed pass-rusher Mark Anderson to a four-year, $19.5 million contract last offseason. The skeptics proved correct Tuesday, when the Bills released Anderson after only one season with the team.
Anderson is a gifted pass-rusher who had 12 sacks in his rookie season with the Chicago Bears, and was a coming off of an impressive 10-sack season with the New England Patriots when the Bills signed him last season.
The reason for skepticism, however, was that those seasons came five years apart. In four seasons between them, Anderson had only 11 combined sacks. Additionally, Anderson has never looked like more than a situational pass-rusher, but was paid like a starter even though he is a liability in run defense.
In fairness to Anderson, he missed all but five games of last season with a torn meniscus in his left knee, which marked the first time of his career he played less than 14 games. But even when he was on the field, he looked more like the 2007-10 version of himself than the one who ratcheted up his game on a one-year contract to spark the New England Patriots’ pass-rush. Anderson managed just one sack last season.
Heading into their first training camp in power, new general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Doug Marrone apparently decided that Anderson was not worth the $4 million cap hit (link to Spotrac premium data, subscription required) he was set to make this season. They may have also determined that Anderson was not a good fit for new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s hybrid scheme.
The Bills’ trade acquisition of hybrid pass-rusher Jerry Hughes, who is set to make only $870,000 this season, made Anderson expendable. So did the free-agent acquisition of outside linebacker Manny Lawson, who has a cap hit of $2.4 millionthis season.
The decision to release Anderson gives the Bills less pass-rushing depth, and should move the addition of a hybrid pass-rusher even further up in priority for the 2014 NFL draft. That said, the Bills have plenty of players who can fill Anderson’s role at a cheaper rate and/or more effectively.
Hughes should be first in line to take over what was expected to be Anderson’s role as a third-down pass-rusher. He will also compete for a starting job in the defensive front seven, as he can line up as a defensive end in even fronts and as an outside linebacker in odd fronts.
Lawson is expected to man the strongside linebacker in both even and odd fronts, but the release of Anderson should give Lawson more pass-rushing opportunities.
The Bills’ premier pass-rusher, of course, will still be Mario Williams. He gives the Bills flexibility to play both defensive end and outside linebacker in 3-4 looks, but with a talented group of interior linemen and less depth at outside linebacker, expect him to be used on passing downs primarily in capacities where his role is to bring pressure off the edge.
The release of Anderson also increases the opportunity for a number of young players to step up and fill his shoes. Keith Pough, Jamie Blatnick and Marcus Dowtin are all unheralded first- or second-year players, but all have the ability to line in up multiple spots, provide solid depth and bring pressure off the edge.
Anderson made $8 million for his one season with the Bills thanks to a $6 million signing bonus. The Bills will continue to pay for the previous regime’s mistake with Anderson for the next two seasons, with dead money cap hits of $1.6 million and $3 million according to Spotrac.