BBD Editor: Dan Hope
The weekend considered by many around the NFL to be the toughest of the year is underway. All 32 franchises, including the Buffalo Bills, are in the process of making and finalizing difficult decisions as they cut their rosters down to the 53-man regular season limit while Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline to do so looms.
The Bills released 10 players on Friday, including punter Brian Moorman and defensive tackle Landon Cohen, and placed three others on injured reserve to cut their roster down to 62.
That leaves Buffalo with nine moves still to make by Saturday. One of those moves will be covered by linebacker Nigel Bradham’s Week 1 suspension, which goes into effect Saturday, but the Bills must choose eight others to release or place on reserve lists.
Even then, the Bills’ roster-shaping work won’t be done. It’s likely that the Bills will bring in a number of players cut by other teams, which will force Buffalo to make even more cuts. Additionally, the Bills will both choose from their own released players and scour the waiver wire to build a 10-man practice squad by Sunday.
When the dust finally settles next week and the Bills have their roster set for Week 1, what will it look like and who will join them in practice? There’s still a lot to be determined, but here’s an updated projection following Friday’s latest wave of moves.
1. EJ Manuel 2. Roster Addition 3. Jeff Tuel
The Jordan Palmer experiment lasted just three days, as he was among the players released Friday, but expect the Bills to bring in another quarterback by the end of the weekend.
It’s possible Tuel, who did not play Thursday, could end up being released as well. Bills coach Doug Marrone said following Thursday’s game that the team was not set on Tuel being its No. 2 quarterback, according to ESPN’s Mike Rodak.
Manuel has struggled all preseason but the Bills aren’t going to find a new starter from the waiver wire. Ultimately, the decisions Buffalo has to make here are to determine who the best quarterback is that they can bring in from another team’s cuts, and then, if they believe that quarterback is better than Tuel, determine whether Tuel has enough developmental potential to warrant keeping as the third-string passer.
Update, Friday 10:20 p.m. ET:The Bills have reportedly signed veteran quarterback Kyle Orton to be EJ Manuel’s backup, according to ESPN’s James Walker.
1. C.J. Spiller 2. Fred Jackson 3. Anthony Dixon 4. Bryce Brown
All four running backs on the depth chart should safely make the regular-season roster. Spiller and Jackson are expected to split the majority of the team’s carries, but Dixon and Brown have both been impressive this preseason and should see some playing time. Dixon could be the team’s short-yardage/goal-line specialist in the backfield.
The Bills released Evan Rodriguez on Friday, leaving Summers as the only fullback on the roster. Buffalo has used fullbacks frequently in the preseason and plans to keep Summers on its roster, according to WGR’s Joe Buscaglia.
1. Sammy Watkins 2. Robert Woods 3. Mike Williams 4. Marquise Goodwin 5. Chris Hogan 6. Marcus Easley
Projected Cuts: T.J. Graham, Caleb Holley
Early in the preseason, Chris Hogan appeared to be in line to be Buffalo’s main slot receiver, but his role has diminished over the past two weeks. Now, it looks like the Bills’ receiving depth chart will stack up the way most initially expected it would, with Watkins and Woods starting and Woods moving to the slot with Williams coming on the field in three-receiver sets.
Hogan’s stock has dropped but his roster spot, along with that of 2013 third-round pick Goodwin, should be safe. Easley, a special teams standout, is likely to beat out Graham for the team’s sixth spot on its receiving depth chart. Graham has more playmaking ability and is an explosive athlete, but Easley has more value as the sixth receiver and Graham has reportedly been “on the trade block for several months,” according to ESPN’s Adam Caplan.
No. 4 overall pick Watkins is battling a rib injury, but “should be good to go” for Buffalo’s season opener, according to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport.
1. Scott Chandler 2. Lee Smith 3. Chris Gragg
Chandler is the Bills’ clear-cut starter at tight end, while Smith is a solid run-blocking specialist. Gragg is no lock to make the roster, as the 2013 seventh-round pick didn’t show much this preseason, but it’s likely he’ll be kept as a third tight end unless the Bills bring in another tight end from another team’s cuts.
LT: Cordy Glenn LG: Chris Williams C: Eric Wood RG: Erik Pears RT: Seantrel Henderson 6. Cyril Richardson 7. Cyrus Kouandjio 8. Chris Hairston 9. Doug Legursky
Projected Cuts: Kraig Urbik, Antoine McClain
Richardson has started the Bills’ last two games along with Glenn, Wood, Pears and Henderson while Williams has been out with injury, but Marrone said earlier this week that he expects Williams to take the starting job back once he is healthy, according to ESPN’s Mike Rodak. The other four appear set to be in Buffalo’s starting offensive line to begin the 2014 season, while Richardson will be the team’s primary backup at guard if Williams is healthy.
Kouandjio had an awful preseason, but the Bills won’t move on from their second-round draft pick this quickly. As he appears far from ready to play in 2014, it would be smart for Buffalo to keep Hairston for offensive tackle depth. That said, it’s likely that seventh-round pick Henderson would take over at left tackle if Glenn missed any time this season, while Pears would likely move back outside to right tackle if Henderson missed time or was moved across the line.
Legursky and Urbik were the Bills’ starting guards last season, but both have fallen down the depth chart this summer. It appears there will only be a roster spot available for one of them.
Legursky looks like the favorite to keep a roster job over Urbik because the one of them that is kept on the roster will have to serve as Wood’s backup. Legursky was the center with the second-team offense on Thursday night and has more experience playing in the middle than Urbik, who the Bills have “been gauging interest in,” according to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora.
See page 2 for defensive, special teams and practice squad projections.