Maddy Glab Bill Wippert/Buffalo BillsBuffalo Bills general manger Brandon Beane speaks, January 24, 2023 at One Bills Drive.
It's that time of the year again. Even though Week 1 is still several months away, the Bills roster will start to look quite different in the coming days with the new league year set to begin on Wednesday, March 15 at 4 p.m. ET.
Who's going to stay? Who's going to leave? Who will be the new faces on the roster?
We don't know the answers to these questions just yet, but we set out to get some expert opinions from national analysts and writers at the NFL Combine. Here's what they had to say about the state of the roster and positions they think the Bills should go after in free agency.
State of the roster
Let's start with where the roster is at and what the Bills will definitely have on the field on 2023. Buffalo will have several key players and starters return to the roster this upcoming season, including Von Miller, Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Micah Hyde, Matt Milano, Tre'Davious White and more.
Even before free agency begins, analysts like ESPN's Field Yates think Buffalo is already in a good position for this upcoming season.
"I think the reality with the Bills is that the roster, whatever you want to call the cutoff of starting level players, 22 maybe 25 or 26 for specialists and some of the core special teams players, is one of the best in the NFL," Yates explained. "I would say that where probably they take the next level is a little more depth at some key spots."
The Bills have over 20 players that are set to become free agents. Two out of the group have been important players to Buffalo's lights out defense in safety Jordan Poyer and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. With reports saying that Edmunds is heading to the Bears, general manager Brandon Beane will have to address an important position to Buffalo's defense.
SB Nation's Mark Schofield thinks the Bills should prioritize retaining Poyer to keep a foundational piece to the defense in Buffalo.
"I think it'd be fantastic if they got Poyer," Schofield said. "Him and Micah Hyde are perhaps the best safety tandem in the NFL."
Aside from the potential of losing a few players, the experts believe Buffalo can add depth to several position groups to help them take a step forward. Here are the position groups they pointed out.
Several of Buffalo's offensive linemen will become free agents, including Rodger Saffold, David Quessenberry, Greg Van Roten and Bobby Hart.
The experts believe Buffalo might not retain all of these players, so it'll be important to add more protection to the trenches in order for Josh Allen to have ample time in the pocket.
"They're going to have to sort of rebuild the offensive line in terms of Rodger Saffold and offensive line depth because there's some depth pieces on the offensive line that might not be back," Schofield said. "Those are some areas where I look at Buffalo and know they're gonna face some critical decisions here in the coming days and weeks."
"I think that they clearly need an upgrade on their offensive line," ESPN NFL analyst Greg Cosell added. "Now whether that's with people they have in the building who have to play better, or whether they feel that they have to go out and get people...I think that this team needs an upgrade with their offensive line and that that has to be a meaningful priority as they go to this offseason."
CBS Sports NFL analyst Chris Trapasso believes it's better to address some of the offensive line needs in free agency rather than the draft.
"As a draft analyst, you like a team to invest in the offensive line, but it usually takes a year or two for those offensive linemen to get the strength they need to be good blockers at the next level," Trapasso said. "That's why I kind of lean toward free agency to get those veterans upfront."
By adding more depth and talent up front, especially to the interior, analysts think Buffalo can have a stronger run game.
"If you fortify especially the interior, then you're going to have a better opportunity because it makes the threat of an explosive run even more vicious," NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund explained.
The Bills averaged 139.5 rushing yards per game last season, which ranked seventh in the NFL.
When it comes to who might fit on Buffalo's offensive line, ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen likes former Denver Broncos guard Dalton Risner.
The analysts think the Bills are in a pretty good position on defense as the group will get plenty of talent back and allowed just 17.9 points per game (2nd in the NFL) and 319 total yards per game (6th in the NFL). Although, the big question mark is what happens with Poyer and the void at linebacker?
Before looking at the depth in this free agent class at safety and linebacker, Frelund thinks it's important to consider if the Bills defense would change without Poyer and/or Edmunds and a new defensive play caller.
"What type of defense do they want to play given that they play in the highly competitive AFC East where all the teams are getting better and better every season," Frelund said. "And now how do they want their defense to look, and they're gonna have to figure that out. So perhaps it's keeping one (Edmunds or Poyer) and focusing on the other position in the draft or perhaps it's taking a free agent that could potentially be a lower cost but fits the system they'd like to play this season and then complementing that with more depth in the secondary, maybe that's how they do it."
If the Bills were to lose Poyer, the experts believe this free agent class has some great depth at safety. Knowing the Bills have to do work to get under the cap, Cosell said there are some starting quality safeties who won't require block buster deals.
"There are some good safeties who I think could be gotten on one- or two-year deals for not a lot of money because there's a top group of maybe three that will get a lot of money," Cosell said. "There's a player like Marcus Epps who's in Philadelphia who will be a free agent, and I think is a really good player. There are seven or eight safeties who were starting safeties for their teams this year who will be free agents, and usually they all don't get big money."
Aside from Epps, Bowen has a few names he thinks could fit Buffalo's system - Taylor Rapp from the Rams, Juan Thornhill from Kansas City, John Johnson from the Browns and Julian Love from the Giants.
"Julian Love would fit what Sean McDermott wants in his safeties," Bowen shared. "He can play split field coverage, he has man coverage traits. He makes plays on the football, and he plays with the speed and the urgency that would fit the culture of the defense."
Bowen thinks linebackers Lavonte David from Tampa Bay, Bobby Wagner from the Rams and David Long from the Titans could be good matches in Buffalo.
Even though the Bills had one of the best offenses in the NFL last season as they averaged 28.4 points per game (2nd) and 397.6 total yards per game (2nd), analysts think you can never have too many weapons for Josh Allen.
"I think adding another veteran with Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis would raise the floor of the wide receiver room," Trapasso said. "I think that would make sense because the Bills have loved adding those veterans with Josh Allen and the receiver spot."
If the Bills were to target a wide receiver via free agency there are some names that stick out, and some of those names will ask for a lot of money.
"If you go to the top, you're going to pay, that's just how it works," Bowen said. "If you targeted Jakobi Meyers, he could come in and fill a much-needed role for Buffalo as a second level. He's an intermediate target and could complement both Diggs and Davis. He would be ideal for that role."
Bowen also likes Odell Beckham Jr., JuJu Smith-Schuster from the Chiefs, Allen Lazard from Green Bay and Darius Slayton from the Giants for Buffalo.
In regard to how the offense operated last season, some experts believe Buffalo needs to do a better job in the run game.
"I think there needs to be a stronger run game," Cosell said. "Look at the Superbowl, everybody probably thought with the Chiefs down 10 at halftime that, 'Hey, this is just going to be a Patrick Mahomes second half.' And what did they do? They came out and they ran the ball. You have to have the ability to be multiple offensively, it can't just be, Josh Allen go be great."
If Buffalo wanted to add weapons to the running back room, Bowen thinks Miles Sanders from the Eagles, Alexander Mattison from Minnesota and Jamaal Williams from Detroit are good names for the Bills to consider.
While last season didn't end how the Bills wanted it to, the analysts think Buffalo will still be one of the best teams in 2023.
"The truth of the matter is by getting Von Miller back you're actually getting the best free agent possible, but you've already paid for it," Frelund said. "So the truth is that the return of some of the injured players will make a huge difference. We have recency bias that we saw at the end of last season, but remember, you were incredibly banged up at the end of last season. So you're going to get great free agents back because you're getting back the players who weren't healthy."
A healthy roster is something Buffalo struggled to have for most of 2022, so if that's the case in 2023, the roster is already looking much better. The experts also believe Buffalo can take a step forward if they have a good free agency and hit on some of their picks in the upcoming draft.
"I think this is still a roster assembled by Brandon Beane and coached by Sean McDermott that is near the top of the league in terms of being a Super Bowl favorite next year," Trapasso shared. "I think they're second in the Vegas odds still. They don't need to do a ton. I think they just need to have a solid offseason in free agency and the draft, fill some holes here and there.
"They still have Josh Allen, I think if you asked probably 30 other teams, they would take Josh Allen and say we feel good about our chances. So yeah, let's not overreact about what happened relative to the expectations. I think if they're a little healthier, fill some small holes that they have on the roster they'll be right there near the top of those Vegas odds at the beginning of the season."