Bills Free Agency: Gaines highlights three CBs set to become UFAs

February 12, 2018

The Buffalo Bills have 18 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 14, the first day of the new league year. All of them are eligible to re-sign with the club before hitting the open market. However, those who played 2017 on one-year veteran minimum deals have to wait until March 14, unless they agree to another one-year, vet minimum contract with the Bills. If they do, they can re-sign before then.

The advantage for the team signing a player to a one-year vet minimum contract is that no matter how many years of service they’ve had in the NFL, he will only count as a player with two years of service against the salary cap, which will be $630,000 in 2018.

Here’s a look at the Bills' cornerbacks scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March and how I see their situations:

  • E.J. Gaines

Gaines may be the toughest decision and situation facing the Bills as far as their own free agents this offseason.  They were a much better defense and overall team when he played last year.  His presence allowed others to play more natural positions and the defense to play more diverse coverages.  In fact, the Bills were 8-3 in games Gaines started.  They were 1-4 in games he didn’t.  But that’s where the issue comes in.  Gaines, acquired by the team in a trade for WR Sammy Watkins during the preseason, missed five games with injuries.  He also left three other games with injuries.  That’s half the games the Bills played that Gaines either got hurt during the game and didn’t finish, or didn’t play at all.

The injury problem wasn’t new to Gaines in 2017, either.  After starting 15 games and having a very good rookie season in 2014, he missed all of 2015 due to a foot injury, then missed five games in 2016 with a thigh injury.  He’s played a total of only 37 of a possible 64 games through four NFL seasons.

Gaines is an excellent tackler, which head coach Sean McDermott values immensely in his cornerbacks.  He’s also very good in zone coverage, something the Bills play a lot of, understanding angles and help.  He’s the perfect fit for McDermott on the field.

But McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane also put a tremendous value on “availability,” and Gaines just hasn’t been available enough to justify investing several years of big money.  And he’ll probably get just that when he hits the open market.  A recent “calculated market value” for Gaines done by the website Spotrac pegged his value at about $9.3 million per season on his next deal.

If the Bills could get Gaines for a short-term (1-2 years) deal at a lower price, his talent and impact may be worth the gamble.  But I don’t think they’ll be able to do that.  His price tag will probably be too much to bring back. 

  • Leonard Johnson

Johnson signed a one-year contract for the veteran minimum last offseason.  He was a valuable slot cornerback for the team in 2017, finishing the season with the second-highest percentage of snaps played (60.7%) of any Bills’ cornerback, behind only Tre’Davious White.  Like Gaines, he’s also a very good tackler, fitting into McDermott’s model at the position.  Johnson will only be 28 years old next season.  He only missed one game with an injury last year, and counting that game, appeared on the injury report as questionable only three times.  It’s hard to see a huge demand for him on the open market, which means he can probably be signed for the vet minimum once again.  And if that’s the case, I’d assume the Bills would be very interested in doing that - and should be.

  • Shareece Wright

Wright contributed mostly on special teams last year, but was pressed into starting cornerback duties the five games Gaines was hurt.  He didn’t give McDermott or defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier as much flexibility as Gaines did, and wound up inactive as a healthy scratch three times.  Wright just turned 30 years old and will be going into his eighth NFL season.  He played last year for just over $1 million.  At this point of his career, and considering the season he had last year in Buffalo, it’s hard to see many teams willing to sign him for any more than the veteran minimum in 2018.  That’s probably the only way he returns to Buffalo, but I can’t see them even doing that unless it gets later in the offseason and they feel they need more competition at the position.  The Bills will most likely look for younger options before going back down that road, but willing to bring Wright back if they don’t find it.

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