It’s hard to remember the last time the Buffalo Bills’ roster was this talented and deep.
GM Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott have built Buffalo’s roster into a perennial contender in the AFC through the draft and free agency since joining the team in 2017.
Of course, with the good comes some bad.
In the next few months the Bills will have to make some tough decisions. That includes figuring out which 2019 starters may be looking for work elsewhere in 2020.
Based on the team’s current roster following free agency and the draft, here is a look at five players who made at least four starts last season at risk of losing their roster spot in 2020.
DE Trent Murphy
Trent Murphy started in all 16 regular-season games with the Bills last season. He got off to a slow start and did not record a sack until Week 9 against Washington. To Murphy’s credit, he came on late in the season. He recorded a sack in the Bills’ Sunday Night Football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and had two sacks in the regular-season finale against the New York Jets.
He kept that momentum going in the playoffs by recording two sacks in the Bills’ Wild Card loss to the Houston Texans.
With four sacks in the Bills’ last two games, could Buffalo really part ways with Murphy?
Absolutely. However, the team should not be in a rush to do so.
This offseason, the Bills signed Mario Addison in free agency (3-years, $30.45 million) and drafted AJ Epenesa in the second round of the 2020 draft. The team also added Quinton Jefferson, a defensive lineman who can play inside and outside, in free agency and currently have Darryl Johnson, a young player who flashed potential as a rookie last season.
Barring injury, Jerry Hughes, Addison, Epenesa and Jefferson all appear to be locks for the opening-day roster. That leaves little wiggle room for Murphy.
Buffalo can save about $8 million in cap space by releasing Murphy.
FB Patrick DiMarco
Patrick DiMarco, 31, recorded four starts for the Bills in 2019 and played the third-highest total of snaps on special teams last season. Much like Murphy, DiMarco is only under contract through the 2020 season.
It seems like he has a direct path to the 2020 roster, but he will have some competition this offseason from UDFA signing Reggie Gilliam.
Gilliam was an outstanding special teams player at Toledo (six blocked kicks in his career) and brings more athleticism to the offense. Gilliam recorded a 4.58 40-yard dash time.
As long as Gilliam proves to be a consistent blocker, he has a chance to take DiMarco’s spot on the final roster.
TE Lee Smith
Lee Smith was brought in for his blocking and leadership last season and recorded five starts. It’s possible that he sticks on the 2020 roster, but the tight end will turn 33 in November and the Bills have plenty of intriguing options who could start in front of Smith this season.
Dawson Knox is the team’s obvious starter at this point. Behind Knox, the Bills have another second-year tight end in Tommy Sweeney and 2019 free agent signing Tyler Kroft.
Kroft, signed to be the team’s starter last season, is the favorite for the second tight end job. Sweeney’s age and upside likely gives him the edge over Smith for the No. 3 tight end spot. Sweeney was praised for his blocking leading up to the 2019 draft and he proved he could contribute as a pass catcher when called upon last season.
K Stephen Hauschka
Stephen Hauschka went through a bit of a rough patch last season. He went 1-of-4 on FG kicks from Week 7-9 before bouncing back to make his next five field goals. On Thanksgiving Day, however, Hauschka went 2-of-3 on extra point attempts and on field goal attempts while getting a lucky bounce on one of his successful attempts. Following that game, the Bills attempted to put in a waiver claim on Chase McLaughlin, but he was awarded to the Indianapolis Colts.
Hauschka bounced back a second time in 2019 and made his final seven field goal kicks in the regular season and was 4-of-4 on field goal attempts in Buffalo’s playoff game.
Hauschka’s job is in doubt, however, due to his inability to consistently make long kicks at this point in his career. Further doubt was cast upon his roster spot after the Bills selected Tyler Bass in the 2020 NFL Draft. Bass was the No. 1 kicker on quite a few draft boards and was considered to have the biggest leg in the draft class.
Considering kicking woes that happen yearly in the league, it’s unlikely that the Bills could sneak Bass onto their practice squad. Making the switch this offseason just seems to make too much sense for Buffalo.
It’s understandable why some would be hesitant to turn to a rookie kicker in 2020 with the Bills being considered the favorite to win the division. That said, Buffalo should not be depending on their kicker to win them games this season. That should be on the shoulders of Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense as well as the team’s top-five defense.
P Corey Bojorquez
Among the five players on this list, Corey Bojorquez may be the safest bet to make the roster. The Bills did not add a punter in the draft, but they did sign Kaare Vedvik to compete for the job. Vedvik bounced around a bit in 2019 as a kicker, but will serve exclusively as a punter for the Bills. With so little known about his punting abilities, this battle will likely come down to the best performance this summer.
Bojorquez has a powerful leg and has come up big for Buffalo at times, but his inconsistency is what could cost him his job this offseason.