CAPACCIO: UFA defensive ends who might fit the Bills

March 06, 2019 - 11:46 am
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Tuesday afternoon the NFL released this year’s franchise-tagged players.  It included two defensive ends, Demarcus Lawrence of the Cowboys and Frank Clark of the Seahawks.  It also included two outside linebackers who are often considered ends within their scheme, Dee Ford of the Chiefs and Jadeveon Clowney of the Texans.  So none of them will be an option for the Bills during free agency should they go shopping for a defensive end.  

Looking at the Bills current roster, there’s an argument to be made that the team needs to add a solid defensive end.  Jerry Hughes will be 31 years old and going into the last year of his contract.  Shaq Lawson had his best season as a pro last year, but hasn’t quite lived up to his first-round status and may also be entering the final year of his deal, if the team doesn’t exercise his fifth year option for 2020.  Trent Murphy was one of the team’s main free agent signings a year ago and had trouble staying healthy all season.

Here are five defensive ends who are scheduled to become free agents on March 13 and how they may fit the Bills:


Trey Flowers

Current team: Patriots
Age at start of season: 26


Dante Fowler

Current team: Rams
Age at start of season: 25


Markus Golden

Current team: Cardinals
Age at start of season: 28


Za’Darius Smith

Current team: Ravens
Age at start of season: 27


Ezekiel Ansah

Current team: Lions
Age at start of season: 30

Golden is a little bit older than some of the other ends wrapping up their rookie contracts.  He also had an ACL injury that cost him most of 2017.  But the year before that he had 12.5 sacks and 92 tackles, including 16 tackles for loss.  He played the first three years of his career as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but lined up as a 4-3 defensive end last season in Arizona, collecting 55 tackles and 2.5 sacks.  The Cardinals appear to be moving on from him, although Golden has said he’s open to returning.  If he does hit the market it will be interesting to see what his value is with other teams considering the injury, the change of positions, and the dominant season he turned in in 2016.


Za’Darius Smith

Current team: Ravens
Age at start of season: 27

Smith has increased his production every year in the league and had a breakout 2018, collecting 8.5 sacks and 71 tackles, including 10 for loss.  He also offers position flexibility, able to play inside and outside in different schemes.  He has 18.5 sacks in his four-year career while only starting 16 games out of the 58 he’s played.  Some thought the Ravens might even use the franchise tag on Smith if they dint use it on linebacker C.J. Mosley.  They didn’t tag either of them.  Smith is probably best fit into a 3-4 defense, but he’s versatile enough to line up on the end in a 4-3 and would be a nice addition to Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier’s defense, giving them flexibility and creativity when it comes to rushing the passer. The problem is he’s probably going to be one of the highest-paid pass rushers on the open market, and unless the Bills make a move with another player already under contract like Hughes or Murphy, it would be tough to see them paying all of them that kind of money.


Ezekiel Ansah

Current team: Lions
Age at start of season: 30

Ansah’s been a productive player since coming into the league as the fifth overall pick by the Lions in 2013.  But that production tailed off last year after a pair of shoulder injuries limited him to seven games played.  Now, turning 30, it looks like the Lions are ready to move on fro a player who’s played six years for them.  Prior to last season, Ansah never had any durability concerns.  He missed only seven games in five years.  He ranks 28th amongst active players in career sacks with 48, including 14.5 in 2015 and 12.0 in 2017.  Sandwiched in-between those two seasons was a low 2.0-sack season in 2016, but otherwise Ansah’s lowest sack total for a full season played prior to the injury last year (he still had 4.0 sacks in seven games) was 7.5.  He’s been consistent in that area outside of one season.  All this to go along with 380 total tackles.  With the other pass rushing talent available in this free agent and draft classes, Ansah will probably not cost as much as he might have in another year.  Because of his age and last year's injury, he might even have to take a one-year deal.  If that’s the case, or even a two-year deal for reasonable money, the Bills should be interested in adding him for solid depth.


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