Bills' front-seven investments are not paying off yet
Here is a list of Buffalo Bills’ front-seven players, how the Bills acquired them, and the total number of sacks for each this season. This is not the full list of Buffalo front-seven players but I will address that momentarily. First note these players:
Mario Addison, 3-year, $30 million contract, 4 sacks
Gregory Rosseau, 30th overall pick in 2021, 3 sacks
Star Lotulelei, 4-year, $50 million contract, 3 sacks
Matt Milano, 163rd overall pick in 2017, 2 sacks
Carlos Basham, 61st overall pick in 2021, 1.5 sacks
Jerry Hughes, trade in 2013/$9.45m cap hit in 2021, 1.5 sacks
A.J. Epenesa, 54th overall pick in 2020, .5 sack
Ed Oliver, 9th overall pick in 2019, .5 sack
Tremaine Edmunds, 16th overall pick in 2018, 0 sacks
Vernon Butler, 2-year, $15 million contract in 2020, 0 sacks
A.J. Klein, 3-year, $18 million contract in 2020, 0 sacks
Now, this is not the time to debate the merits of sack totals or whether or not all of these players are expected to be among the league-leaders in sacks, it is just an examination of team building, value, and return on investment. Those 11 players on the Bills account for three recent first round picks by the team, two recent second round picks, and over $65 million towards the 2021 salary cap. That list has five of the six highest-paid players on the team this year and nine of the top 16. Buffalo has the second-highest cap hit going to linebackers this year (just $700k behind the Vikings), as well as ranking ninth in spending at edge and interior defensive line.
Those 11 players have combined to make 16 sacks this season.
T.J. Watt, who is just one player, has 17.5 sacks. Robert Quinn has 16 sacks. Nick Bosa and Myles Garrett each have 15 sacks. And Trey Hendrickson, a player who was available for any team to woo this past offseason and has a $12.4 million cap hit, has 13 sacks.
I want to avoid the argument that revolves around the merits of sack totals because they are only ever used by people attempting to explain away disappointing performances by underwhelming pass rushers who they probably overrated during the draft and now they can’t let go of that. Jadeveon Clowney is a five-sack player, not a 15-sack player. This is a fact. Jadeveon Clowney would be a lot more valuable if he was a 15-sack player.
This is also a fact.
It doesn’t matter if Clowney “impacts the game in other ways” because not only would more sacks mean more sacks, it would also mean that he’d be having an even bigger impact on the game “in other ways”. Instead of being the type of pass rusher who gets five sacks, 15 QB hits, and 30 pressures, a Clowney who gets to the quarterback more often would also probably have at least 50 pressures and as Clowney defenders argue time and time again, “Pressures are good too”.
How many pressures then is Buffalo’s front-seven leaving on the field?
Perhaps the Bills’ best value in that regard this season is 29-year-old defensive end Efe Obada. A fan favorite in Carolina before coming to Buffalo this year, Obada isn’t likely to ever reach the ceiling that so many Panthers fans had dreamt of. But with 3.5 sacks in eight games this season, Obada is only one sack shy of leading the team in the most prominent of pass rushing statistics.
It doesn’t matter to me if Rousseau is only 21, Edmunds isn’t a pass rusher, Basham has missed half of the season, and Hughes is 33…none of the excuses really matter when you consider that the sum of the parts is no less underperforming expectations. Buffalo invested more heavily in this area than perhaps any other outside of Josh Allen’s draft pick and contract, but the defense seems to lack an elite threat in the front-seven as we prepare for the playoffs.
I think the Bills might have the highest odds of being a “surprise” Super Bowl winner, depending on which teams you think qualify as surprises, but Tampa Bay had six players with at least six sacks. The Bills might not even have one.
Will that be good enough in January?