The Bills linebacker position may be taking a hit in free agency. Starting linebacker Nigel Bradham is set to become a free agent. Bradham is a three down linebacker who could run sideline to sideline. But Rex’ scheme amplified some of his weaknesses. Bradham is going to command a wage that the Bills may not want to pay, so they will have to use free agency and the draft to fill the position.
A free agent that Paul Wanecski over at Hashtag sports brought to my attention who could come in and start is Mason Foster. Foster was drafted by the Buccaneers with their 3rd round pick in the 2011 draft. He is 6’1″, 241 pounds and is known for being a reliable tackler. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF) he has 6 career sacks, 10 QB hits, 25 QB hurries, 289 solo tackles and 152 stops.
Foster was part of the Redskins organization last season, a team that was one and done in the playoffs. Coming off an injury plagued 2014 season, Foster was brought onto the Washington Redskins as a reserve player after the Bears released him after camp. Week 7 was his first snaps with the Redskins, unfortunately he injured his hamstring and struggled with the injury from weeks 7-11.
In week 13, he was inserted into the starting lineup and he seized his opportunity. From that point on he started the rest of the season. Prior to his injury he had one assisted tackle, from week 13 on he had 30 solo tackles, 8 assisted tackles, 15 stops, and 4 QB hurries. Foster finished strong!
Foster has 4.75 forty speed which isn’t bad for a linebacker. But being able to get to the offensive player quickly, breakdown and tackle is his forte. In 2015, he only missed 3 tackles.
Foster is #54
He has a good feel for the flow of a play. Here he reads the down block and pulling guard coming his way. Foster doesn’t get out-leveraged by the back, forces him inside where he brings him down.
Cowboys run a lead draw. Foster has his eyes on his key; the FB, as the FB leads he fills and brings the RB down.
Versus the Eagles a run blitz is called and Foster takes a great angle to bring down the shifty Sproles.
The key to Foster being successful is keeping lineman off of him. When he has the freedom to roam he will bring down the offensive player.
Keep him clean, and he will take the proper angle and pursuit to bring the back down.
The guy can definitely plug the hole versus the run.
He isn’t afraid to take on offensive lineman, but his pad level on contact worries me sometimes. Similar to this play.
He has good recognition skills. Here he reads the power run play, beats the guard to the hole but doesn’t keep his legs underneath him.
But you gotta give him credit, he sacrificed his body and still brought the back down. Consistent tackling is what the Bills’ defense needs.
Mason Foster spent some time in Lovie Smith’s cover 2 scheme. This was great for his career, linebackers in that scheme must be good in space. Foster shows tremendous spatial awareness and the ability to read route combinations. He reads routes so well that you know that he has done his homework in the film-room. His quickness and or speed does limit him when he is asked to cover players man on man. But I don’t think he is a total liability in that department.
He obviously had limited snaps in 2015, but you can look at his 2014 numbers and see that he was pretty good in coverage. The yards/cover snap is how many yards he surrendered per snap, the lower the better. When you turn on the film, he shows that he is really comfortable in zone coverage.
On this play he is in zone to the bottom of the screen, the Packers try putting him in a bind by running a short hook route, then sneaking a deep crossing route behind him. But Foster doesn’t bite, he comes off the short route and picks up the deep crosser.
He flips his hips very naturally. Foster isn’t the quickest to his depth, but he doesn’t waste many steps either. Look at him get to his depth, flip his hips, close and tackle.
The following play showcases his coverage skills. Foster is showing an A gap blitz, on the snap he drops into his zone while carrying the TE up-field, flips his hips to take away the first crosser but still has his head on a swivel and takes away the second crossing route. Bradford forces it deep and it ends up incomplete.
Mason Foster is a player that the Bills should target in free agency. Foster played for the Redskins under a $680,000 contract. His value on the market will probably be pretty low due to his injury status the last couple years. The hamstring injury in 2015 and the dislocated shoulder in 2014 have limited his on field production. But that is the only thing to slow him down. He can be a very productive player in the Bills’ scheme. That is only if he hits the market, I wouldn’t be surprised if they offer him another short contract. A decision will have to come soon because the clock is ticking and he isn’t the only ILB going to hit free agency soon. Keenan Robinson and Will Compton are also free agents for the Redskins. So all three 26 year old ILB’s for coach Gruden are possibly hitting the market.
If Foster is let go I think the Bills should definitely sign him. Then draft a young LB somewhere in the draft. Finding the right linebacker for this system is definitely a priority this off-season. He doesn’t have to be physically gifted. He must be intelligent, possess the abilities to read and diagnose, but most of all he must be a sure tackler. Foster is a guy that can do all of those things, definitely keep a close eye on this possible free agent.
Other possible FA targets