If you were to rank moves that surprised Buffalo Bills fans this offseason, extending Ed Oliver to a four-year, $68 million contract with $45 million guaranteed would be at one in a tier of his own. The career to date of the former ninth-overall pick has been a Rorschach test of sorts. Ask some, and they will tell you Oliver has flashed game explosion and game-wrecking ability. Others will tell you that he has failed to put up the stats you want to see from such a high draft pick. Was he worth the hefty extension?
With his new contract, Oliver is scheduled to make $68 million over four years. When you dive deeper into the numbers, the Bills are only truly locked in until 2025, when they can get out with $5.9 million of dead money. Additionally, we know his $17 million average annual value will be about the 11th highest among defensive tackles, between Kenny Clark of the Packers and Grady Jarrett of the Falcons. This will undoubtedly drop once the Jets’ Quinnen Williams and the Dolphins’ Christian Wilkins ink their inevitable extensions.
Oliver to date
Oliver boar the weight of lofty expectations coming out of college, helped by his absurd college production in an undersized but freakishly athletic frame. The ninth-overall pick in the 2019 draft drew comparisons to one of the best to ever do it in Aaron Donald. To date, Oliver has yet to meet the expectations many had, at least consistently, but that is not to say he has been bad. His pass rush win rate by year ranks 42nd, 26th, ninth, and 42nd (PFF). In those four years, he has put up 20 sacks. As a run defender, Oliver has been equally inconsistent. Oliver has ranked 34th, 59th, eighth, and 35th in the run-stop win rate.
But the numbers don’t tell Oliver’s full story. Watch the film, and you will see the traits that got him drafted in the top 10. He has used his strength to make guards look silly and his otherworldly explosiveness to blow up plays. Unfortunately, Oliver has struggled to string play like this together for more than a game or two at a time.
How Can Ed Oliver Live Up To the Deal
What kind of production would Oliver have to put up for this contract to be a win for Buffalo? Let’s go back to the start and the two players whose contract values flank his: Kenny Clark and Grady Jarrett. Clark and Jarrett ranked 24th and 28th in the pass rush win rate among qualifying interior rushers. Oliver exceeded Clark and Jarrett as a run-stopper, with stop rates ranking 103rd and 134th. Additionally, Oliver put up nine tackles for loss to Clark and Jarrett’s five and 12, respectively. And there is plenty of reason to think Oliver could improve his numbers. The Bills now have two quality one techniques in DaQuan Jones and Poona Ford to rotate in next to Oliver. He also injured his ankle early in the 2022 season, which may have led to the downturn in his play, especially once the Bills lost Von Miller and more attention could be shifted toward Oliver.
But simply being a top-17-to-top-20 pass rusher won’t be enough for the contract to be considered “value” or satisfy fans, especially when smart teams can find that level of production with cheaper players. For a Bills line that includes Miller for at least two more years, the Bills need players to play above their contracts. The only players on the line that can say that following last season are Greg Rousseau, who is still on a rookie contract, and arguably DaQuan Jones, who will be a free agent in 2024. For this contract to be a win, the improvement for Oliver will need to be abundantly clear to even the most passive observer of the game. Oliver will need to be a consistent backfield presence who can produce regardless of who is next to him. He will need to be a player teams actively game plan against.
In all, the EdOliver contracts represent a dice roll for both the defender and the Buffalo Bills. If he produces at his current rate, the Bills will have a pricey contract on the book for, at the minimum, the next three seasons. But if Oliver can sustain the flashes he’s shown at times throughout his career, the Bills will have locked in a premier pass rusher at a discount rate.