Welcome to the second article in our series on the Buffalo Bills’ pending free agents. I will go through the Bills’ current crop of free agents and give the arguments for re-signing them or letting them walk.
Age: 24 (25 at the start of 2023)
Most Recent Contract: Rookie Contract
Tremaine Edmunds enters free agency for the first time as perhaps one of the most polarizing Bills players in recent memory. Edmunds did a lot to silence his critics last season. PFF ranked Edmunds as the fifth-best off-ball linebacker to play at least 50% of their team’s snaps, thanks mainly to being the fifth-best linebacker when targeted by passer rating. Though he did not make the Pro Bowl like in prior seasons, Edmund played his best football in his contract year.
Case for Re-Signing
Few linebackers in the entire NFL had the impact in the passing game that Edmunds had in 2022. When Edmunds was off the field, the defense was 0.19 EPA worse per play than when he was on the field (he missed three games in 2022.) To provide context, with Edmunds on the field, the Bills rank fourth in EPA per pass, and with him off the field, the Bills would rank 29th if extrapolated over the course of an entire season.
Defending the run hasn’t been Edmunds’ specialty, but he remains a sure tackler, finishing 30th among all linebackers in tackles (every linebacker but one who finished ahead of him played at least two more games). And 16th in missed tackle rate out of 56 qualifying linebackers. Getting beyond the statistics, Edmunds’ most valuable trait may be his age. At only 25, Edmunds will still be younger than a handful of the class of 2023 rookies. If the Bills were to let Edmunds walk, could they be missing out on Edmunds’ best football? Additionally, Edmunds has been a captain for the Bills for four of his five years in Buffalo. Letting Edmunds walk would mean letting a massive pillar of the Bills’ leadership structure.
Case for Letting Him Walk
For all his growth, Edmunds’ run defense never reached the heights of his draft status. Edmunds ranked 24th out of 56 qualifying off-ball linebackers in run stop rate in 2022 and 19th in average depth of tackle. These numbers may appear decent, but when considering Cover 1’s Greg Tompsett projects Edmunds to get a six-year, $105 million dollar contract, it must be asked whether it is prudent to give that much money to an average run defender. Additionally, is it prudent to pay two off-ball linebackers top-of-market salaries when it is generally not considered a premium position? Matt Milano is scheduled to have a $13 million dollar cap hit each of the next two seasons. The argument can easily be made that the money the Bills would spend on Edmunds would be better used to shore up the offense. On top of all that, the Bills used a day-two pick to draft Terrel Benard last year. Re-signing Edmunds would make his chances of seeing the field during his rookie contract minimal.
More likely than not, Edmunds will command a massive contract. On the one hand, you will be locking down an incredibly gifted and young defensive captain. On the other hand, signing Edmunds to a market-value contract means sacrificing other areas of the roster, including the likely departure of Jordan Poyer. At $18 million dollars over the cap, the Bills will have to do some work to afford Edmunds. He is absolutely worth the payday his about to get, but is he worth the opportunity cost?