To continue our should he stay or should he go series, we will look into cornerback EJ Gaines’s situation. Acquired in the Sammy Watkins trade, Gaines came in and impressed, demonstrating he’s a great fit for Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier’s zone-based coverage schemes. With him hitting the free agent market, what should the Bills do?
Gaines started 12 of a possible 18 games (playoffs included), and the Bills’ defense clearly played on another level with him on the field. The team record with him in the lineup was 8-4, thanks to Gaines adding great coverage skills opposite rising star CB Tre’Davious White. He was the 13th-best graded CB in the league by Pro Football Focus, with a 86.6 overall score, while White was the 2nd (92.0 PFF grade). Alongside the impressive safety duo of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, the Bills had one of the top secondaries in the league in 2017, and it was only their first year playing together. The sky is the limit for this group and, in my opinion, Gaines needs to be retained. He’s a perfect fit for this scheme with great instincts in zone coverage and is a very good tackler, shown by his 3 forced fumbles and run support ability (66.3 PFF run support grade).
On the down side, Gaines struggled to stay healthy all season. He needed to be replaced during games is some situations and misse 6 starts from injury. He has a troublesome injury history with the Rams, too, and it’s never a good thing when one of your key pieces to the defense can’t be counted week in and week out. When healthy and on the field, my only knock on Gaines’s game is his dropped interceptions in some spot, but I guess that’s why he plays defense instead of offense.
Without any news on possible negotiations between the Bills and Gaines so far, it looks like he will be allowed to test the market. He was a really good addition by GM Brandon Beane and exceeded any expectations anyone could have had coming into the season. Gaines clearly should stay if the price is right (and that’s a big if). If someone overpays for him in free agency, then I don’t see Beane going into a bidding war for his services, especially because he has shown — like he did in Gaines’s case — that he can find very productive players in places no one expects.