Buffalo Bills Impending Free Agents, C.J. Spiller vs. Jerry Hughes


Oct 19, 2014; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Minnesota Vikings middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley (54) tries to tackle Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller (28) during the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

For the Buffalo Bills, running back C.J. Spiller and defensive end Jerry Hughes are the headlining impending free agents set to hit the market this March. A case can be made that linebacker Brandon Spikes is also a priority free agent, but for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll focus on Spiller and Hughes. There should be no debate right now that the current state of the Bills roster is in a much better place on the defensive side of the ball. With the quarterback situation in flux once again due to the retirement of Kyle Orton, coupled with the regression of the offensive line, there are currently far more question marks on offense than defense.

The case for Spiller is that the offense needs all the help it can get in the wake of the Orton retirement. The Bills ranked a lowly 25th in rushing yards per game during 2014, and were one of only nine teams that averaged less than 100 yards per game on the ground for the entire season. The Bills saw an amazing drop in yardage from just a year ago where they averaged 144.2 Yds/G (2nd in the NFL) to only 92.6 Yds/G. On the surface, it would appear the Bills may need more offensive weaponry, but in my opinion, and in many experts opinion, the offensive deficiencies heading into the offseason start and stop with the quarterback and the line. While the Bills would most likely love to have Spiller back in the fold for 2015, the fact of the matter is that Fred Jackson has proven time and time again that he is still the most reliable running back on the team (even at age 33), and Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown are still under contract as well. During last May’s draft, the Bills traded a conditional draft pick to the Eagles to acquire Brown, and his skill set is the closest to Spiller’s on the team. Also working against Spiller has been his consistent propensity to look for the “homerun” rather than taking the yards in front of him. While trying to bounce runs to the outside, I have been frustrated to watch C.J. get stuffed in the backfield when the defense strings him out. Furthermore, he hasn’t been able to stay fully healthy over the course of the last two years, only suiting up for nine games in 2014. Not surprisingly, Spiller recorded his lowest rushing yardage total since his rookie year, while also recording a career low 19 receptions. Some of the blame here goes to the coaching staff, but anyone who has watched Spiller on tape knows that for every amazingly big play he makes, there are three or four terrible plays in between. In no way am I saying the Bills should NOT re-sign Spiller. For the right price, I’d love to see him back in the fold for 2015 and beyond; however, it would appear other areas of the offense need to be addressed as a higher priority, especially given the Bills current depth at the position.

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If forced to decide between the two, the urgency to re-sign Jerry Hughes is more pressing in my opinion. Hughes was the lone starter on the Bills defensive line that did not make the Pro Bowl, but a case could have been made that he deserved selection. Since joining the Bills in 2013, Hughes has recorded 10 sacks apiece in each of the last two seasons. Playing opposite Mario Williams, Hughes has eliminated all doubt that he should be a full-time player on the Bills line. After only technically starting one game a year ago, Hughes was a lineup mainstay in 2014. Looking at the depth of the Bills defensive ends and pass rushers is concerning. Players like Jarius Wynn and Manny Lawson are solid backups, but neither possesses the pass rushing skills of Hughes. One bad injury to either Hughes or Williams would leave a fairly sizable gap at the defensive end position. This concern is not new, but the Bills were fortunate that neither starting defensive end missed time during 2014. Hughes is still a very young player, and will only turn 27 years old during the upcoming summer. A former first round pick, the Bills appear to have made out like bandits when they traded linebacker Kelvin Sheppard to the Colts in exchange for Hughes back in April of 2013. Hughes contributions have greatly aided in the improvement of defensive line, and the Bills are not likely to find a 10 sack per year player on the free agent market. The Bills would be smart to keep the core nucleus of the defensive line intact. Although nothing materialized before the season, contract extension talks for Hughes were rumored even before this year’s draft. The Bills were most likely wanting to see how Hughes would perform under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, and the results were obviously productive. The price tag for Hughes is likely higher now than it would have been in April or May, but the Bills should still make re-signing Hughes a top priority heading into free agency.

Bills fans – if you could only pick one of C.J. Spiller or Jerry Hughes to return to the Bills next season (and possibly beyond), who would it be?