The Trent Murphy ripple effect looms large over the Buffalo Bills

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 02: Trent Murphy #93 and Matt Milano #58 of the Buffalo Bills celebrate after a sack against the Miami Dolphins during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium on December 2, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 02: Trent Murphy #93 and Matt Milano #58 of the Buffalo Bills celebrate after a sack against the Miami Dolphins during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium on December 2, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Trent Murphy was one of the Buffalo Bills biggest off-season acquisitions in 2018 and could be one of the biggest keys to the Bills 2019 roster based on his training camp performance.

In the spring of 2018, outside linebacker Trent Murphy was coming off an injury-riddled season. Despite so, the Buffalo Bills signed him to a three year $22.5 million contract. The numbers are representative of a player who will be starting opposite Jerry Hughes and Lorenzo Alexander. It was a noteworthy signing, as the Bills were still in full cash frugal mode to free up cap space for a busy 2019 off-season.

While the contract signaled a future starter, Murphy never could get into a rhythm in his first season as a Bill. His final totals for 2018 were a disappointing 13 games played, 24 tackles, and 4.0 sacks. The primary beneficiary of Murphy’s recovery from injury was Shaq Lawson, as he too finished 2018 with the same sack total.

With a three-year contract and an out clause this off-season that the Bills did not execute, it’s now or never for Murphy. His performance and health during training camp have significant ripple effects with the Bills roster decisions.

First, if Murphy is healthy, he will provide an upgrade to the entire Bills defense — as a playmaker off the edge, who can also be stout against the run. A good and healthy Murphy will pose a significant threat to offenses who will have to pick their poison off the edge.

Being able to feel confident that the coaching staff can rely upon Murphy will open the door for the Bills to move Lawson possibly. The former first-round pick is the first ripple effect to focus on when watching Murphy in training camp.  While he did improve last season and benefited the most from Murphy’s absence, he’s essentially in competition for reps with Murphy. If Murphy wins, then Lawson, who is on the last year of his rookie contract, could prove to be a trade asset for a team wanting to take a look at bolstering their pass-rush.

Bills GM Brandon Beane has shown value on holding draft capital. The Bills hold just six picks in the 2020 NFL Draft currently. A trade of Lawson could net them a couple more. Lawson value greatly diminishes if Murphy is healthy and better than Lawson in training camp. There is little to no point to hold onto Lawson simply to rotate five pass rushers during games; when coming off the bench virtually guarantees he will be in a different uniform in 2020.

Sure, there is the obvious point that Lawson is a better option on Sundays than Deon Lacey, Eli Harold, Eddie Yarbrough, and Daryl Johnson. The argument can also be made that having the additional capital, and allowing those special teams role players to get reps on defense will yield bigger returns than what Lawson could provide in 2019. By keeping both Lawson and Murphy, the Bills will have to release a few of these players or try to sneak them onto the practice squad.

The flip side in training camp makes things a little dicier. Should Murphy remain injured, or Lawson proves to be better in camp and earn the starting job, then what do the Bills do with Murphy? Financially it doesn’t benefit the Bills significantly to cut Trent Murphy this off-season. Therefore, you are keeping Murphy to continue to heal and hopefully start in 2020, or trade him. With one additional season of team control, he may seem intriguing to several teams; however, to have only appeared in 13 games over the past two seasons, his value would be minimal.

Lawson winning a starting job, or having Murphy remain injured is his best opportunity to increase his free agent value while a member of the Bills. If the Bills and Lawson were to agree to another contract, all signs would point to cutting Murphy in 2020 when he only would carry a $1.75 million dead cap hit, per Over The Cap.

There is also another possibility that exists if Murphy cannot begin to show in training camp he’s worth his current contract. Beane and the Bills will not ‘clown’ around in terms of attempting to upgrade the Bills long-term. Knowing Murphy and Lawson may not be options long-term, the Bills could make a deal that fans have been waiting for —   that is to acquire Texans OLB/DE Jadeveon Clowney.

Clowney is a former No. 1 overall pick, who has been waiting for his big maximum contract that likely isn’t coming from the Houston. The Texans going into this season without a general manager, so to make any decision revolving around Clowney — either to remove him from the roster or invest significant cap into him — would be risky. The Bills would have to pay with draft capital, but offer assets the Texans may desire in a possible Clowney deal.

In the end, there are a lot of roster decisions that Murphy’s training camp performance will dictate. His performance and health in camp may have more ripple effects on the roster than just about any other Bills player. This fan is expecting the Bills to trade one of them before the start of the season.

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The Bills will not enter the 2020 NFL Draft with just six draft picks. Trading Lawson or Murphy will improve the Bills long-range outlook by adding draft capital and carving room for younger players. Expect the Bills to give Murphy every chance to win the job, but another off-season of improvement via Lawson could make his first-round abilities show in Buffalo at Murphy’s expense.