The Bills continue to make moves which further indicate that the Bills are working towards bigger things for the draft. This new regime is serious and have a clear game plan on how to achieve their goals. Brandon Beane and company have been very busy, finding the right type of players that fit “The Process”. The pressure is on even more now that the NY Jets have traded with the Colts to move up to the 3rd overall pick in order to hopefully obtain their franchise QB. Today’s post will review the free agent signings of DT Star Lotulelei, DE Trent Murphy, S Rafael Bush, LB Julian Stanford, and QB A.J. McCarron.
First up is DT Star Lotulelei, formerly of the Carolina Panthers. The big defensive tackle has been a mainstay in Carolina for the past 5 seasons before signing with the Bills for 5 years, $50 million with $25 million guaranteed which makes him the highest paid Bills player on the roster. While these are rather eye-popping numbers, Lotulelei has shown he is able to earn his keep. The 5th year pro has missed minimal time over his short career, suffering only ankle and foot injuries in the first three years. His ankle injury did not force him to miss any time but a broken bone in his foot at the end of the 2014 season led to eventual surgery. He was able to return to in time for training camp in 2015 but suffered a “stress-reaction” after the 3rd practice. Simply put, he suffered a precursor to a stress fracture. He was able to rest the remaining portion of training camp and missed the first two regular season games but since then has not suffered any further set backs. He should remain healthy as the defense has switched to rotational play, thus ensuring always fresh players in the trenches.
Next up is S Rafael Bush, formerly of the New Orleans Saints. The 7th year pro recently signed a 2-year deal with Buffalo has been all over the league, seeing time with New Orleans over two stints along with stops in Denver and Detroit. During his time in the league, he has suffered several injuries that have caused him to miss significant time. 2013 saw him miss 3 games towards the end of the season due to an ankle injury. In 2014, Bush suffered a broken fibula which prematurely ended his season that year. Finally in 2015, he suffered a torn pectoral in the season opener which sidelined him the entire season as it typically takes 6 months to recover. Since then, Bush has been healthy over the past 2 seasons, not missing any games due to injury. While he is getting older, he still has shown the ability to play at a high level and provides depth at a position the Bills found themselves to be very effective at last season.
The Bills continue to address needs on the defense with their 3rd signing in DE Trent Murphy. The 4th year pro has dealt with many injuries during his time in the league but has shown to be effective when healthy. Looking back at his NFL injury history, his rookie year saw him miss one game with a broken bone in his hand which ended his season one game early. He also dealt with a knee injury that year which did not affect his playing time. 2015 saw a minor hip injury and 2016 saw him deal with elbow/shoulder, foot, and ankle injuries that he was able to play through.
Unfortunately in 2017, Murphy suffered a torn ACL in the preseason which forced him to miss the entire season going into the final year of his contract. It was reported that rehab went very well for the defensive end in that he was squatting 475 lbs 6 months after his surgery. While it is typical to see these kind of exercises being performed, to be squatting that much is an excellent sign. Murphy does have a higher risk to retear his ACL which is at about 20% higher compared to a healthy population, but playing in the NFL is always a risk for injury. Between the torn ACL and a 4 game suspension for PED use which he ultimately served during his time on IR allowed the Bills to sign him and they hope to rekindle the kind of production he had in 2016 before his injury. He should fit in nice with the rotation of Jerry Hughes, Eddie Yarbrough, and Shaq Lawson, among others.
The final piece of the defensive free agents is LB Julian Stanford. The 5th year veteran has made stops in Jacksonville, Detroit, New York Jets, and his latest stop in Buffalo where he signed a 2-year contract. Most of his playing time has been seen on special teams with some occasional play in defensive packages. As a result, his injuries have been minimal, suffering a hip injury in 2012 which he did not miss any games and 2016 saw him miss 4 games which landed him on the IR to end the season. Otherwise, from what I have read, he is an effective and durable player who provides depth at the LB position and makes his mark on special teams.
Finally, the Buffalo Bills let the dust settle and finally signed a veteran QB in AJ McCarron. The former Alabama star has primarily rode the bench behind Buffalo playoff hero Andy Dalton for 4 seasons. McCarron recently won his arbitration case which allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent due to an injury his rookie year to his right shoulder. This injury originally occurred during his senior season at Alabama and had been described as tightness. This caused him to start the season on the PUP list which forced him to miss 14 games. I am not quite certain what he exactly did to his shoulder as he reportedly jammed it and always felt fatigue afterward. My initial thought may be that he was dealing with shoulder impingement in where the rotator cuff is pinched during abnormal shoulder biomechanics. There is a possibility that he also suffered some type of nerve injury which could also contribute towards a fatigue like feeling. As this is not his throwing shoulder and he has not had any recurrence since 2014 leads me to believe that this is no longer an issue.
McCarron will be afforded the ability to compete for the starting job along with QB Nathan Peterman and the expected 1st round draft pick the Bills will bring in this year. The 4th year signal caller has seen minimal time with the exception of a 3 game stretch in 2015 in where he went 2-1 with 6 TD’s against 2 INT’s. He was able to show that he could play in college under Nick Saban, but time will tell whether he can be a serviceable QB when given a starting role.
Overall, all these recent signings are favorable to the team and allow them to chase the high end talent in the draft to build for years down the road. All of these players I don’t expect to have any injury issues with the exception of Murphy. He has battled smaller injuries over his career and suffered the above mentioned ACL tear which puts him at a higher risk to reinjure. He will also most likely not be ready until OTA’s in June to fully participate. I believe all these players will provide the needed depth and skill required at their respective positions should the starter go down.
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