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What should be the Buffalo Bills’ Plan A to address defensive tackle?

by Chanel Rowe
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Katherine Fitzgerald 5 hrs ago  12

Editor’s note: This is fourth in a 10-part series analyzing key questions facing the Buffalo Bills entering the 2024 offseason.

If Ed Oliver were to look around the defensive tackle room right now, he might be lonely.

The Buffalo Bills have work to do. Defensive tackles DaQuan Jones, Jordan Phillips, Tim Settle, Poona Ford and Linval Joseph are unrestricted free agents. Phillips told The Buffalo News he was mulling retirement. Either way, it leaves Oliver as the only defensive tackle on the Bills’ roster heading into free agency.

Settle joined the Bills in 2022 and had one sack each year with the team. His 19 total tackles in 2022 tied his season-high. Ford played eight games for the Bills as he often was a healthy scratch, and logged a sack, three quarterback hits and nine tackles. Joseph joined the Bills midseason after he spent the first eight weeks of the year without a team. In seven games with the Bills, he had one sack and 12 tackles.

The urgency is twofold: the Bills have a slew of pending free agents, but they also continue to lack the production they need from the defensive line as a whole when it comes to the postseason.

Oliver didn’t hide his feelings about the turnover around him.

“It’s just scary,” Oliver told The News in January. “It’s scary. I don’t necessarily know. I’m not the GM, I don’t know everybody’s situation. I don’t know. It’s kind of a scary time right now.”

So what should be Plan A to get past these scary times and to address the defensive tackle position after Oliver?

Let’s start with Jones, who previously signed a two-year deal with the Bills in 2022 worth $14 million.

Jones missed the bulk of this past season – 10 games – after tearing his pectoral muscle in London against the Jaguars. He returned from injured reserve Week 17. Ahead of this season, he spent most of his 10-year NFL career quite healthy. After playing just seven games his rookie season, he started every game but four over the next eight-year stretch.

In his seven regular-season games with the Bills last season, Jones had 2.5 sacks – both in the five games before his injury.

When Bills general manager Brandon Beane talks about the 32-year-old defensive tackle, he is effusive in his praise and on multiple fronts.

“I don’t know what his market is going to be like, but we missed DaQuan when he got hurt in London, and I told him as much,” Beane said in January. “DaQuan is a good player, first and foremost, a longtime starter in this league. Beyond that, he’s a leader and he’s well respected. He makes others around him better. So, you would want a DaQuan Jones around.

“We would love to get him back. It’s got to be fair for him and fair for us. He’s reached free agency – I would say that about any guy that you bring up. He’s earned the right to test his market and see what it looks like. But we would be a fool not to entertain bringing him back.”

Spotrac projects Jones’ next contract as a one-year, $6.8 million deal, based off calculated market value.

It is possible Jones would be open to a team-friendly contract. The Johnson City native seems quite happy to be a part of the Bills. He also recently heralded the promotion of Marcus West to defensive line coach, posting on social media that West is “going to be one of the best DL coaches this league has seen. His mindfulness is top notch and cannot wait to see his career bear fruit!”

A potential re-signing is not without its challenges – the Bills don’t have much money, and Beane has been candid about that impact on his planning. Still, Plan A should be to prioritize finding a way to get Jones back, both for his play on the field and for the veteran presence he’ll bring to the revamped group.

After that, they could turn to the draft, where they very much need to get players who can make an immediate impact while on rookie contracts.

Some names to watch in the draft include T’Vondre Sweat (Texas), McKinnley Jackson (Texas A&M), Braden Fiske (Florida State) and DeWayne Carter (Duke).

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