Harrison Phillips is Buffalo Bills free agent re-signing priority
This is the fifth in a five-part series of stories this week breaking down the Buffalo Bills’ offseason priorities.
Brandon Beane may have tilted his hand regarding his plan for defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, who is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in March.
“Who doesn’t love Harry?” Beane said with a smile a few weeks ago. “He’s just an amazing human, who we knew coming out of Stanford. He had a few setbacks with the injuries, but he was super proud of himself. So we’ll have to figure out what his value is, and that’s sort of my conversation with him, but you know, really proud of him. We drafted him here, and we’d love to keep him and see him continue his career here.
Experienced Phillips a career breakthrough in 2021starting in mid-November when the Bills were in New York and minus defensive tackle Star Lotulelei because of COVID.
The 26-year-old 2018 third-round pick went for 46 snaps in that blowout 45-17 win over the Jets, the most of any defensive lineman. And when Lotulelei missed four of the next six games due to COVID and a personal situation, Phillips firmly entrenched himself as a technical starter and stayed there for the rest of the season.
“In stages, Harry has been this consistent guy, facing Ed (Oliver), and really stabilizing our front in that,” Beane said.
Beane has already said he’ll exercise the fifth-year option on Oliver, so he’s up at three-tech defensive tackle for the next two years. Who will start next to him is the burning question.
Lotulelei served one goal for the Bills, although no matter what anyone says – Beane, Sean McDermott or Leslie Frazier – the 32-year-old didn’t perform until the massive free agent contract of $50 million over five years that the Bills awarded. him in 2018.
He was a solid run defender his first two years, doing the dirty work inside to free up other players to tackle and sack. Then he sat out in 2020 due to concerns over COVID, only returned in 2021 to miss six games and lose his starting role. He finished with 17 tackles and three sacks.
Lotulelei is a declining player, but the problem with his removal is that the Bills aren’t getting much financial help. His cap is $9.2 million, and if he’s not on the team, the Bills are still stuck with a $7.7 million cap that’s hard to stomach.
If Lotulelei accepts a restructured contract resulting in a pay cut, it could secure his place on the team for 2022, and the extra money would help the Bills in their desire to re-sign Phillips who, at this point, is clearly the player. the best and most valuable.
Phillips finished with 51 tackles, the most of any lineman, and he had a sack and a fumble recovery. This production came in 474 shots in total, which was fifth among linemen.
Off the pitch, Phillips is one of the organization’s most valued members and was the winner of the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award for all the charity work he does in the west of New York and at his home in Omaha, Nebraska.
There’s no doubt the Bills want him back, but it won’t be easy. His late-season push surely boosted his free agent profile and sports contract website Spotrac.com estimate its market value at $5.4 million per year, although it’s easy to see that growing.
“I’ve accumulated a lot of personal capital here in this organization and with these people,” said Phillips, who it seems would rather stay put. “They know my value better than any other team because they got to see the person I am obviously, on the pitch, but the things you can’t measure, the leadership qualities and what I do in the community. here and all these things.
“I hope to be here. I’ve been really praying for that every day since I got drafted, you know, sign a really good second contract and stay here, so we’ll see how this all plays out.
The rest of the defensive tackle depth chart includes Vernon Butler, an unrestricted free agent who almost certainly won’t be re-signed, and Justin Zimmer, a restricted free agent who will come out of a knee injury that cost him his life. half of 2021. If the Bills don’t offer Zimmer a bid, he’ll jump into the pool unrestricted.
Another player who will be back is Eli Ankou as he signed a reserve/term contract after seeing action at the end of the year and playing well enough to warrant a chance to compete for a job.
The draft is the best way for bills to increase the depth of the DT
When it comes to free agency, the Bills’ biggest priority on the defensive line would be getting a rusher that makes a difference. And if they bring back both Lotulelei and Phillips, there’s no need to sue anyone in the market, especially considering what it would cost, in addition to considering the large capitalization number that ‘Oliver will bear soon.
The draft is more likely the route the Bills will seek to bolster the position, although taking someone early probably won’t happen. There are greater needs in the first two days of the draft, but the Bills have a total of six picks in the final four rounds — a fourth, a fifth and two each in the sixth and seventh.
John Ridgeway started his career at Illinois State before transferring to Arkansas in 2021 and, facing stiff competition in the SEC, he was a nose tackle for the Razorbacks. He could trail in the fourth round. The 327-pounder would be an ideal fit for a tech as a true racing tamper that could also push the pocket, helping free Oliver and edge rushers.
Another fourth-round possibility could be Stanford’s 310-pound Thomas Booker, and what would intrigue the Bills is that Booker has played down the line in his four years. Versatility is almost a prerequisite in scouting Buffalo’s defensive linemen. He’s probably best suited to be Oliver’s three-man replacement as Butler’s replacement.
In the fifth round, Iowa State’s 319-pound Eyioma Uwazurike had a great senior year as he was named to the All-Big 12 first team as he battled his way to nine sacks to increase his strongest attribute that stops the race.
And Ohio State’s Haskell Garrett, a 300-pounder who could fill the role of a running plugger who also found a way to 5.5 sacks as a fifth-year senior in 2021. Garrett starred in 53 college games for one of the country’s blue-blood programs, a high-profile experience that’s still coveted in the NFL.
Plus, he’s known as one of those high-motor guys that NFL teams love because he never takes a game away or gives up a game either. Like Booker, Garrett would likely fit in on a rotational basis as Oliver’s three-tech replacement.
Sal Maiorana can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.