With training camp now officially open, I’m re-examining the State of the Buffalo Bills’ roster, going position-by-position.
Here’s an in-depth look at the defensive ends:
Hughes was still a solid, reliable player in his 10th season in the league in 2019. He’s played 131 straight games, second-most among all NFL defensive ends. He’s also going to be 32-years-old and is six years removed from his last double-digit sack season. So there’s no doubt the Bills would love to see that number go higher, especially considering their top-two sack-getters from a year ago are both gone - Jordan Phillips (9.5) and Shaq Lawson (6.5).
Murphy had a better 2019 than he did 2018, both in production and games played. After missing three games his first year in Buffalo, he played all 16 games last season, collecting five sacks and 36 total tackles. He has one year remaining on a contract that will pay him over $7 million this season, carrying a cap hit of $9.775 million. If general manager Brandon Beane wants to create more salary cap room in order to roll it over to next season when there will almost certainly be a reduction, Murphy is a candidate to be released sine they can save over $8 million in cap space by doing it. However, Murphy played his best football the last five games of last season, including the playoffs, collecting four sacks and 15 tackles, compared to 21 tackles and only one sack over the first 12 games.
Although Addison will be 33-years-old next month, he's been one of the most consistent defensive ends in football over the past four years, racking up 39 sacks, which is the 11th-most in the NFL in that time period. He never had less than nine in any season over the past four. He should add an immediate impact to the team’s pass rush.
The Bills used their first pick of this year’s draft on Epenesa. He was thought by many to be a first round talent, but fell to the 22nd pick of the second round before the Bills selected him. The 6-foot-5, 275 pounder led the Big Ten in sacks in 2018 (10.5) and finished third last season (11.5). He ranks sixth all-time in the conference with 26.5 career sacks. Epenesa also finished 10th in the Big Ten with 14 tackles for loss last season. Analysts have raved about Epenesa’s use of hands as a pass-rusher. He’s more of a bull-rusher than one who relies on speed to get around the edge, but still has a good first step and instincts. He’ll have to learn how to set the edge as a run defender better in the NFL, but the Bills can use him immediately as a situational pass rusher.
A seventh round pick last year, Johnson was used quite a bit on defense through the first seven games, then saw his snaps take a significant dip, going from about 20 per-game to five or less. His special teams snaps also decreased, although he was still a regular in most cases. Johnson is an incredible specimen, at 6-foot-6, 253 pounds, and was raw coming into the league from North Carolina A&T, not having the same high-level college experience as many others. Now with a full offseason in the team’s weight program and knowing the defense, it will be exciting to see where he can go with his game. He could push for significant playing time if he develops the way the team hopes. If he doesn’t make those kinds of strides, he’s fighting for a roster spot.
Love played three games in 2018, was on the roster bubble prior to last season, but was placed on injured reserve. Prior to that, he was having a solid training camp and preseason and seemed on track to make the final 53-man roster. He was originally signed by the Bills as an undrafted free agent in 2018 after playing college football at the University of South Florida. He was cut at the end of training camp that year, but re-signed to the team's practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster in December of 2018, playing three regular season games.
Cox signed with the Bills this offseason after spending last year with the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers. He had 0.5 sacks and 14 total tackles in seven games played. Cox entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Florida in 2017, signed by the Panthers, where he spent his first two seasons collecting 16 tackles and one fumble recovery. His dad, Bryan Cox, Sr., was considered one of the most disliked opponents by Bills fans while playing for the Miami Dolphins during the early 1990s and Bills Super Bowl years. Cox, Sr. played 12 years in the NFL for the Dolphins, Chicago Bears, New York Jets, New England Patriots, and New Orleans Saints. He later became an NFL assistant coach, working for the Jets, Browns, Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and most recently the Atlanta Falcons from 2014-2016.