As of Tuesday evening, the Buffalo Bills are poised to lose yet another major contributor to its division “rival” the New England Patriots. And realistically, Doug Whaley, Sean McDermott and everyone else at One Bills Drive shouldn’t be losing any sleep over it.
Assuming the font office decides not to match Mike Gillislee’s 2-year, $6.4M offer sheet, the team will be saying goodbye to eight touchdowns from 2016’s elite rushing attack. That’s no small feat to overcome, yet one that has recently been done.
While the general consensus seems to be that Buffalo is getting “worked over” by big brother New England, I’m here to tell you it’s really not that bad. In fact, here are 4 reasons the Bills are in good shape following Patriots-Mike Gillislee deal:
1. 5th-round Draft Pick: One of the biggest complaints I’ve read since news broke of the signing is that General Manager Doug Whaley should have used a 2nd-round tender on Gillislee. It only costs an extra $900k approximately so why not? Because in all reality nobody is going to give up a top-60 draft pick to poach a running back and the Bills probably didn’t want to pay a backup upwards of $2M per year. Hard to argue with that.
By letting Gillislee walk, the team will receive a fifth-round compensatory pick in what experts are calling a “loaded draft”. Rookie running backs like Joe Mixon (if he slips), Jamaal Williams, De’Veon Smith, James Conner and more could be available at that spot and would compete for the backup job if taken. If not, Whaley should have some intriguing talent to choose from. Overall, by not re-signing TD Mike, Buffalo will add another selection in a strong draft class where they only currently hold six picks.
2. $500k vs. $1.7M: That is the approximate average salary of a fifth-round NFL draft pick ($500k) versus what Mike Gillislee was slated to make ($1.7M) in 2017. Although clearing a little over a million dollars on the salary cap might not seem like a huge difference, the extra funds can most certainly help add talent to the roster. Given Whaley’s past ability to get production from minimum or one-year deals via free agency, that extra money will hopefully be put to good use. Also, if the team does decide to add a running back with New England’s comp. pick, there’s potential to replace some of Gillislee’s production for a third of the cost.
3. Buffalo’s offensive line/Last year’s 5th-rounder: Behind the core of Richie Incognito, Eric Wood, John Miller and Cordy Glenn, Buffalo’s offensive line has paved the way for an elite rushing attack over the past two seasons. While the lethal ground game is led by the NFL’s best running back in LeSean McCoy, its the backups that have also highlighted the Bills rushing success.
In 2015, then-rookie Karlos Williams (and former 5th round pick) finished with seven rushing touchdowns and 517 yards on the ground for an average of 5.6 yards per carry. Then he ran into some offseason issues and it was Mike Gillislee’s turn, who took advantage of the extra carries and totaled 577 rushing yards and eight touchdowns along with an average of 5.7 yards per carry.
Both seasons were extremely impressive for little-known backup players so it begs the question, if its been done twice then why not a third time? Buffalo has the same personnel along the offensive line and has backup Jonathan Williams on deck. A 2016 fifth-round draft pick himself, JW showed promising flashes during the preseason like this touchdown against the Washington Redskins:
— NY Sports Biz (@NYSportsBiz) August 27, 2016
The former All-SEC selection at Arkansas brings a similar mix of speed and power to the offense that Gillislee did and should get plenty of opportunities to show off his ability this upcoming preseason (granted he doesn’t miss much time for last summers DUI arrest).
4. TD Mike = RB1?: When McCoy was pulled early in last season’s finale against the New York Jets and Gillislee got his most touches in one game all year (15), he only responded with 40 rushing yards and a 2.67 average per carry. Granted E.J. Manuel was under center and New York’s defensive line is tough. Still, Mike is more of a one-cut and go back which compliments Shady’s shifty running style perfectly.
However, when opposing defenses aren’t getting a healthy dose of McCoy’s cutbacks to contrast with Gillislee’s downhill style, his effectiveness wears off. It’s a small sample size admittedly but I have a hard time seeing TD Mike as an every down number one running back. And if he’s not a true RB1 and you already have an elite back on your roster, the logic speaks for itself.
Aren’t we devaluing running backs in the NFL anyways? I know there are some teams (like the Bills) that heavily rely on the ground game but it’s still a passing league. And even though Mike Gillislee will probably enjoy all the successes that come with being a part of the Patriots organization if Buffalo doesn’t match, the Bills could still end up in good shape when everything settles. I’m a big TD Mike fan too as he is a very talented player, but the potential savings to go with the extra pick will be enough to let him walk.