It’s no secret what Matt Milano has brought to the Buffalo Bills over the past four seasons.
When he’s been on the field, he’s played well, amassing 273 tackles, five interceptions, and two forced fumbles. He’s also registered 25 quarterback hits and 21 pass deflections. But, Milano’s coverage ability has been what’s helped the Bills the most and it’s what they missed at times this year when he was out with injury.
Due to the salary cap dropping, which ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported will be around $180 million, the Bills may not have the opportunity to bring Milano back in free agency. According to Spotrac.com, Milano is predicted to sign a 3-year, $41 million contract this offseason, which may be out of Buffalo’s price range.
To fill his spot, the Bills could go elsewhere to find a replacement and in Pro Football Focus’s recent Buffalo Bills free agency and NFL Draft preview, the analytical website predicted that the Bills could go after Washington Football Team linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis. PFF also predicted the Bills could use their first-round, No. 30, pick on LSU linebacker Jabril Cox.
I already broke down why Milano might not make sense to bring back for the Bills at the price point he’ll command, but there is still a good chance that he does return in a Bills uniform in 2021. Other options at the position include a cheaper free agent option like Pierre-Louis and a linebacker that the Bills can pick up after Round 1 in Cox.
Pierre-Louis has shown in his time on the field over the last two seasons that he can cover, earning a 91.0 coverage grade in 2019 and an 83.9 coverage grade in a larger role with the Washington Football Team this past season. His addition would help mask some of the coverage ability lost at the position with Milano.
Similarly, Cox projects as one of the better coverage linebackers in this draft class. He has smooth movement skills and the ability to man up against tight ends. He would be a strong fit next to Edmunds if Buffalo were to move on from Milano.
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Milano to Test Free Agency
In his end of the season press conference, Bills general manager Brandon Beane said that the Bills would love to retain Milano in free agency, but he added the former Boston College Eagle also had earned the right to test free agency.
“He is a very good player,” Beane said via WGR 550. “What a great job he’s done since coming here in 2017. He’s got to be able to play a full 16 games. We’d love to be able to get him back. He’s earned the right to go to free agency, but we’ll do our best to retain him.”
On Friday, Associated Press reporter John Wawrow reported that Milano would reportedly test free agency this offseason before he decided whether or not to come back to Buffalo.
In his article, Wawrow reported that a person with direct knowledge of the situation told the AP Milano would test free agency due to Buffalo’s salary-cap constraints.
Milano is expected to be one of the top free agent linebackers this offseason and after predicting that he would re-sign with Buffalo, Pro Football Focus changed their direction and have predicted that he will sign with the Detroit Lions.
Bills Could Already Have Milano’s Replacement
Bringing in another linebacker will be big for the depth of the position especially when the Bills struggled at times this year when Tremaine Edmunds and Milano were both out with or playing, with injuries.
Even if Milano leaves in free agency, the Bills may already have his replacement inside of their organization. When Milano went down with an injury this season, veteran linebacker AJ Klein stepped into his place and had success as he got comfortable in a new position.
He tallied a total of 75 tackles this season, with five sacks, and tallied 14 during an outstanding performance against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 12, when he also had 1.5 sacks and three tackles for a loss.
Klein has experience playing in head coach Sean McDermott’s system after playing in Carolina.