E.J. Gaines is coming back to the Buffalo Bills. Again.
Gaines signed a free agent contract with the Cleveland Browns the following offseason, then played in six games before being placed on season-ending injured reserve due to a concussion. In those six games in Cleveland in 2018, Gaines started twice, collecting 13 total tackles, three passes defended and an interception.
The Bills signed him again last offseason, this time as an unrestricted free agent. He began last training camp competing for a backup cornerback spot, lining up both outside and in the slot as the nickel corner. However, he injured his groin just over a week into training camp and was placed on injured reserve shortly after. He was released with an injury settlement two weeks later.
When healthy, Gaines is a terrific fit for Sean McDermott's and Leslie Frazier’s defense. He’s very good in zone coverage, something the Bills play a lot of, understanding angles and help. He’s also an excellent tackler, which McDermott values immensely in his cornerbacks. They were a much better defense and overall team when he was actually on the field in 2017, which was McDermott and Frazier’s first year in Buffalo as coaches. Because he can play both inside and outside, his presence on the roster allowed the team to play more diverse coverages. In fact, the Bills were 8-3 in games Gaines started that year, but only 1-4 in games he didn’t.
That’s where the issue comes in.
Gaines has an extensive injury history, and not just with the Bills. After starting 15 games and having a very good rookie season in 2014 with the Rams, he missed all of 2015 due to a foot injury, then missed five games in 2016 with a thigh injury. He’s played a total of 43 out of a possible 96 games through five NFL seasons. He didn’t play a single play in 2015 or 2019, and has never played a full 16 games.