How will former Bills do in free agency?

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Crucial to the success of the team. Core pieces. Glue guys.

This was the description of many former Buffalo Bills players that enter the 2020 NFL free agency period, perhaps without the same seen value and ability. 

Whether it is a matter of age, injury history or performance in general, the market on these players isn't guaranteed to be the lucrative one for the "big fish" like quarterback Tom Brady, wide receiver Amari Cooper, pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, and cornerback Byron Jones. 

Will an aging veteran that was a healthy scratch for the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs like LeSean McCoy still get a chance to prove he has something left in the tank at 32-years-old? 

Can cornerback Ronald Darby convince a team that he can finally stay healthy for the first time in three-plus years? 

Here's a look at what the free agent market could be for many former faces of the Bills on both offense and defense:

 

  • LeSean McCoy - Running back

McCoy's disappointing 2019 season with the Chiefs made Bills general manager Brandon Beane look pretty smart for moving on from the veteran running back before the regular season began. 

After Week 8, McCoy played in just five more regular season games for the Chiefs. The playoffs didn't change his state of being buried on the sidelines, getting just one snap against the Houston Texans in the divisional round and being a healthy scratch for the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LIV. 

For running backs trying to prove players at the position not named Frank Gore can still produce into their 30s, McCoy didn't help change the belief around NFL circles. 

But just how shot is he?

Fumbles were a huge reason for his demotion in the second half of the season, but this wasn't a player that looked like he had absolutely nothing left in the tank. From Week 1 to Week 8, McCoy averaged over five yards per-carry in all but two games (one of the two other games he averaged 4.4 yards per-carry). In five of those games, McCoy had eight carries or more. 

He isn't the elite running back that the Philadelphia Eagles and Bills saw from 2009 to 2017, but McCoy probably isn't someone that deserves to be a healthy scratch all season either. At least not quite yet. 

A team could do a lot worse for a rotational running back on a cheap, short-term contract. 

 

  • Nigel Bradham - Linebacker

Nigel Bradham was a good quality starter for the Bills from 2012 to 2015 before becoming a staple of the Eagles defense for four seasons. He became one of the better middle linebackers between 2016 and 2018, racking up 287 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss, 17 pass deflections, and four sacks.

2019 didn't bring the same success for Bradham, who missed four games and regressed on the field. He wasn't nearly the tackler of previous seasons, and his ability to stick with athletic tight ends and running backs in coverage also took a step back. 

The resume of the last four years, and running a defense that made multiple deep playoff runs will likely earn Bradham another good opportunity in free agency.

However, if he wasn't able to cash in after a career-year in 2017 that included winning a championship in Philadelphia, it is hard to imagine a team will commit a substantial amount of money into a third contract for the veteran. 

 

  • Ronald Darby - Cornerback

A 26-year-old cornerback that was once a defensive rookie of the year candidate with elite speed for his position would normally command a massive payday in March.

The potential for that scenario has been there for two years now with Darby, but he has simply been unable to capitalize on the potential both the Bills and Eagles saw in him for five years. 

Injuries have been the big bugaboo for Darby. The last three seasons all resulted in the former second round pick being placed on injured reserve at some point throughout the year. 

Playing in eight, nine, and 11 games isn't going to make a team feel like they can count on Darby in 2020, but his on-field performance over the years hasn't helped either. 

Even with top-tier speed for a cornerback, Darby has been a liability down the field in coverage. He struggled mightily against bigger wide receivers and often has to use his speed to recover after being beat with double moves. 

There certainly is talent there. Enough to make Buffalo take him early in the 2015 NFL Draft, and enough to make the Eagles trade wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a third round pick for him in 2017. 

He can likely be had for the right price in free agency, but there will have to be a plan in place with his role.

Don't ask him to do a lot of thinking post-snap. Communicating and discipline in more complex coverages wasn't his forte in Jim Schwartz's defense. 

Another "prove it" deal will likely be on the horizon for Darby in just a few weeks. 

 

  • Jason Peters - Offensive tackle

Jason Peters has went from an undrafted Bills rookie tight end to a likely first-ballot Hall of Fame left tackle over the last decade. It will go down as one of the most unique stories in NFL history, but that story isn't over just yet. 

Even at 38-years-old, a team could do a lot worse than Peters protecting the blind side of their quarterback. 

That will be apparent pretty quickly when free agency starts. There are a lot of teams out there right now with more salary cap space than they know what to do with, and who have a need in the trenches.

Peters is looking for a new team for the first time in 11 years after Philadelphia decided to move forward with 2019 first round pick Andre Dillard at left tackle. 

He likely won't get a lot of years on a contract, but Peters should get a good amount of money on the open market. 

Teams shell out big for average to above average offensive lineman. 

 

  • Sammy Watkins - Wide receiver

Sammy Watkins is the one former Bills player on this list that isn't exactly a free agent. He will be soon. The Kansas City Chiefs have a team option this offseason on Watkins' contract that carried a $19 million cap hit in 2019. 

With that hit set to go up to $21 million in 2020, they will almost certainly move on.

Watkins was instrumental in the Chiefs' Super Bowl run, finishing with over 200 receiving yards in the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LIV, but he, once again, disappointed in the regular season, falling under the 700-yard receiving mark for the fourth straight season.

That regular season disappointment has been the theme of his career so far with the Bills, Los Angeles Rams, and the Chiefs. 

With that being said, Watkins is still just 26, he saved his best performances for the biggest stages, and he has a complete set of skills that will make a lot of coaches believe they can turn him into an elite receiver. 

In a weak class of free agent receivers, Watkins will still likely see a pretty good payday on the open market. 

 

Things can change for players rather quickly in the NFL.That is pretty apparent for many former faces of the Bills, who are suddenly just looking to prove they can be remotely similar to what Buffalo believed they would be.