Bills’ Offseason Transformation Includes Signing QB AJ McCarron
Bills general manager Brandon Beane wasn't fooling around when saying he had a lot of work to do shortly after Buffalo enjoyed its first playoff appearance in 18 years.
The transformation Beane began during his first season on the job continued into the start of the NFL's free-agency period Wednesday, when Buffalo took the next step in overhauling its quarterback position.
Aside from formally announcing trading third-year starter Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland, the Bills signed former Cincinnati Bengals backup AJ McCarron to a two-year contract.
And don't expect the Bills to stop there in addressing a role that has been unsettled since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly retired following the 1996 season. Beane has stockpiled enough picks — two each in the first three rounds — to target one of the highly touted quarterback prospects available in the draft next month.
McCarron's addition at the least provides Buffalo with an experienced quarterback to serve in a potential bridge role while a younger quarterback develops. The Bills began the day with 2017 fifth-round draft pick, Nathan Peterman, as the only quarterback on their roster.
McCarron spent the past four seasons backing up Andy Dalton after the Bengals selected him in the fifth round of the 2014 draft.
The 27-year-old was a two-time national champion at Alabama but appeared in just 11 games in Cincinnati, mostly in mop-up duties. McCarron did start the final three games of the 2015 season and led the Bengals to the playoffs after Dalton broke his thumb.
Against Pittsburgh in the wild-card playoff game, McCarron had the Bengals in position to win their first playoff game since the 1990 season. Jeremy Hill however lost a fumble, and penalties on Vontaze Burfict and Adam "Pacman" Jones set up the Steelers for a winning field goal in the final seconds.
McCarron was nearly traded to Cleveland last season, but the deal fell through after the Browns failed to submit the paperwork on time.
And he only became eligible to enter free agency after an independent arbitrator last month ruled McCarron's rookie season counted toward his NFL tenure even though he spent the year on the non-football injury list because of a sore passing shoulder.
The Bills also confirmed the series of trades and signings they made over the past week.
Starting left tackle Cordy Glenn was shipped to Cincinnati in a trade agreed to Monday in which the Bengals and Bills also swapped first-round picks. Buffalo moved up nine spots by acquiring the Bengals' 12th selection, while giving up the 21st pick.
As for free agents, the Bills confirmed their most high-profile addition in reaching a deal to sign former Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei to a five-year contract. They added a pass-rushing specialist in defensive end Trent Murphy, who agreed to a three-year contract.
The Bills added defensive depth by agreeing to sign safety Rafael Bush and linebacker Julian Stanford to two-year contracts.
The start of the free agency signing period also meant the Bills risk losing several starters now that their contracts expired. Linebackers Preston Brown and Ramon Humber became unrestricted free agents, as did cornerback E.J. Gaines and receiver Jordan Matthews.
Buffalo's overhaul comes despite the team finishing 9-7 and ending a 17-year playoff drought, the longest active streak in North America's four professional sports. The Bills were eliminated following a 10-3 loss to Jacksonville in the AFC wild-card playoff game.
Beane was already looking ahead to making changes a few days after the loss.
"We have a long way to go, we really do," Beane said. "We have a lot of work to do."
The Bills strengthened their defensive line by adding Lotulelei, a five-year starter at Carolina. He will play alongside Kyle Williams, who returns for a 13th season after agreeing to a one-year contract on Tuesday.
Murphy has the potential of improving the pass rush, which finished tied for 30th in the NFL with just 27 sacks last season. He spent the past four seasons in Washington after being selected in the second round of the 2014 draft. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, he had 15 sacks in 47 games, including nine in 2016.
Murphy missed all of last season after tearing two ligaments in his left knee in a preseason game against Baltimore. Had he not been injured, Murphy would have missed the first four games of the season serving an NFL suspension for violating the NFL's performance enhancers policy.
Several holes remain including center, after Eric Wood was diagnosed with a career-ending neck injury in January.
Not including Wood, there are only 14 players left on Buffalo's roster who played for the team in 2016.
Beane's roster overhaul began shortly after he was hired in May to replace Doug Whaley, who was fired a day after last year's draft.
He traded starting receiver Sammy Watkins and starting cornerback Ronald Darby on the same day in August. He also traded high-priced defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to Jacksonville in October.