Bills training camp questions: Which veterans could be on roster bubble?


Staff member

This is the ninth question of 10 in a series previewing Buffalo Bills training camp. Today: Which veterans could enter camp on the roster bubble?

Limited by a lack of salary cap space, the Buffalo Bills spent the offseason shopping in the discount aisle of free agency.

Save for receiver Curtis Samuel’s three-year contract, General Manager Brandon Beane majored in one-year deals for players who have the experience to fortify the Bills’ depth chart.

Translation, Part 1: Several veterans who were on the Bills last year or are new to the team this year will begin training camp with their roster status uncertain.

Translation, Part 2: There figures to be multiple intriguing competitions for backup spots.

Here are seven players who could be on the bubble:

La’el Collins​

Age: 31.
Position: Offensive tackle.

Contract status: Signed a one-year deal this offseason.
After not playing last season, offensive tackle La'el Collins signed a one-year contract with the Bills. Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News

Why he’s on the bubble: Call Collins for what he is – insurance in case starting right tackle Spencer Brown (offseason shoulder surgery) sustains a setback and isn’t ready for Week 1. The Bills usually keep one backup offensive tackle on the roster, and the current favorite is Ryan Van Demark, who took Brown’s first-team reps during the offseason program. Collins, a veteran of 89 regular season/playoff starts, did not play last year after his post-camp release by Cincinnati. Collins will get plenty of snaps during the three preseason games to audition for the Bills and other teams.

Damar Hamlin​

Age: 26.
Position: Safety.
Contract status: In the final season of his four-year rookie deal.

Why he’s on the bubble: Do the Bills trust him to play safety in a backup role, but more importantly, be a core special teamer? They didn’t last year. He appeared in only three regular-season games and played 17 defensive snaps and 94 special teams snaps. The Bills released Jordan Poyer in March, and Micah Hyde remains unsigned, but they re-signed Taylor Rapp (last year’s third safety), added veteran Mike Edwards from Kansas City and drafted Utah’s Cole Bishop in the second round. Plus, Cam Lewis has the versatility to play safety and nickel. Hamlin is obviously an inspirational story after returning to play after going into cardiac arrest on the field in January 2023, but he needs a good camp to earn a roster spot.

Bills receiver Mack Hollins, signed to a one-year contract earlier this offseason, catches a pass during a mandatory minicamp practice last month. Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News

Mack Hollins​

Age: 30.
Position: Wide receiver.

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Contract status: Signed a one-year deal this offseason.

Why he’s on the bubble: A numbers game. The Bills will enter camp with Samuel, Khalil Shakir, second-round pick Keon Coleman and Marquez Valdes-Scantling as their top four receivers. Chase Claypool likely starts as the leading candidate for the fifth spot, and the Bills kept five on the roster in last season’s playoffs. If the Bills want to keep a sixth receiver who can return kicks/punts, it won’t be Hollins (no career returns). If the Bills remain committed to 2023 fifth-round pick Justin Shorter, it is also bad news for Hollins. Hollins is only two years removed from a 57-catch, 690-yard, four-touchdown season for Las Vegas.

Sam Martin​

Age: 34.
Position: Punter.

Contract status: Has two seasons remaining on his three-year contract.

Why he’s on the bubble: This one is a long shot … we think. But the Bills are keeping rookie Jack Browning on the roster for a reason, right? Martin's net punting average dropped from 41.2 to 39.8 yards last year, but he did land 24 punts inside the 20-yard line, up from 16 in 2022. According to the industry website Over The Cap, the Bills would absorb a $1.95 million “dead” cap hit if they cut Martin, but only $400,000 if they trade him.

Deion Jones​

Age: 29.
Position: Linebacker.

Contract status: Signed a one-year deal this offseason.

Why he’s on the bubble: Do the Bills want to keep two veteran backups in Jones and Nicholas Morrow? Doubtful, in theory, and Morrow projects as the favorite after starting 12 games (95 tackles) for Philadelphia last year. The Bills kept six linebackers throughout last year. Using that as a guide, the locks are starters Terrel Bernard and Matt Milano and second-year player Dorian Williams. If fifth-round rookie Edefuan Ulofoshio has a good camp, he will stick as the fourth linebacker. The Nos. 5-6 spots could come down to Jones, Morrow or Baylon Spector. Jones has 96 career regular season/playoff starts and 764 tackles. Thinking out loud, he could be an ideal veteran to have on the practice squad.

Baylon Spector​

Age: 25.

Position: Linebacker.
Contract status: In the third season of his four-year rookie deal.

Why he’s on the bubble: Availability and because the Bills prioritized their linebacker depth in the offseason after it was exposed in the playoffs. Spector has played only 227 defensive snaps in two seasons and was limited to nine games last year because of two hamstring injuries. The Bills signed Morrow and Jones in the offseason and drafted Ulofoshio. Spector also missed last month’s mandatory minicamp with an undisclosed injury. He needs to stay available and show ability in training camp.

DeShawn Williams​

Age: 31.
Position: Defensive tackle.
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal this offseason.

Why he’s on the bubble: The Bills appear set with their top four defensive tackles in starters Ed Oliver and DaQuan Jones, reserve Austin Johnson and third-round pick DeWayne Carter. Yes, they kept five tackles at the end of last season, but defensive end Dawuane Smoot has the ability to slide inside on pass-rush situations. Williams is used to being on the bubble, though. Since entering the league with Cincinnati in 2015, he has been a part of 65 roster moves, per Pro Football Reference. In the last four seasons, he has found his professional groove, playing at least 386 defensive snaps in each year.