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Are Bills headed for similar collapse as Rams, Titans?

Are Los Angeles and Tennessee cautionary tales for Buffalo?

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Rams Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The last year has brought a great deal of change for both the Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans.

Just one season after a victory in Super Bowl LVI, the Rams spun apart en route to a disappointing 5-12 season. The collapse started with Von Miller deciding to leave Los Angeles and join the Buffalo Bills in free agency—from there LA used the money they had budgeted for Miller to sign WR Allen Robinson and move on from former stalwart Robert Woods. The beginning of the regular season brought injury after injury on the offensive line, which eventually led to QB Matthew Stafford also getting knocked out for the season with his own health issues. The Rams spent this past offseason putting costly veterans in the rearview mirror: gone are the likes of Jalen Ramsey, Bobby Wagner, Leonard Floyd, Troy Hill, Nick Scott, and Taylor Rapp. LA is embracing a full youth movement on defense, save for future Hall of Fame DE Aaron Donald.

The Titans also fell from a 12-5 record in 2021, when they handily defeated Stafford’s Rams in primetime, to a middling 7-9 last year. Their biggest error—one they are still recovering from—was trading star WR AJ Brown and attempting to replace him with a first round rookie in Treylon Burks. Instead Brown played a pivotal role in the Philadelphia Eagles taking the next step on offense with Jalen Hurts and helping them reach the Super Bowl. A year later the Titans have torn their offense down to the studs and still have major questions at signal caller. How long will Ryan Tannehill keep a handle on his job in Tennessee, and can he fend off rookie QB Will Levis?

Syndication: The Tennessean
Wills Levis meets with media at Titans OTA’s
Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but you really could see the collapse of both teams on the horizon. The Rams had spent the better part of the decade spending both draft capital and salary cap resources aggressively—and eventually they had to take a step back and take part in a course correction. LA also went into the 2022 season with a void at edge rusher after losing out on the Miller sweepstakes, and this was their Achilles heel on defense for most of the year.

The Titans also had a roster hole at receiver, surrounding Tannehill with an aging Woods, rookie Burks, Nick Westbrook Ikhine, slot Kyle Phillips, and other names you've likely never heard of. The degree of difficulty drastically increased for Tannehill and he was healthy enough to play in only 12 games. The team earned a 6-6 record with him under center, though they only won one of their other five contests.

In some ways you could see the collapse of both the Rams and Titans coming, so who is a likely candidate for a major step back in 2023 and beyond?

Why Rams, Titans are cautionary tales for Bills in 2023:

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Bills are already dealing with controversy from one of their most important players, Stefon Diggs, ahead of training camp. While this all speculation, Diggs is likely frustrated at the idea he restructured his contract to make room for a free agent acquisition like DeAndre Hopkins or Dalvin Cook and Buffalo has yet to sign either. He may also dislike the idea of sharing targets with rookie first round pick Dalton Kincaid or another mouth to feed in Hopkins, which was a major factor in him originally moving on from the Minnesota Vikings.

We don’t have much to talk about in the sports world this time of year, so it’s possible we look back on this as overblown drama—but there are more serious questions with this Bills roster.

The Bills may end up without Hopkins, who has visited with the Titans and New England Patriots already, and Gabe Davis has not yet lived up to the important WR#2 mantle. In 15 starts and 93 targets last season he managed just 48 receptions for 836 yards with seven TD’s. The depth behind Diggs and Davis is also thin at best. Buffalo will hope second-year receiver Khalil Shakir is able to carve out a role as a vertical playmaker, though he caught just 10 passes a year ago.

Buffalo’s offensive line is solid but not great, though to their credit they’ve improved depth by signing OG David Edwards from LA and drafting O’Cyrus Torrence in the second round this spring. Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer is generally considered one of the top position coaches in the NFL.

On the defensive side of the ball, Miller’s season-ending injury a year ago showed just how little pass rush the Bills have outside of their star edge defender. Gregory Rousseau seems poised to take a step forward in his third season, though AJ Epenesa was drafted the year before him and hasn’t shown much up to this point.

Ed Oliver, a former top 10 overall draft selection, has been relegated to obvious passing downs and has been a good but not great pass rusher. While Buffalo signed him to a contract extension this offseason, that seems to be more of a projection of things to come rather than a reward for past production. The Bills also signed Leonard Floyd who the Rams were forced to release after they were unable to trade him for a late round draft pick.

While Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde return in the secondary, they are both getting long in the tooth after appearing in just 12 and two games last year, respectively. Taylor Rapp, despite his struggles in Los Angeles, can be a versatile piece on the backend of the defense and is usually a sound tackler.

The starting cornerback role opposite veteran Tre’Davious White is also up for grabs. The Bills’ options are last year’s first round pick Kaiir Elam, who was mostly beat out by 2022 sixth rounder Christian Benford, Benford, Dane Jackson, or Vikings castoff Cameron Dantzler. Does that seem like a cornerback group capable of slowing down the Kansas City Chiefs or the Cincinnati Bengals offenses?

There’s a chance a year from now we look back on the Bills roster and say we should have seen the collapse coming—and they could join the string of former contenders that have fallen off a cliff in recent seasons.

Former Rams currently on the Bills roster:

Bills general manager Brandon Beane has spoken recently about avoiding a Rams-like collapse, though he certainly has an affinity for former Rams coaches and players:

  • Aaron Kromer, Offensive line coach
  • David Edwards, OG
  • Leonard Floyd, DE
  • Von Miller, DE
  • Travin Howard, LB
  • Taylor Rapp, DB
NFL: FEB 16 Rams Super Bowl LVI Championship Parade Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images