Bills add CB Graham, OG Williams, LB Rivers
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A blizzard didn’t prevent the Buffalo Bills from being active in free agency Wednesday.
The Bills addressed three needs by signing offensive guard Chris Williams to a four-year contract, agreeing to a four-year deal with cornerback Corey Graham and agreeing to a two-year deal for $5 million with linebacker Keith Rivers. A person familiar with Rivers’ contract revealed the terms of the deal on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t disclosed by the Bills.
Graham is from Buffalo, and shouldn’t be scared off by the wintry weather that shut down most of the region. The seven-year NFL player returns home after spending the past two seasons with Baltimore, and his first five years in Chicago.
Williams wasn’t bothered by the heavy wind gusts and blowing snow that greeted him upon his arrival for a tour of the Bills facility. He even headed outdoors to pose for a picture in the snow with coach Doug Marrone.
“I spent 4 1/2 years in Chicago. I like the cold weather,” Williams said. “I’d go to Antarctica to play for an opportunity. But Buffalo’s a lot better than Antarctica, so I’m just excited to be here.”
Rivers was selected ninth overall in the 2008 draft by Cincinnati and spent his first four seasons with the Bengals. After missing the entire 2011 season because of a wrist injury, Rivers spent the past two years with the New York Giants, where he had 14 starts in 27 games.
The additions came a day after the NFL’s free agency period opened.
Graham provides veteran depth to a defensive backfield that will now be without three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, who signed with New Orleans on Tuesday. The Bills return both starting cornerbacks, Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin, but have little experienced depth after Aaron Williams was converted to safety last season.
Graham, who played at New Hampshire, was selected by Chicago in the fifth round of the 2007 draft. He signed with Baltimore in 2012 after earning a Pro Bowl selection.
He’s coming off a season in which he had a career-best four interceptions in 16 games, including five starts. Overall, he has 10 interceptions and four forced fumbles with 23 starts in 109 career games.
“Graham is a smart, physical and tough cornerback, who has had success with both the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens,” general manager Doug Whaley said in a statement released by the team. “He is a playmaker defensively and on special teams. We believe he will help the Buffalo Bills improve both areas in years to come.”
Williams will be given an opportunity to compete for the starting job at left guard, a position that was mostly unsettled last season.
Colin Brown opened last year as the starter, before being cut after six weeks. Doug Legursky finished the year at the position, but Marrone still expressed dissatisfaction with the inconsistent production the Bills were getting at left guard.
“I am particularly excited about the direction our offensive line is moving in because we wanted to address this position,” Whaley said. “We feel like we filled the need with a very good player.”
Selected by Chicago with the 14th pick in the 2008 draft, the Vanderbilt product has had an up-and-down first six NFL seasons. He spent four-plus years with the Bears before having his contract terminated during the 2012 season. Williams then closed the year after signing with the St. Louis Rams, and then started all 16 games last season.
Overall, he’s had 54 starts in 69 games.
The Bills targeted Williams before free agency began, and he made Buffalo his first visit by arriving in town on Tuesday night.
Williams said he’s grown from the experiences he’s had since breaking into the NFL.
“I can’t say I knew how to be a pro coming into the league when I did,” Williams said. “Everything that happened in Chicago happened. But now I’m excited to move on. Getting cut is the most humbling experience anybody can have, much less a former first-round pick. But I learned from all those experiences.”
Rivers joins a linebacker unit that’s in flux under new coordinator Jim Schwartz, who took over after Mike Pettine left to become the Cleveland Browns head coach. The Bills stand to lose Arthur Moats in free agency and have only two starters returning: veteran Manny Lawson and Kiko Alonso, who is coming off a solid rookie season.
Schwartz is also planning to have Alonso switch from the middle to an outside spot, believing it better suits his abilities.
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