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Buffalo Bills Position Battle Spotlight: Linebacker

Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano will handle almost all the duties in their 4-2 base. The real competition will come for the backup spots.
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Finally, Tremaine Edmunds admitted this year that, at times, his mind is on his money and his money is on his mind.

After all, the Buffalo Bills linebacker is a little conflicted. On the one hand, the team picked up the expensive fifth-year option of his rookie contract for this coming season and will absorb a $12.7 million salary cap hit because of it. On the other, a contract extension that could lower that hit significantly doesn't appear to be on the horizon.

Talk about mixed messages.

Yet as Edmunds keeps edging closer to the uncertainty of unrestricted free agency next spring, the Bills are counting on him to regain the form that landed him Pro Bowl berths in the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

Stiill, like fellow starter Matt Milano, Edmunds is not expected to be in a competition for his job this summer.

All the other spots will be up for grabs, however, and how the players respond could impact what the Bills eventually decide to do with Edmunds, who was drafted with the 16th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

The players:

  • Andre Smith
  • Tyrel Dodson
  • Joe Giles-Harris
  • Marquel Lee
  • Tyler Matakevich
  • Terrel Bernard (rookie)
  • Baylon Spector (rookie)

Smith, who was limited to special teams exclusively last season, did not help his cause by drawing a six-game suspension for a positive PED test. He will be able to participate fully in training camp and the preseason, but will need to stay away from the team for the first six weeks of the regular season.

This makes Dodson and Lee the frontrunners to fill the third linebacker role that opened with the jettisoning of A.J. Klein, a salary cap casualty.

An undrafted player who spent his rookie season on the practice squad, Dodson played less with the defense last year than he did in his second year in 2020. But his role on special teams increased.

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Lee didn't make the team coming out of camp last season. However, he did find work with the Las Vegas Raiders, who originally drafted him in 2017.

Bernard was drafted in the third round at No. 89 overall and could surpass everyone ahead of him on the depth chart now if he flashes in camp the way he did at Baylor, where he proved as adept in coverage as he was at rushing the passer.

Bernard also was a high-volume tackler, compiling more than 100 in each of his previous two full seasons (2019 and 2021).

Could he be a lower-cost successor to Edmunds? The Bills are hoping he at least makes them consider it by the end of the preseason.

Matakevich has been so good on special teams for so long that he will be hard to cut.

On the other hand, the Bills would get $2.25 million in relief of the $3.25 million he's due to count against the cap if he doesn't make it.

Maybe Spector, drafted in the seventh round, can prove to do the job cheaper.

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Nick Fierro is the publisher of Bills Central. Check out the latest Bills news at and follow Fierro on Twitter at @NickFierro. Email to