The Buffalo Bills could become the first of six teams with head-coaching vacancies this offseason to make a hire, as the team is putting the finishing touches on a deal with Rex Ryan, sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
It's important to note the deal isn't done yet, and the Bills have yet to confirm the hiring or announce any news conference introducing Ryan.
But barring any last-minute changes, Ryan should soon be the Bills' head coach, continuing what has been an eventful era in team history.
With a chance to digest more of the developments, here are some further thoughts on Ryan and the Bills:
Schwartz's situation: ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan tweeted Sunday that Ryan has asked Jim Schwartz, who is still under contract, to remain as defensive coordinator. From my view, it would be an odd marriage. Ryan's scheme, which the Bills essentially ran in 2013 under Mike Pettine, varies in several ways from Schwartz's philosophy. Ryan's Jets blitzed on 37.1 percent of dropbacks from 2009-14 (sixth in the NFL over that span), while Schwartz's Detroit Lions blitzed on 23 percent of dropbacks from 2009-13 (31st in the NFL) and his Bills blitzed on 21 percent of dropbacks this season (30th in the NFL). Something would have to give; either Ryan would hand over the keys to Schwartz and embrace a less-aggressive defensive strategy or Schwartz would adapt to Ryan's pressure-based approach.
If the Bills don't retain Schwartz, former Jets defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman could follow Ryan to Buffalo, NFL Network reported Sunday.
Role reversal on defense: If the Bills end up adopting Ryan's defensive scheme, it will essentially require a reversal of the personnel changes the Bills made last offseason, going from Pettine to Schwartz. Here are a few key elements worth noting:
The Ryan defense (used by Pettine with the Bills in 2013), while not a traditional 3-4 look, typically uses three big bodies up front. Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Alan Branch filled those roles in 2013, but Branch was phased out when the Bills flipped to Schwartz last season. Schwartz's defense only required two big bodies -- Williams and Dareus. Ryan's hire would either mean a full-time role for Stefan Charles (a backup defensive tackle last season) or a hefty free-agent pickup like Branch in 2013.
In Schwartz's defense, the two edge players have well-defined roles: take a wide stance (i.e., the "wide-9") and rush the quarterback. Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes excelled in those spots this season. Under Pettine, their roles were less defined. Williams was the fourth defensive lineman but would sometimes stand up as a linebacker, while Hughes was a part-time player, replacing Branch on passing downs. Under Ryan, Hughes would likely go back to being a part-time player, diminishing his value to the team as he's set to hit free agency in March.
The third linebacker in Ryan's scheme acts more as a fifth defensive lineman. For the Bills in 2013, that player was Manny Lawson, who stood up on most plays but stayed close to the line of scrimmage. His duties were split between dropping into coverage, setting the edge against the run and rushing the passer. The Bills could use Lawson again in that role or look elsewhere. Hughes would be an option here, but keep in mind he struggled in a similar role with the Colts.
Ryan's defense uses two "true" linebackers on most plays, unlike Schwartz's scheme, which has three clearly defined linebackers in the base package. Under Pettine, the Bills used Kiko Alonso as their "Mike" and a mix of Arthur Moats and Nigel Bradham as their "Will." It wasn't a good fit for Bradham, who found more success under Schwartz this season. The Bills could try Bradham in the Lawson role described above, although it would mean taking on bigger blockers and rushing the passer, neither of which are Bradham's strong suit. Otherwise, the best fit for Ryan's two spots could be Preston Brown (as the "Mike") and Alonso (as the "Will").