Bills lose one running back to Texans, but quickly sign former Patriot to replace him

Former Patriots running back Damien Harris has had some big games against the Bills during his four years in the NFL.
Former Patriots running back Damien Harris has had some big games against the Bills during his four years in the NFL.
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Just as he has done since the moment he arrived, Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane is trying to fill as many need areas on the roster as he can in free agency before the NFL Draft.

The latest move came Monday night when former New England running back Damien Harris agreed to a one-year contract to leave the Patriots’ stagnant offense to jump over to Buffalo’s dynamic attack.

And while the 5-foot-11, 213-pounder should provide Buffalo with a little more physicality at the position, the best thing about this signing for the Bills is that Harris - at least in 2023 - will be playing for them and not against them.

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Due to a string of injuries Harris has played only 38 NFL games since joining the Patriots as a third-round pick out of Alabama in 2019, but he has eight career 100-yard games and three of those came against the Bills.

The first one came at Highmark Stadium in 2020 when he gained 102 yards in a game the Bills hung on to win 24-21, and then Harris topped 100 in both 2021 meetings. He had 111 in the infamous wind storm game at Highmark including a 64-yard TD run that keyed the Patriots’ 14-10 upset. And he had 103 yards in the critical Dec. 26 game at Gillette Stadium which helped the Patriots stay close before losing 33-21 as Buffalo took control of the AFC East that day.

Those two 2021 performances were part of Harris’ best year as a pro when he rushed for 929 yards and his 15 rushing touchdowns were second-most in the NFL.

At Alabama, Harris was a three-year starter who carried 477 times for 3,070 (6.4 yards per attempt) and he caught 52 passes for 407 yards and scored 25 total touchdowns.

Damien Harris to replace Devin Singletary at RB for Bills

Harris becomes the replacement for Devin Singletary who is ready to sign a one-year deal for $3.75 million to play for the Houston Texans. Singletary was taken 13 spots ahead of Harris in the 2019 draft and to date has had more production because he largely avoid injuries during his time in Buffalo.

Harris, whose contract details have not yet been leaked, has rushed for 2,094 yards and caught 40 passes for 281 yards with 20 total touchdowns. In the same span, Singletary played 61 games for the Bills and rushed for 3,151 yards (three games over 100), caught 145 passes for 971 yards and scored 20 touchdowns.

“Devin, you want to talk about one of the most selfless people you can meet,” Beane said last week. “Just love him from day one and what he’s done. And just very steady personality, selfless, team first, whatever’s needed.”

That said, Beane knew then that he wasn’t bringing Singletary back because with smallish James Cook (190 pounds) and Nyheim Hines (196) as the lone backs on the roster, the need for a bigger, tougher runner was clear.

“Yeah, we’ll probably add somebody that’s a little heavier than that at some point between now and training camp,” Beane said.

He waited less than a week to do it, and with Harris on board, the Bills are probably set at running back and won’t have to spend a draft pick on one.

How the Buffalo Bills free agent signings fit in

The additions of wide receivers Trent Sherfield and Deonte Harty have helped round out the wide receiver room as they join Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis and Khalil Shakir. Signing guard Connor McGovern addressed the hole that needed to be filled with Rodger Saffold gone.

Bringing back Jordan Poyer on a two-year deal alleviates the immediate need to find a starting safety, and Beane also replaced backup quarterback Case Keenum, who made $6 million last season, by signing Kyle Allen to a contract nearly $5 million cheaper.

Thus, when Beane goes into the draft, he won’t have to force anything at any of those positions and he can stay true to his preferred mode of picking the best player available when the Bills go on the clock.

“We’re trying to be smart, find players that fit and we’ll continue looking,” Beane said. “We’re not we’re not necessarily done. There’s still a lot of free agents out there, we’re having conversations and there could even be more cap casualties as guys are added.”

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This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Damien Harris signs with Buffalo Bills: How free agent fits with team