The Buffalo Bills scored a triple play on the free-agent market Wednesday afternoon, adding a starting-caliber cornerback, a special teams star and a local hero in one fell swoop by agreeing to terms with Buffalo native Corey Graham.
Graham, a seven-year NFL veteran, spent the past two seasons with Baltimore and was a key contributor in the Ravens’ run to the Super Bowl title in 2012. Graham is a graduate of Turner-Carroll High School. He’s one of just seven players from Western New York to have won a Super Bowl ring.
Graham’s deal was for four years and $16 million, a league source said. It includes incentives that could make it worth up to $19 million.
Meanwhile, the Bills also agreed to terms with veteran linebacker Keith Rivers, who played last season with the New York Giants. Rivers got a two-year deal worth about $5 million.
Graham’s addition gives the Bills a lot more security at cornerback. Stephon Gilmore is the No. 1 corner. Leodis McKelvin is coming off a solid season as No. 2. His salary ($4.25 million a year) is just a tad more than Graham’s. Graham can compete with McKelvin and figures to be No. 3, at worst. He excelled in the nickel-defense for the Ravens, covering slot receivers. No. 4 is Nickell Robey, who had a good rookie season last year covering the slot.
Graham was No. 3 for the Ravens in 2013 but started five games and played 64 percent of the snaps. He had four interceptions.
In 2012, he took over a starting job midway through the season and wound up starting 12 games, counting playoffs. His best game came in the AFC divisional playoff against Denver, when he had two interceptions of Peyton Manning. One he returned 39 yards for a touchdown and the other set up the winning field goal in double overtime.
“I think he’s very, very quick,” said Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees. “He’s very intelligent. He’s a very instinctive player. The guy is a good tackler. That’s what makes him a good special teams player, and God knows you can’t have enough of those guys in the secondary.”
Graham spent his first five seasons in Chicago, which drafted him in the fifth round in 2008 out of the University of New Hampshire. He was the Bears’ special teams coverage ace and made the Pro Bowl as a special teamer in 2011.
“Early in the free agency process, we identified Corey Graham as a player who would help our football team,” said Bills General Manager Doug Whaley. “Graham is a smart, physical and tough cornerback who has had success with both the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens. He is a playmaker defensively and on special teams. We believe he will help the Buffalo Bills improve in both areas in the years to come.”
Graham, who turns 29 in July, had a sensational high school career at Turner-Carroll. He was first-team All-Western New York in football as a senior after rushing for 1,406 yards and 22 touchdowns. He started for the Catholic league championship basketball team and he was the All-Catholic track champion in the 100 and 200 meters.
The Bills had Miami free-agent cornerback Nolan Carroll in town Wednesday, but his visit essentially was voided when the Graham deal was closed.
Meanwhile, the Bills filled a linebacker need with Rivers. He’s a good athlete with 48 career starts who should vie for a starting job with the Bills. Rivers was a strong-side linebacker for the New York Giants last season who played 37 percent of the snaps.
He came off the field in obvious passing situations. He was mostly a weak-side linebacker during his first four seasons, with Cincinnati.
He has not had the big impact expected after he was drafted ninth overall in 2008 out of the University of Southern California. In 62 career games, Rivers has three sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.