The Buffalo Bills made a surprise announcement yesterday with the release of OL Quinton Spain. Buffalo signed Spain in last year’s free agency period for a one-year deal. He started all 16 games last season at left guard and gave up zero sacks. He impressed the Bills brass enough that this past offseason they signed him to a 3-year, 15-million-dollar contract. Yesterday, rather abruptly, he was released. This raised many questions. Especially since Spain had been replaced as the starting left guard by second year man Cody Ford after just two games. The timing was even more puzzling because Ford suffered a knee injury in the loss to Kansas City on Monday and is said to be week to week. As the day progressed, we learned that DT Justin Zimmer was activated to the Bills 53-man roster. We also learned that an unidentified team was looking to sign Zimmer off the Bills’ practice squad. It then stands to reason that the Bills coaching staff have been impressed with Zimmer. He was activated for the Chiefs game before being assigned back to the practice squad. The DT stood out on an ugly defensive line team effort up front against KC. He contributed six tackles, including one for loss and a quarterback hit. So, who is Justin Zimmer?
Road to the NFL
Zimmer is originally from Greenville, Michigan and played college football for Ferris State University. The other FSU is a Division II team nicknamed the Bulldogs located in Big Rapids, Michigan. He played four years totaling 26 sacks and 48.5 tackles for loss. He also had 9 forced fumbles, an interception and three blocked kicks. While there he was named a Division II All-American twice. His introduction to the NFL was actually with the Buffalo Bills who signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2016. He was waived by the Bills that same year in late August before the regular season started. In December of 2016 the New Orleans Saints signed Zimmer to their practice squad but he was waived yet again right before the 2017 regular season.
North to the CFL and Back
Just two weeks later he signed with the Montreal Alouettes practice roster in the CFL. He was promoted and played in their final game where he recorded three tackles and a sack. From there, he found his way back again to the NFL, signing with the Atlanta Falcons in the 2018 off-season. Initially making the 53-man roster with Atlanta, he was later waived and signed to their practice squad. In late 2019 he was signed from the Falcons by the Cleveland Browns until they waived him with a non-football injury in the summer of 2020.
Coming Full Circle
In August of this year, Zimmer again signed with the Bills. Again, was waived. And again, signed to the practice squad. He was brought up to the 53-man roster for this season’s opener against the Jets where he had four tackles including one tackle for loss. He was sent back to the practice team following the game until doing it all over again for the game against the Chiefs. Obviously, the Bills see something in Justin Zimmer. Something that prompted them to release just a one season removed starting left guard who they signed to an extension only seven months ago. It has been a well-travelled four years of professional football for the 27-year old, 6’3”, 310 lb. Zimmer. The Bills defense is in free fall from where they were the past two seasons. Notably and lately in the lack of stopping the run and failure for the line to push into the backfield and create pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Zimmer now has his best opportunity to solidify himself as an NFL player beginning this upcoming Sunday against the New York Jets. Only time will tell if releasing Spain to create that opportunity was the right call by the Bills organization.