2012 NFL Free Agents: Bills Must Nab Mario Manningham to Complete Transformation

Mike ChiariFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 16:  Mario Manningham #82 of the New York Giants pushes off  Terrence McGee #24 of the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium on October 16, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

After years of ineptitude, there is finally hope in Buffalo as they landed the biggest defensive free agent in years in the form of Mario Williams. That shouldn't be all for the Bills, though, as there is another Mario on their radar.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Bills are one of three teams, along with the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins, with interest in signing former New York Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham. Such an addition would essentially result in the Bills filling all their major holes ahead of the draft.

Manningham was the Giants' No. 3 receiver last season as Hakeem Nicks was entrenched as the top target and Victor Cruz emerged in a big way. Even so, Manningham was a key part of the offense as he caught a touchdown pass in each of the Giants' three games leading up to the Super Bowl, and made the key play of the Super Bowl on New York's game-winning drive against the New England Patriots.

In 2010 Manningham was a starter for the Giants, and he responded by nearly posting a 1,000-yard season. He is a speed receiver who is best as an outside threat, and that certainly fits the Bills' needs. They already re-signed No. 1 pass catcher Stevie Johnson to a new contract, but there is a need for a complement on the other side.

David Nelson had a solid season, but he is better as a slot receiver, and Roscoe Parrish is expected to return from injury, but he's a slot guy as well. The Bills tried to use Donald Jones as the No. 2 option, but he was often injured and didn't play particularly well when he was in there.

The Bills' offense is largely predicated on Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller running the ball with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick utilizing the short passing attack, but Manningham would add another dimension to the team. The Bills may not have taken a lot of shots down the field last season, but the main reason for that was the lack of a player capable of getting open.

Manningham has proven to be a big-play guy over his few seasons in the league, and he showed that he is a clutch performer in the Super Bowl. Buffalo is obviously serious about being a playoff team as evidenced by the signing of Williams, and the addition of Manningham would bring the Bills one step closer to achieving that.

The Bills will have to outdo the 49ers and Dolphins in order to sign him, and while that may have seemed unlikely before, the signing of Williams makes it much more possible. Manningham has to see that Buffalo is committed to being a winning team, and it may prompt him to want to be a part of it.

Buffalo already whiffed on Robert Meachem, who signed with the San Diego Chargers, so Manningham is the only real option left in free agency. If the Bills don't land Manningham, then Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd is an option in the draft, but if the Bills can address the need in free agency, then they should do it.

Seemingly out of nowhere, the Bills are suddenly the talk of the NFL, and it is time that they capitalize on that momentum by landing Manningham as well. If the Bills' brass can figure out a way to do that, then they will be the biggest winners in free agency.