As the Buffalo Bills make preparations to start OTAs next Tuesday (May 29), some players are going to need to make a strong impression on head coach Chan Gailey about how badly they want to be part of the Buffalo Bills in 2012.
The defensive players will be looking to absorb as much information as soon as possible from new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt and then demonstrate how well they have retained that information on the practice field.
What is at stake are the jobs of quite a few Bills players who are on the proverbial bubble. The Bills organization has done a much better job of building up the roster depth, thanks to the efforts of Buddy Nix, Doug Whaley and company.
Today we will look at 25 Bills players who are in various degrees of job insecurity, based on the roster depth at their position. Some of these players are in jeopardy over the size of their contract, their advanced age, lack of production, injury history, performance issues, or no longer have a true position due to a new scheme change.
We will list the players alphabetically and give the rationale for why each player is in some degree of jeopardy. Please note that some players from this list will make the 2012 Bills final roster; we obviously don't know who to be sure. But that is what makes the upcoming offseason something to look forward to. There is lots of competition for jobs up and down the roster. It should ultimately make the Bills a better team because of it.
All 2012 salary cap hit figures are courtesy of Spotrac.com. You can find the link to the Bills salary cap figures right here.
It has been a rather mixed bag of sorts when you look at the first two years of Danny Batten's career in the NFL.
He was drafted in the sixth round out of tiny South Dakota State in 2010. He had a full training camp to learn the NFL game and try to fit in to George Edwards' new 3-4 defensive scheme. Batten then got injured and wound up going on I.R. in August, missing the rest of his rookie season due to injury.
In 2011, Batten was healthy but didn't have a full training camp due to the labor issues with the NFL. He made the 2011 roster and appeared in all 16 games, making starts in four of them. Batten's contributions were rather pedestrian, making 25 tackles and no interceptions. He did come up with a fumble recovery against Oakland and half of a sack against Washington.
Now in 2012, Batten is being listed as a defensive end in the new 4-3 defense under Dave Wannstedt. He is in the mix for competition with players like Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Chris Kelsay, Shawne Merriman, Robert Eddins and Spencer Johnson. In other words, his work will be cut out for him.
Batten's 2012 salary cap hit is $515,417.
Offensive lineman Colin Brown is 6'7" and weighs 326 pounds. He is in his second year in the NFL out of Missouri.
The problem for Brown is a numbers issue. How many offensive linemen will the Bills carry in 2012? They already have up to four tackles that could very well make the final roster in Erik Pears, Chris Hairston, Zebrie Sanders and Cordy Glenn.
Add to that total guards Andy Levitre, Chad Rinehart and Kraig Urbik, and you now have seven linemen. What about center Eric Wood and draft pick Mark Asper? Don't forget Michael Jasper, who is hoping to make the roster this year.
In 2011, the Bills typically carried seven offensive linemen for game day. Clearly, the Bills have a number crunch going on with the offensive line. That is a good problem to have, but obviously not everybody can make the final roster.
Brown's 2012 salary cap hit is $490,000.
Another Bills returning player on the bubble is tight end Mike Caussin. Caussin is 6'5" and weighs 243 pounds from James Madison.
Last year, Caussin appeared in six games, starting in two of them. He caught five passes for 41 yards, with a long reception of 13 yards. He had an 8.2 yards per catch average—clearly not a down-the-field threat as a tight end.
He will be in the mix for blocking tight end, but so is Lee Smith. You have starter Scott Chandler returning, but there are also Dorin Dickerson, Fendi Onobun and Kevin Brock who are in camp looking to make a team.
Caussin will have his work cut out for him. His fate will also depend on how many tight ends Buffalo wants to retain this year.
His 2012 salary cap hit is $540,000.
The Buffalo Bills were the third different team that Tashard Choice ran the ball for in the 2011 season. For the Bills, Choice appeared in six games and had 23 rushes for 70 yards and one touchdown. He also caught seven passes for 51 yards.
The problem with Choice is that he only averaged 3.0 yards per rush, which is not up to NFL standards. You need to be at least at 4.0 yards per rush for an average back, and obviously, the higher the average, the better. The Bills were the team that he performed the best for. At Washington, he averaged a paltry 1.2 yards per rush, and at Dallas it was only slightly better at 2.7 yards per rush.
The Bills will give the vast majority of their carries to Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. There will be the random rushes by Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brad Smith in the Wildcat, and Corey McIntyre will get the odd rush here and there.
But as for the No. 3 back, there aren't many carries left to go around. It looks like it will come down to either Choice or Johnny White, who didn't have the benefit of much of a training camp in 2011. Choice has the Georgia Tech connection with Chan Gailey, but that might be all that he has going for him at this point.
Choice's 2012 salary cap hit is $540,000.
Wide receiver David Clowney has been kicking around the NFL for years, but he has yet to make a solid impact. Clowney was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2007. Since then, he has appeared in 28 NFL games, making 22 receptions for 341 yards. That is an impressive average of 15.5 yards per catch. Clowney only has one touchdown to his credit so far in his career.
Clowney has appeared in games for the New York Jets and the Carolina Panthers. His biggest asset is his blazing speed. At the NFL Scouting Combine, he was clocked in the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds, which is very fast.
Between Clowney, third-round draft pick T.J. Graham and Marcus Easley, the Bills are hoping that one of this trio will step up and be healthy enough to be able to give the Bills a faster deep threat than anybody else they have been trotting out there for years.
Who will step forward out of this trio to loosen the secondary up for Stevie Johnson, David Nelson, Scott Chandler and Fred Jackson? Clowney may be down to his last shot in the NFL, so we will see if he is able to take the next step.
Clowney's 2012 salary cap hit is $700,000.
After two years out of the University of Connecticut, wide receiver Marcus Easley has yet to appear in a regular season game for the Buffalo Bills. The Bills, along with their fans, have been frustrated over the slow development of Easley. Of course, we understand that there was an issue with his heart in 2011, but it always seems to be something that prevents Easley from tapping into his vast potential.
It was that potential that convinced the Bills to invest a fourth-round draft pick in him in the 2010 NFL draft.
Easley showed flashes of some of that potential in the exhibition games he participated in during the 2011 preseason. Now, he will have a full 2012 training camp to work with Bills receiver coach Bob Bicknell to convince the coaching staff that he deserves a spot on the final roster.
Unless Easley steps up in 2012, he might just be the latest version of ex-Bills James Hardy and Shawn Nelson, who also had lots of potential but couldn't transfer that into production that would help the Bills win. Any setbacks for Easley this year could result in exit stage left.
The 2012 salary cap hit figure for Easley is $620,000.
Now that the 3-4 defensive scheme has been scrapped, Dwan Edwards has his work cut out for him. He is currently listed on the Buffalo Bills roster at BuffaloBills.com as a defensive tackle. Care to take a guess at how many defensive tackles are on the roster right now?
The correct answer is eight. It is conceivable the Bills will carry five, but that might be pushing it. You know the starters are Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. Right behind them you have Alex Carrington and Torell Troup, who both should be coming into their own this year.
That leaves Jarron Gilbert, Kellen Heard, Jay Ross and Edwards for one last spot. I liked what I saw from Heard last year, so this might be a battle that Edwards will be hard-pressed to win.
Edwards is an extremely likable player and is good for the locker room. But the Bills are at a different place now, where winning and the playoffs are paramount. In the past two seasons, Edwards has contributed 109 tackles, but only 3.5 sacks. He is often seen lumbering behind the play trying to run after the ball-carrier, as his legs aren't very fast any longer.
It looks like it will be an uphill battle for Edwards this year. If he fails to make the final cut, we wish Edwards well in his future endeavors, as he is a high-class individual.
Edwards' 2012 salary cap hit is $4.175 million.
Another wide receiver who is going to be part of a hard-fought battle to make the final roster is veteran Derek Hagan. Hagan is 6'2" and weighs 210 pounds. He is entering his seventh year in the NFL out of Arizona St.
Hagan is the type of wide out who keeps the chains moving. During his NFL career, 71 of his 109 catches have resulted in a first down. You need guys like that on your team. Hagan's 109 catches have been good for 1,221 yards and six touchdowns.
He only played with the Bills in four games in 2011, catching 13 passes for 138 yards and one score. Seven of those catches went for a first down.
As for outside receivers with Stevie Johnson, Donald Jones, Naaman Roosevelt and the trio of speed receivers we covered in the David Clowney slide, this is a very crowded wide receiver corps. It is way too early to see who will make the final cut, but Hagan will have to come up with a monster camp to make the 2012 roster.
Hagan's 2012 salary cap figure is $700,000.
It looks like you could take that beard from Kellen Heard and plop it right on to Abraham Lincoln. Classic beard. But that is not what Heard is going to be thinking about in the Bills 2012 training camp. He wants to continue to see snaps and get on the field to make things happen.
Heard is massive, at 6'6" and 340 pounds. You could see the parallel between Heard and his fellow Memphis alumni Dontari Poe. Actually, Heard is three inches taller than Poe, but they weigh the same.
In 2011, Heard appeared in 15 games for the Bills and started in two of them. He came up with 21 tackles and sacked Tom Brady twice in the season finale. Hopefully, that made a big impression on the Bills coaching staff, as that was some serious momentum to carry into the 2012 season.
As we listed out all of the numerous defensive tackles on the Dwan Edwards slide, there will be stiff competition for the Bills defensive line. If the Bills decide to go with five defensive tackles, I like the chances for Heard to make the final roster. On any goal-line scenario, or third-and-short, or fourth-and-short, you need a guy with Heard's girth and strength to plow through the offensive line and upset the running back before he ever gets started.
I would hope to see Heard make the 2012 team and continue to develop as a player. His 2012 salary cap hit is $493,334.
What will Michael Jasper's fate be in 2012? There are probably three potential outcomes the way that I see it for Jasper in 2012, but I am not sure yet how many of them are realistic.
We all know that Jasper was drafted with a compensatory draft pick late in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL draft. The Bills drafted him as a project, and due to his size (6'4" and 375 pounds) and athletic skills, he was worth the investment. But now here we are a year later, and has anything really changed that much?
Jasper didn't have much of a summer training camp to be coached up properly, and he spent the 2011 season as a member of the practice squad. The Bills suddenly have pretty decent depth at the guard spots, so Jasper will have a struggle on his hands to make the roster, unless he has really taken a big step up in where his level of play is at.
The second outcome is that the Bills drop him back down to the practice squad. That on the surface appears to be the most likely outcome, as he could use this training camp and more work with the coaches to become a more polished guard.
The third outcome is that there is some other NFL team out there that likes the potential that Jasper has to offer, and they make him an offer to join their active roster. The Bills at that point would have the ability to match the offer, but I am not sure if they have the roster space to be able to afford that kind of a move.
It should be interesting to see what transpires with Jasper. Hopefully he remains the property of the Bills and is able to be developed this year to the point that he would be ready to contribute in 2013. The Bills only signed Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart to one-year deals, so the guard position will be more up in the air in 2013.
Jasper's 2012 salary cap hit is $390,000.
The 2012 offseason might have been tough for Bills defensive end Spencer Johnson to take. He watched as the Bills made the announcement that Dave Wannstedt would be the new defensive coordinator, and that they were moving to the 4-3 defensive scheme.
Then the Bills went out and signed veteran free agent defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, which will place Johnson on the proverbial roster bubble. It is not yet known how many defensive ends the Bills will keep in 2012, but now Johnson will be fighting for a roster spot against Shawne Merriman, Chris Kelsay and a slew of youngsters, ranging from Danny Batten, Lionel Dotson, Robert Eddins and Kyle Moore.
Johnson, 6'3" and 305 pounds, has good size for a defensive end, but he is now 30 years old, so can he outperform all the youngsters who are hungry and looking for a job? Johnson has been with the Bills for the past four years, and every year he is good for two sacks in Buffalo. No more and no less. That probably won't be enough to cut it this time around.
Johnson's 2012 salary cap hit is $4 million.
Wide receiver Donald Jones has demonstrated some flashes of strong play for the Bills during his two years in Buffalo, but in terms of being a consistent performer, that has proved to be lacking. Jones is 6'0" and weighs 208 pounds.
Jones has appeared in 23 games with the Bills but has only come up with 41 catches so far, good for 444 yards. His average catch was was good for 11.8 yards as a rookie in 2010, but that number dropped to 10.0 yards in 2011. He has scored exactly one touchdown in each of his first two years.
It is not lost on me that Stevie Johnson didn't show that much in his first two years, until he broke out in his third year with the Bills. It is possible that Jones might follow suit. But with all of the competition that is there at wide receiver, from both veterans and youngsters, Jones will have to step up his play in training camp if he wants to remain with the team.
As for his contract, the salary cap hit in 2012 is $543,334. Since it is a very reasonable contract, that might be his saving grace.
Chris Kelsay is part of the old guard on Buffalo's roster. Kelsay will be entering his 10th year in the NFL, assuming that he makes the final roster.
In 2011, Kelsay registered only 41 tackles, his lowest total in the last six seasons. He did come up with five sacks, however, and with the return to the 4-3 scheme, Kelsay expects to be part of the rotation with Mario Williams, Shawne Merriman and Mark Anderson.
Kelsay has never been a huge sack guy, as his career high is just 5.5 sacks, a mark he set in 2006. From a salary standpoint, that is where things start to get stickier, as Kelsay is due to earn $5.75 million, which would make him tied for the fourth-highest salary on the Bills in 2012. If his performance in training camp doesn't warrant that level of compensation, the Bills could ask him to take a salary cut. If he refuses, that could result in walking papers.
It should be noted that Kelsay has been a good teammate and strong locker room guy for the Bills in general. That is something that needs to be considered as well in the total evaluation. Kelsay was only able to play in 12 games last year, the lowest total of any year since joining the Bills.
Ruvell Martin caught 21 passes as a rookie with the Green Bay Packers in 2006, and that wound up being his career high. In Buffalo he was only inserted as a wide receiver when injuries forced the team to plug him into action. He caught just seven passes in 2011.
Martin's value comes from what he contributes on special teams. But the Bills drafted a number of players who seem to be special teams studs, so that might place Martin's roster spot in jeopardy. The Bills have other players who can play wide receiver in a pinch like Brad Smith and C.J. Spiller, so this year could be tough for Martin to make the final roster.
His salary cap figure in 2012 is $700,000.
If Terrence McGee is to make the Buffalo Bills team in 2012, it would mark the 10th straight year that he has been with the team. In 2004, McGee's second year with the team, he played in all 16 games, which was the only time he managed to accomplish the feat in his career. From the 2008 season, the number of games that McGee has appeared in continues to diminish every year—14, 11, nine and then just six in 2011.
Being available for your team is key to longevity in the NFL. Being reliable and letting your team knows they can count on you is another way to secure your job. This just simply hasn't been the case with McGee in the past two years especially, and according to his player profile page on ESPN, McGee had surgery in November to repair his torn patellar tendon and is still not ready to fully participate.
Whether it came directly from McGee or his agent, one or both of them had the foresight to restructure his contract to make it more team-friendly for the Bills. Had that not occurred, it might have sealed his fate. As things stand now, McGee is due to earn $1.5 million in 2012.
If he does make the team, you can be sure that the four young corners on the Bills roster, Aaron Williams, Stephon Gilmore, Ron Brooks and Justin Rogers, will be coming to McGee with plenty of questions and seeking advice on a wide variety of topics. McGee will be ready to help them in any way that he can.
The fullback position in the NFL seems to be going the way of the dinosaur. With spread offenses and four or five sets of wide receivers, you are seeing less and less of fullbacks appearing on offensive snaps around the NFL.
The fullback position can be seen on some teams still, but other teams have gone to a mobile H-back type. Some may recall what the New England Patriots were doing with Aaron Hernandez last year, and that seems to be an effective use of the position.
As for Bills fullback Corey McIntyre, he had very few touches in 2011 to speak of. He had four rushes for a grand total of five yards, and he also had one reception for four yards. His total combined yards from scrimmage was just nine yards.
McIntyre's contribution to the Bills primarily comes from being the lead blocker and from special teams play. The extent that the Bills still need him to perform in those two areas to be able to justify a roster spot in 2012 is one of the many questions that still need to be answered in the upcoming training camp.
As for the 2012 salary cap hit, McIntyre is due to earn $1.1 million.
This picture sums up Leodis McKelvin's 2011 season. Even when he is in position to make a play on the ball, he can't find a way to do it.
Watching McKelvin play is a very frustrating practice because he regularly turns his back to the quarterback and then forgets to turn his head to know when the pass is coming. He attempts to react to the pass when it is already in the hands of the receiver (most of the time), and by then all he can do is tackle the guy after the catch has already been made.
The Bills seem to have seen enough of McKelvin being beat, and they are prepared to relegate him to emergency secondary duty and special teams return man. That seems to be a step in the right direction.
But if one of the other potential Bills youngsters demonstrates that he can handle the return duties, it would not surprise me in the least to see McKelvin released this season. Another first-round draft pick that went bust for the Bills. Ugh.
Another factor in McKelvin being on shaky ground is his compensation. In 2012, he is due to earn $2,684,584, which is a lot of money to pay somebody who isn't going to be a starter.
For what it is worth, Football Outsiders did a study on cornerbacks success rate in coverage. For 2011, McKelvin graded out as the second-worst cornerback in the NFL. His technique is terrible, and after being on the team for four years, it is clear he hasn't learned much from his coaches or been able to retain what they tried to teach him. Here is a link to the Football Outsiders report.
As we mentioned earlier on the Chris Kelsay slide, Bills defensive end Shawne Merriman is tied with Kelsay for being the fourth-highest paid player on the team. In 2012, Merriman is due to earn $5.75 million. The question is, is Merriman worth that amount of money?
Based on the returns since he joined the Bills, the answer so far is a resounding "no." If Merriman can come back to maybe 75 percent of the player he used to be in San Diego, that would be an encouraging development. But that is something that nobody has seen for at least the last three years running. But as they say, seeing is believing, and Bills fans want to believe.
The latest news on Merriman comes from this report by Dan Pompei from the National Football Post, which states that the Bills are very happy with the progress that Merriman has made in his recovery from his Achilles' surgery. Pompei goes on to say that Mario Williams wants to play on the left side, so that leaves Merriman and Mark Anderson to split the right side.
If the Bills have Anderson and Merriman share the right end duties, that should keep both of them reasonably fresh throughout the season. If Merriman gets injured early in training camp, the Bills have to make a judgement call on if they want to justify keeping an injury-prone player who costs as much as he does.
Nothing would make Bills fans happier than to see "Lights Out" return to his old form. This could be his last shot in the NFL to prove that he still belongs, so this is a big year for Merriman.
Buffalo Bills safety Joshua Nesbitt will have a battle on his hands if he hopes to make the Bills 2012 roster. The former quarterback at Georgia Tech is trying to make the transition to safety in the NFL—something that is not very easy to do.
However, Nesbitt does have the unique opportunity to quiz fellow safety George Wilson on how he made the transition from wide receiver to safety, so there is proof that it can be done, and done successfully.
Nesbitt has reasonably good size at 6'1" and 222 pounds. But with the current number of safeties on the team in Wilson, Jairus Byrd, Da'Norris Searcy and nickle safety Bryan Scott, there might not be any room for Nesbitt. He would still qualify for the practice squad, unless he is able to beat one of the veterans out for a job.
His 2012 salary cap figure is $465,000.
Another interesting position battle that won't be decided until training camp ends is to learn who will wind up being the last wide receivers to make the team.
The way things stand now, you would probably have to consider that Stevie Johnson, David Nelson and third-round pick T.J. Graham are the receivers who are the closest to having a roster spot sewn up.
That still leaves a total of eight other receivers for the final three spots, assuming the Bills keep six receivers. Those eight are Kamar Aiken, David Clowney, Marcus Easley, Derek Hagan, Donald Jones, Ruvell Martin, Naaman Roosevelt and Brad Smith.
Any way you look at it, somebody who is a pretty good receiver won't be able to be kept. For local fans who have followed Roosevelt since his days at the University of Buffalo, they hope that he can continue playing in Buffalo.
Roosevelt's 2012 salary cap hit is $540,000.
When the Bills were able to pry Brad Smith away from the New York Jets in the 2011 free-agency period, nobody knew exactly what to expect. There would be some Wildcat plays and some snaps at wide receiver, but anything more than that was a big mystery.
Smith proved to be very efficient at running the Wildcat. And there were a number of times in the second half of the season after Fred Jackson was out with the fractured leg that we wished the Bills would have let Smith abandon his wide receiver position to pick up a key first down as the Wildcat quarterback. For some reason the Bills prevented him from splitting the two jobs simultaneously.
In 2012, the wide receiver open jobs are few and far between due to the number of wide receivers on the roster, as we just detailed on the prior slide of Naaman Roosevelt. Smith does have an advantage, as he wears a number of hats (kick returns on special teams as well), so that three-in-one combination that Smith has to offer may be too valuable for the Bills to give up.
The only concern for Smith that I have is that Vince Young could very easily operate the Wildcat formation, which would eliminate some of the value of Smith. If he isn't deemed as one of the five or six best receivers on the team, and Young can run the Wildcat, then you are looking at paying out a 2012 salary cap hit of $3.75 million to a kick-returner in a league that sees a high percentage of touchbacks.
That is why Smith's job isn't necessarily a slam dunk.
Tyler Thigpen came into the 2011 season as the unquestioned backup quarterback to Ryan Fitzpatrick. He was certainly an upgrade over Brian Brohm, to be sure. But in the brief action that he did have in the 2011 season, Thigpen looked shaky.
He completed three of eight passes for 25 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. That amounted to a QB passer rating of 6.8. Ouch! Bring back Brian Brohm. Seriously though, it was truly a small sample size, and Thigpen had no real chance to develop any kind of rhythm to be judged on such a few number of plays.
He will have a much better chance to demonstrate his abilities in the 2012 summer camp and preseason, where he is now battling Vince Young for the right to be Fitzpatrick's backup.
Young seems to have the edge on both experience and mobility coming in, so this might prove to be a steep uphill battle for Thigpen. His 2012 salary cap hit is exactly $3 million. That amount of money could go towards a veteran starting left tackle. but that is just my opinion.
Chris White was a rookie for the Bills in 2011. The linebacker from Mississippi State didn't have much of a chance to play on defense, but he was presented with an opportunity to play on special teams. White did that in 2011, as he appeared in seven games and contributed eight tackles as well as two forced fumbles in the season-opening game at Kansas City.
In 2012, the Bills drafted two other linebackers that are also designated as excellent special teams players in Tank Carder from TCU and Nigel Bradham from Florida State. Those draft picks might make it difficult for White to survive the training camp battle ahead of him.
This too will be another interesting training camp battle to look forward to. White's 2012 salary cap hit is $495,150.
Bills fans who were tuned in to the NFL Network during the 2011 NFL draft (like I was) had to like what was offered up about Chris White from Butch Davis, who happened to be a guest analyst on the NFL Network set on the day that White was drafted.
Davis went on to rave about the skills that White possessed and that he would be able to help the team in a number of ways and blah, blah, blah. Whether it was lack of a full training camp, or that White was overwhelmed in the NFL, or that Davis is guilty of trying to make his players sound better than they really are (or maybe a little bit of all three factors), White truly was a disappointment last year.
While Fred Jackson averaged 5.5 yards per rush, and C.J. Spiller averaged 5.2 yards per rush, White finished the year with an underwhelming 3.2 yards per rush, far below what is an acceptable average in the NFL. What might be saving White is that Tashard Choice was actually worse at 3.0 yards per rush. But it appears that White and Choice will be locked in a battle for the third running back in Buffalo.
White's 2012 salary cap hit is $518,400.
Tackle Sam Young was claimed from the Dallas Cowboys off of waivers by the Bills in September of the 2011 season. Young appeared in four games last year but didn't have any starts for Buffalo.
Young has very good size at 6'8" and 318 pounds. Coming into the offseason, Young was basically the backup to Erik Pears at right tackle. That was the case until the 2012 NFL draft unfolded. When the Bills drafted two tackles in Cordy Glenn and Zebrie Sanders, that put Young's roster spot firmly on the bubble.
This is another summer roster battle you can see unfold at training camp. Young's 2012 salary cap hit is $490,000.
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