Lee Evans is smiling. He has never had a legitimate starting-caliber wide receiver opposite from him. Now, he gets one of the best receivers of the past decade, Terrell Owens, as his complement.
Whether Evans or Owens is the No. 1 receiver will be hashed out during the 2009 season, but there is no doubt that the Bills have upgraded the talent of their wide receiver corps. Add Owens to an offense with Lee Evans being double covered every game, and theoretically, the field should open up and the offense should be better.
The Bills have made numerous moves over recent years to gain traction nationally: Trading for Drew Bledsoe, adding Lawyer Milloy and Sam Adams, trading up to draft J.P. Losman and Paul Posluszny, drafting Willis McGahee, and trading for Marcus Stroud.
While each of those moves sold tickets and kept Buffalo fans interested, in the end, each has ended with another year of shattered hopes. The Bills have been ignored and forgotten about in a league which goes out of its way to ensure every team is financially stable, significant, and profitable.
The magnitude of those moves all pale in comparison to the spotlight the Bills will receive for the Owens move. Now, for the first time this millennium, the Bills are suddenly relevant outside of the borders of Western New York.
Owens is a true NFL star across the league. There is no doubt that in Buffalo, Owens will not just be a star; he will be a galaxy. Buffalo is a city with a tight-knit community.
Everyone wants a positive image for a city so consistently damaged and dragged down nationally. Everyone has a desire to be a part of something more, and those desires are uniquely attached (and sometimes unfairly burdened) to its sports teams.
The Bills are an organization limited in numerous ways. The coaches are inept, their players are mediocre, their quarterback Trent Edwards is effective but limited, the front office's player evaluation has been consistently terrible, and the schemes are just awful.
The Bills' biggest success has been in its ability to consistently market a bad franchise to its fans. They have been selling false hope through past-their-prime veterans, ineffective high draft picks, and timely coaching changes.
Owens is a magnetizing and polarizing figure who can be a force on the field when properly focused. Anyone who follows football knows that, with Owens, the dark side inevitably surfaces. The question is not if Owens' focus will last, it is when that dark side will appear.
Still, Owens' potential dark side is the least of the Bills' problems. By the end of last season, it was clear the Bills were not close to competing in an extremely competitive division, a division where each team has improved in the offseason.
To the disappointment of fans, this sole move will not revolutionize the team. In this offense, Josh Reed was fine as No. 2 wide receiver. The team and offense consistently reflect Reed—forgettable, predictable, and boring.
This is not to say that Reed is a great wide receiver, nor does it mean Reed compares to Owens in any way. Owens is exponentially better than Reed, but a lot depends on whether the chicken or the egg came first. Have the Bills schemed poorly or have the personnel limitations caused the Bills to lack execution and be ineffective?
That will not be known until the season ends. In the best case scenario, adding Owens makes the coaches and the players around him better.
Edwards becomes more decisive and aggressive. Schonert creates an offensive scheme around the talent of the players instead of trying to put players into a scheme. Jauron proves he is a good, smart coach by handling Owens deftly and suddenly a backbone appears. Ralph Wilson opens the checkbook and more quality free agents begin to sign with the team and fill the numerous missing holes.
Through coaching changes, front office changes, and personnel changes in the past ten years, the Bills have been consistent in one area—mediocrity.
Bledsoe, Milloy, Losman, Adams, McGahee, Stroud, and Posluszny were all, according to the Bills' front office, going to make the team better.
They did not.
The Bills have sold false hope year after year by making moves like this.
These are the Bills' records in the past nine years: 8-8, 3-13, 8-8, 6-10, 9-7, 5-11, 7-9, 7-9, and 7-9. They have had one winning season since 2000 and no playoff appearances.
If one could design a road map of how the Bills can keep their fans interested, this would be the first and last stop. This is a brilliant marketing move, and the only person involved with nothing to lose is Ralph Wilson.
If it blows up, or even if it just keeps the team at a mediocre level and the team misses the playoffs again, there is a built-in excuse to begin marketing next season. They cannot bring Owens back and fire Jauron for not being able to make it work despite having additional talent.
It might work wonderfully; it might fail miserably. Nobody knows for sure. Looking at their history, which way would you lean?