What Changes Must Be Made to Buffalo Bills Roster, Franchise?
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Entering the season, the Bills were picked by many in the national media to return to the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
The team went out and were big spenders in free agency, bringing in defensive end Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. The offense seemed to be heading in the right direction as well.
In the NFL draft, the Bills also addressed areas of need by selecting cornerback Stephon Gilmore in the first round, offensive tackle Cordy Glenn in the second round and speed receiver T.J. Graham in the third.
Even with all of the changes and added depth to the roster, the Bills sit at 2-3, good for last place in the AFC East. The team has also given up 176 points, or an average of 35.2 points per game.
What changes need to be made to the roster and franchise at the end of the 2012 NFL season? Read on and see what I would do if I were running the Buffalo Bills.
Let Buddy Nix Retire and Promote Doug Whaley to GM
Doug Whaley: The heir apparent at general manager.
Let me preface this by saying I like Buddy Nix. On December 31, 2009, Nix was promoted from national scout to Bills general manager. During his introductory press conference, Nix stated:
It doesn't matter what kind of splash we make today. What matters is two years and three years down the road, if we have this thing turned around in the right direction and we're winning. I know before I'm asked this, you're going to think I'm crazy, but we're not that far away.
Unfortunately for Nix, his two to three years are up in December of this year, and unless something drastic happens, the Bills aren't going in the right direction and they certainly aren't doing much winning.
Nix's big goals were to build through the draft and revamp both lines. I will say he's done well on paper in these areas.
The offensive line was one of the best in the league in 2011. The organization added further talent to their line by selecting Cordy Glenn in the draft, who has looked the part of a solid left tackle.
On paper, there isn't much more Nix could do for the defensive line. He helped the Bills sign Mario Williams and Mark Anderson this offseason. Nix also drafted Marcell Dareus to play alongside the extremely talented Kyle Williams.
As for building through the draft, the Bills have selected C.J. Spiller, Dareus, Kelvin Sheppard, Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams, all of whom are starters. They've also drafted depth players in Chris Hairston, Justin Rogers and T.J. Graham.
Last, Nix also deserves some praise for signing Scott Chandler, David Nelson and Donald Jones.
The roster has improved since Nix took the job, but unfortunately, the results aren't there. For that reason, Nix needs to ride off into the sunset and the Bills need to promote Doug Whaley as their new general manager.
Whaley, currently the assistant general manager and director of player personnel, began his career as pro personnel director for the Pittsburgh Steelers. During his time with the Steelers, he was praised for his ability to scout defensive talents. During his tenure with the Steelers, the team selected Troy Polamalu, Lamarr Woodley and Lawrence Woodley.
Whaley would inherit a roster in much better shape than Nix was given and be given the important responsibility of finding a new coaching staff to lead the Bills.
Fire Chan Gailey and His Coaching Staff
Gailey improved the Bills offense, but there is a lot more to being a head coach.
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After losing to the San Francisco 49ers, Chan Gailey's record as Buffalo Bills head coach fell to 12-25, a .324 winning percentage.
Gailey has helped the Bills offense improve in terms of scoring. In 2010, the Bills averaged 17.7 points per game, 23.2 points per game in 2011 and currently, the Bills are averaging 23.6 points per game in 2012.
However, as a head coach, you are responsible to improve your team in all facets of the game, and Gailey has failed to do so.
Per Michael Necci of Buffalowins.com:
Bills avg defeat since Chan took over? 17.6 points. That's A LOT.— Michael Necci (@Michael_Necci) October 8, 2012
Also note the Bills have lost by an avg of 29.6 pts this year.— Michael Necci (@Michael_Necci) October 8, 2012
This is not acceptable and falls squarely on the head coach. For the Bills to improve, they need to relieve Gailey of his duties following the end of the 2012 season. The same goes for defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt and the majority of the coaching staff.
So who should the Bills bring in as their next head coach? Let's take a look at some candidates.
New Head Coach Candidates
Casey "Gus" Bradley, my first-choice for next Bills head coach.
Let's get this out of the way. Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden aren't coming to Buffalo. The Bills expressed interest in both the last time the head coaching job was open, but neither showed much interest.
Cowher was going through a difficult time with his wife when the Bills approached him in 2010, but he won't be coming back to the NFL to coach the Bills.
Gruden seems to compliment every team in the NFL as he plans to return to coaching, but again, I doubt it'll be for Buffalo.
Instead, the Bills will most likely be looking at current assistant coaches as their next head coach. Here are three candidates the Bills should take a look at:
Casey "Gus" Bradley, DC, Seattle Seahawks: Bradley started off slowly as the Seahawks defensive coordinator, but is coming into his own. In 2010, Bradley's defense ranked 27th in yards (368.6) and 25th in points (25.4).
In 2011 the Seahawks defense improved to 9th in the league in yards (332.2) and 7th in points per game (19.7).
Through five games in the 2012 season, the Seahawks rank first in yards allowed (258.6) and are tied for second in points allowed (14).
Bradley may not be a "name," but he knows how to coach defense.
Rob Ryan, DC, Dallas Cowboys: Here is my "big-name" candidate. I'm not sure how he'd do as a head coach, but the guy is passionate and fires up his players. Plus, who wouldn't love to see a battle of the Ryan brothers twice a year?
Currently, the Cowboys are ranked 13th in defense, giving up 22 points a game. They are ranked fourth in the NFL in yards per game at 277.5. Ryan would certainly enjoy inheriting a team with the pieces the Bills currently have in place on defense.
However, the biggest flaw in hiring Ryan is that he utilizes a 3-4 defense in Dallas. For that reason, I'm not sure that he'd be the best fit for the Bills.
Alan Williams, DC, Minnesota Vikings: My last candidate is in his first year as defensive coordinator, but he has the Vikings playing great football. Williams had previously been the Colts defensive backs coach from 2002-2011. Currently, the Vikings rank seventh in yards per game at 304.2 and sixth in points per game at 15.8.
It's no coincidence that I chose three defensive coordinators. If the Bills want to return to the playoffs, they need to depend on their defense.
Release Ryan Fitzpatrick
The Bills need to admit their error in giving Fitzpatrick a large contract and release him.
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With a new head coach and general manager, the next step for the Bills would be to admit their $59 million mistake. Ryan Fitzpatrick simply isn't the answer at quarterback.
Since signing the contract extension, the Bills have gone 4-11 under Fitzpatrick. Also during this span of time, Fitzpatrick has thrown 24 touchdowns and 25 interceptions. Not exactly the ratio a team looks for in their quarterback.
Simply put, Fitzpatrick needs to go. He's a great backup, but definitely not the answer at starter. Releasing Fitzpatrick would allow the Bills to move on and attempt to find their first franchise quarterback since Jim Kelly.
Draft or Trade for a Franchise Quarterback
Geno Smith is my first choice, but Tyler Wilson is more realistic as Buffalo won't have the first pick of the draft.
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Realistically, the Bills will need to draft their next franchise quarterback. Generally, franchise quarterbacks don't hit the free-agent market.
The only exception to this rule during the offseason may be Joe Flacco.
Flacco is looking for a long-term extension from the Ravens, but talks have stalled. If the Ravens and Flacco cannot agree, it's likely that he'd be franchised.
It may not be popular, but I'd be willing to hand over two first-round picks to the Ravens in exchange for a legitimate quarterback. This entire scenario is not likely, so the Bills will need to look the 2013 NFL draft.
Here are a few quarterbacks the Bills will certainly take a look at in Rounds 1 or 2:
Geno Smith, Matt Barkley, Tyler Wilson, Tyler Bray, EJ Manual, Logan Thomas, Landry Jones
Realistically, up to five of these quarterbacks could go in the first round, so if the Bills want an instant starter at the quarterback position, it'll have to come in the first round.
Currently, here are the teams that have a worse or equal record to the Buffalo Bills who could realistically draft a quarterback in the first round:
Cleveland: Just drafted Brandon Weeden, but he'll turn 29 years old this month. Call it the "Jimmy Clausen" clause. Carolina has no issue drafting Cam Newton after giving Clausen a one-year trial run. If it doesn't start winning soon, it's very likely it'll take Geno Smith in the NFL draft.
Tampa Bay: Out of the teams listed, it is the least likely to take a quarterback, but Josh Freeman's play has regressed. The team has plenty of needs, but if it falls in love with a quarterback, the Buccaneers may select a quarterback in round one.
Oakland: Unless a miracle occurs and the Raiders make the AFC title game, they'll have their first-round pick in 2013. Don't be surprised if they select a quarterback with the pick. Carson Palmer hasn't panned out, and Terrelle Pryor hasn't shown any signs that he's an NFL-caliber QB.
Jacksonville: Blaine Gabbert has not shown any signs that he's a franchise quarterback in the NFL. Jacksonville has some offensive weapons, but without a franchise quarterback, the only place the Jaguars may go is to another NFL city.
New York Jets: The fans have soured on Mark Sanchez, and the Tim Tebow experiment will start soon-enough. If the Jets don't have any success with Tebow, look for Rex Ryan to draft a quarterback in Round 1 in hopes of saving his job.
If the Bills want to find their franchise quarterback, they can no longer wait and hope that one falls to them in the draft. They need to draft their signal-caller in the first round and perhaps trade up to get the exact quarterback they want.
Sign a No. 1 Wide Receiver
Dwayne Bowe would be a welcome addition to the Bills.
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Some of the players I mention here may sign a long-term extension or be franchised, but here are some names that could hit the free-agent market in 2013:
Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings, Wes Welker and Steve Smith.
I listed the wide receivers in order of my personal preference. All of the wide receivers would improve the Bills, but I'd focus on signing one of the first three players if possible.
Wallace is the youngest (26) and fastest option on the list. That said, he is looking to be one of the top paid wide receivers in the NFL. Unless Wallace is more realistic about his future contract, the Bills most likely won't be the team that signs him in free agency.
Bowe is currently 28 years old and has shown the ability to get open and win one-on-one matchups. He will hit the free-agent market in 2013 unless a long-term deal is reached. Bowe is the most realistic option on this list in my opinion.
Greg Jennings has been a bit banged up the last few seasons, but he is still a legitimate first wide receiver. He will be 30 years old next season, but if the Bills are serious about competing, they need to upgrade their wide receiver corps.
Upgrade at the Linebacker Position Through the Draft
Nick Barnett is the only linebacker who should feel any sort of job security.
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If the Buffalo Bills don't draft a quarterback in Round 1 of the 2013 NFL draft, I better hear these words, "The Buffalo Bills select Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame."
Te'o would be my ideal pick, but other linebackers who would help strengthen the defense include Barkevious Mingo, Jarvis Jones and C.J. Mosley. All of them are likely first-rounders with the exception of Mosley.
Linebacker is probably the biggest area of need for the Bills after quarterback. Nick Barnett is the only linebacker currently on the roster who should feel some sort of job security.
Kelvin Sheppard has been inconsistent at the middle linebacker spot, and Arthur Moats is already losing playing time in favor of Nigel Bradham.
The last time Buffalo was reputable on defense, it had Takeo Spikes and London Fletcher at the LB position.
If the Bills want to improve their defense, they need a star at the linebacker position, and the best place to find one is through the draft.
Gilmore was the Bills first pick in 2012, who do you think they should take in round one of the 2013 NFL Draft?
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I've already addressed how the Bills should address their early draft picks. But here is a very early mock draft for the Buffalo Bills:
Please note that the Bills will be without their sixth or seventh-round pick depending upon how many games Tarvaris Jackson is active. Right now, it is a seventh, so I will not include a seventh0round pick.
Round 1: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Round 2: Arthur Brown, OLB, Kansas State
Round 3: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Round 4: Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers
Round 5: Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas
Round 6: Zeke Motta, SS, Notre Dame
A lot can change not only for the prospects, but also for the Bills.
There is no guarantee that the Bills re-sign Andy Levitre and Jairus Byrd, so they may need to address offensive guard and free safety early in the draft.
Stevie Johnson would benefit greatly from a new quarterback and regime.
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To wrap up, there is plenty of work to be done to the Buffalo Bills.
The franchise is better off now than it was in 2012, but numerous changes need to be made.
It'll all start at the general manager position. Whether it be Buddy Nix, Doug Whaley or a new hire, the team needs to clean house of its coaching staff.
From there, the Bills need to admit to a contractual mistake (Fitzpatrick) and find their franchise quarterback.
After that, the Bills need to continue to upgrade their talent and add depth at key positions, especially linebacker and wide receiver.
If the Bills follow these steps, the loyal Buffalo Bills fanbase will finally have something to "shout" about again for the first time since the early 1990s.