The Buffalo Bills are not known for extravagant spending in free agency, but signing defensive end Mario Williams in the summer of 2012 turned a lot of heads. While stockpiling talent in free agency isn't always a clever way to build a franchise, teams always think they are one or two blue-chip players away from a championship run.
While none of these players have ever won the Bills a Super Bowl, their signings ignited both the franchise and the fan base.
These are the top free agent signings in the history of the Buffalo Bills' storied franchise.
The Buffalo Bills made national news on March 8, 2009 when they agreed to a one-year deal with 36-year old superstar wide receiver Terrell Owens. While Owens wasn't exactly an all-world receiving option at this point in his career, it was a huge move for the Bills at the time.
Fans swarmed him at the airport for his arrival. He brought a VH1 reality show to town and was given a key to the city before playing a game. In hindsight, the Owens signing was clearly a publicity stunt, but an excellent one. The fanbase was energized with grandiose thoughts of Owens somehow transforming Trent Edwards into a quality quarterback and he was expected to allow fellow receiver Lee Evans to have a major season.
T.O. went on to catch 55 passes for 829 yards and five touchdowns (including a 98-yard touchdown catch) in his one season with Buffalo. However, he was a model citizen, not once criticizing the quarterback play and never questioning playcalling.
He came here to get away from the spotlight and prove he could be a team player and it worked well for both parties.
After playing two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Buffalo Bills signed kicker Steve Christie prior to the 1992 season. Christie went on to be one of the best kickers in the NFL, connecting on 234-of-299 kicks and 309 extra points.
Christie is the Buffalo Bills' franchise leader in points, with 1,011. Christie was a major player in the "Comeback Game" against the Houston Oilers in thew 1992 playoffs and his shoe from that game is on display in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.
Christie's nine overtime field goals are tied for an NFL record.
Chris Spielman only played two seasons with the Buffalo Bills, but made a huge impact on both teams. He played eight seasons with the Detroit Lions after being an All-American at Ohio State and left the Motor City to join the Bills, with expectations of winning a championship.
Spielman recorded a tremendous 206 tackles in 1996, but suffered a neck injury in 1997 that eventually caused him to retire from the NFL.
Spielman will now be remembered for his work with charitable foundations for cancer research, but he was a great signing for the Bills.
Lawyer Milloy was a stud defensive back for the New England Patriots for seven seasons. However, after failing to come to terms on a contract he was released prior to the 2003 season. The Buffalo Bills signed him and he went on to make 274 tackles, seven sacks and three interceptions in three years with the team.
Milloy was released following the 2005 season due to a salary-related issue, opting to select Donte Whitner in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft. While he wasn't with the team for a significant period of time, his play in the secondary was some of the best during the 2000's for the Bills.
While Scott Chandler has only played two full seasons with the Buffalo Bills, he's already probably the best tight end in the history of the team. Signed in 2010, Chandler has caught 82 passes for 968 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Chandler was a former fourth-round draft pick out of Iowa in the 2007 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers, where Bills current General Manager, Buddy Nix, was serving at the time. The 6’7″ 260 pound tight end didn’t appear in a game for the Chargers before being signed by the Dallas Cowboys and then the New York Giants.
His six touchdowns in each of his two seasons with the team are the most by a tight end in the history of the team.
James Lofton signed with the Buffalo Bills prior to the 1989 season, after spending nine years with the Green Bay Packers. While Lofton was overshadowed by fellow wide receiver Andre Reed, he was a very consistent option for the team for three Super Bowl appearances.
In his four years with the Bills, Lofton made 46 starts and caught 151 passes for 2,736 yards and 21 scores. Lofton was the first player in NFL history to record 14,000 receiving yards and the only player to score touchdowns in the 70's, 80's and 90's.
Ted Washington was signed by the Bills as an unrestricted free agent before the 1995 season. The mammoth 6'5" 375 pound nose tackle played for six seasons with Buffalo, making 378 tackles, 19.5 sacks, and forced three fumbles.
Washington was a true anchor in the Bills' 3-4 defense, where he lined up next to the all-time sack leader, Bruce Smith. Washington was released after the 2000 season after refusing to take a pay cut and joined the Chicago Bears.
Middle linebacker London Fletcher signed with the Buffalo Bills prior to the 2002 season, after spending four seasons with the St. Louis Rams. Fletcher was an undrafted free agent in 1998, but has had an incredible career, and has never missed a game.
Fletcher spent five seasons with the Bills, making 729 tackles (with at least 133 in each season), 14.5 sacks, and five interceptions. He forced five fumbles, and defended 28 passes in that time.
Fletcher was named as a 2007 Pro Bowl alternate, after his last season with the team.
Takeo Spikes is one of the best linebackers in the history of the Buffalo Bills. After spending five seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, the Buffalo Bills signed him prior to the 2003 season. Spikes was named to the Pro Bowl in his first season after making 126 tackles, two sacks, intercepting two passes and forcing a fumble.
Spikes played with the Bills for four years and made 46 starts. However, he missed most of the 2005 after suffering a torn Achilles tendon. Spikes made 312 tackles, seven sacks, forced seven fumbles, picked off seven passes and defended 29 passes.
The Bills agreed to a contract with defensive end/ linebacker Bryce Paup before the 1995 season after the former sixth round draft pick out of Northern Iowa played five seasons with the Green Bay Packers.
Paup was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year in his first season with the Bills, after recording 17.5 sacks and 89 tackles. Paup played four seasons with Buffalo and was named to three Pro Bowls in that time.
Paup made 33 sacks and forced seven fumbles in his four years with the Bills, and his 17.5 sacks in 1995 rank as the fourth-highest total of the 1990's.
Aside from Jim Kelly, quarterback Doug Flutie is recognized as the most intriguing signal caller in Buffalo Bills' franchise history. Flutie was signed in 1998, and became the starter five games into the season after Rob Johnson suffered an injury.
Flutie led the Bills to wins in eight of the 11 games he played in, and was named to the 1998 Pro Bowl. The following season, Flutie led the Bills to a 10-5 record, but in a questionable move, was benched in favor of Rob Johnson during the playoff game in favor of Johnson. This is probably one of the most scrutinized coaching decisions in the history of the team, but owner Ralph Wilson reportedly ordered head coach Wade Phillips to make the call.
Flutie was a transcendent figure in Buffalo, and was a great success story. In his three years with the team, he completed just 56.4 percent of his passes for 7,582 yards, tossing 47 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. He added another 885 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
When the Buffalo Bills signed defensive end Mario Williams, it made a major statement to a fanbase that had grown accustomed to underpaying and accepting losing. The team agreed to a six-year, $96 million deal with Williams, one of the largest contracts ever given to a defensive player.
Williams, a former No. 1 overall draft pick, played five seasons with the Houston Texans, where he recorded 53 sacks in 82 games. The signing shocked the nation, as many "insiders" believed Williams was simply using the Bills to gain leverage for other teams to pay him more.
However, that wasn't the case, as the Bills' front office refused to let him leave without signing a contract.
Williams started all 16 games for the Bills in 2012 and tallied 10.5 sacks and 46 tackles.