The Buffalo Bills are a few players away from evolving into an AFC threat next year, but dishing out large quantities of money won't guarantee a turnaround in 2013.
This list looks at relatively cheap free agents who offer a lot of value. This allows Buffalo to avoid spending big money on big-name players but instead acquire players who have the potential to be big contributors.
Working smarter, not harder, may allow Buffalo to quickly transition back to being a playoff contender. Rather than trying to acquire the top talent and pay enormous salaries, Buffalo could deeply evaluate the market and come up with some great players at fantastic prices.
Here are the free agents whom Buffalo should consider this offseason.
Austin Collie may be a concussion away from ending his NFL career, but the wide receiver has a skill set that could immediately be a factor in Buffalo if he stays healthy.
Collie's best season was his second, 2010. In nine games and six starts, Collie hauled in 58 passes for 649 yards and eight touchdowns.
In his first three seasons, Collie played in 41 games, with 16 starts, recording 172 catches for 1,839 yards and 16 touchdowns.
When he is in the game, Collie is a fantastic route runner with very soft hands. He was a favorite of Peyton Manning for two years and even did fairly well under the guidance of Curtis Painter, Kerry Collins and Dan Orlovsky.
A knee injury limited Collie to one catch in one game in 2012, and Indianapolis is likely to move on without him.
Collie's history of concussions may be cause for concern for some teams, but Buffalo should take the risk.
He simply makes catches. He is a solid target on third downs and can sneaking downfield to make plays. With his precise routes, he is able to run a lot of timing patterns, even without Manning.
Collie helped lead the Colts to a Super Bowl and will bring experience to Buffalo. Since his career could end at any point, he should be a lot smarter with his body positioning on the field for the Bills.
Buffalo needs a pass catcher, and all Collie does in haul in the football. If he can stay healthy, Buffalo will have obtained one of the best slot receivers at a thrifty price. If it doesn't work out or if he looks subpar, Buffalo could cut him with little financial backlash.
Collie simply needs an opportunity to play and needs to stay healthy to continue where he left off in 2010. He would fill a need in the slot for Buffalo and has the potential to be the same player who torched the Jets in the AFC Championship game following the 2009 season.
For Buffalo, Collie's soon-to-be-cheap salary will make for a low-risk, high-reward opportunity.
Domenik Hixon is a pretty good receiver but was lost in a mix of talented wideouts in New York.
Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle lead the pack, with Ramses Barden and Jerrel Jernigan competing for time.
However, even with all of the competition and tight end Martellus Bennett stealing passes, Hixon still had a very respectable season.
In 13 games and three starts, Hixon recorded 39 catches for 567 yards and two touchdowns. With all of the talent and options surrounding him, those numbers were hard earned and don't tell the whole story of his potential.
Hixon is a two-time Super Bowl champion and has learned from some of the best receivers in the game. Amani Toomer, Plaxico Burress, Mario Manningham, Nicks and Cruz have all been teammates of Hixon, and he has worked with those players every day for years.
Hixon is also a great special teams player, which is very attractive to coaches. He can return punts and kickoffs and be just as effective as a special teams tackler.
If Hixon were to venture off to Buffalo, he would have a larger role than he ever did with the Giants or early in his career with the Broncos. He is 6'2'' and 28 years old and has been under the guidance of some of the game's elite; now he has to go make a name for himself.
Hixon's special teams contributions would be great for Buffalo, and his experience would certainly help the squad. He has played and thrived in the playoffs and has the hardware to show for it. All he needs at this point is a bigger role.
He would be an upgrade over Donald Jones if he is retained and is a more complete player than T.J. Graham. Hixon is a smart, versatile and all-around solid player who needs a team to maximize his value, and the Bills should be that team.
The last time Buffalo signed a linebacker from the Cincinnati Bengals, things worked out. Though he may not be Takeo Spikes, Rey Maualuga could benefit from following the footsteps of the former Bengal.
Maualuga is coming off a career year with 122 tackles and one sack. He is the leader of the Bengals defense but is unsure of his future with the club and may not be maximizing his potential.
He hasn't earned a huge contract yet, and teams won't be salivating at the thought of Maualuga joining their team if he wants a big deal. With the likes of Shaun Phillips, Anthony Spencer, Paul Kruger, Brian Urlacher and Connor Barwin on the market, Maualuga's value will only slip.
If the Bills were able to scoop up Maualuga, he would pair nicely with Nick Barnett. The defense has the players in Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mark Anderson and the coach in Mike Pettine to turn the unit into an elite squad. If Maualuga were added to the mix, it would only be better for the Bills.
He brings passion, emotion and intensity to the Bills. He might benefit from a fresh start, new coaches and more talent. Buffalo can provide all of that and bring out the best in Maualuga.
The other free agent linebackers will cause Maualuga's value to slip. If Buffalo were to sign him, he could become the face of the linebacking corps for years.
Maualuga would help bring an identity to the Bills defense and be a key piece to the puzzle in the Bills' playoff quest. He could turn into a great player in the right situation, and Buffalo can give him what he needs to thrive.
Though the Buffalo Bills have one of the best running back tandems in football, the opportunity to add Chris Rainey to the mix might be too good to pass up.
Let me be clear: I do not condone Rainey's off-field actions and would absolutely, 100 percent understand if Buffalo wanted nothing to do with him. He was arrested in early January and immediately waived from the Steelers for an alleged battery incident involving his girlfriend.
Rainey cleared waivers and is now an unrestricted free agent. If Buffalo can work around his legal issues and keep him focused purely on football, the electric running back would provide another explosive element to the Bills.
Rainey will most likely be offered a minimum contract and at the very least will improve the play of others at training camp. He was the primary kick and punt returner for the Steelers as a rookie in 2012 and was explosive with the ball.
As a running back, Rainey had few opportunities and finished 2012 with 26 carries for 102 yards and two touchdowns.
If, and only if, he shows a commitment to improving himself and maturing as an individual, he is worth a chance from Buffalo.
Though C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are the top backs for the Bills, Rainey would provide a change-of-pace approach to keep both players fresh. Other than a few carries a game, Rainey would be lethal in short passing situations, like screens.
Rainey is explosive and shifty, and he makes plays. He would be a cheaper alternative to Leodis McKelvin on returns and has more seasons ahead of him than McKelvin.
The Bills would be able to strike fear into the defense and create endless possibilities if they were able to feature Rainey and Spiller on the field at the same time.
Rainey has a lot of upside and time to reach his potential, but his poor decision-making may be his worst enemy. Having said that, several NFL players have gotten a second chance after a legal issue and thrived with it. Rainey could do the same in Buffalo.
For a cheap price, the Bills could develop Rainey into an explosive threat for the offense. If he has any more off-field antics or doesn't gel with the personnel, it wouldn't cost Buffalo much.
Though the marriage might initially seem unlikely, Rainey could really bring another element to the Buffalo Bills.