The Buffalo Bills can't afford to sit on their hands if they're going to improve from their performance in 2012, where they ranked 26th in total defense. The season officially ended about one week ago, and they're already making moves.
Linebacker Nick Barnett announced (via his official Twitter account) that he will be released by the Bills.
I was told I'll be released today by the Buffalo Bills. Thanks to all the great Fans and friends I have met in Western New York.. It was— NickBarnett (@NickBarnett) February 11, 2013
The announcement was made official by the team less than an hour later, along with word that the Bills had released safety George Wilson, and the effects of the moves can already be felt.
Not only does it clear $6.4 million off the Bills' salary cap, it also will either create an opportunity for someone to step up at safety and linebacker, or will create a need to add talent at one or both of those positions.
Here's a full look at what the move means for the Bills going forward.
Next Man Up, or Next Man In?
At safety, the answer is much more obvious than it is at linebacker. Wilson's 921 snaps were good for 82.6 percent of the total. Third-year safety Da'Norris Searcy has split some time with Wilson since 2011, and now appears ready to accept the mantle as the starter.
At linebacker, it's a bit different.
Barnett played 1,025 snaps last year (via ProFootballFocus.com), good for 91.9 percent of the team total. The backup situation at linebacker is a bit more grim than at safety. This could mean one of three things:
- Increased playing time for linebacker Bryan Scott, who played 54.2 percent of the snaps as Barnett's primary backup last year.
- Shuffling around of personnel; Kelvin Sheppard may move to one of the outside spots, or perhaps 2012 fourth-round pick Nigel Bradham could play a larger role after playing just 36.1 percent of snaps last year.
- The Bills could target a linebacker with one of their six draft picks, or find one in free agency to fill Barnett's void, including Jaguars linebacker Daryl Smith, considered one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in the league.
Linebacker was already considered a position of need, and it looks like the needy just got needier.
New Defensive Scheme
The Bills defense is expected to get a major face lift under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
Where once the scheme was passive and conservative, Pettine and his staff have already begun asserting their aggressive nature in press conferences.
The question then becomes: Are Barnett and Wilson suited for what the Bills will be asking them to do?
Barnett was a liability in coverage last year, and in a nickel defense, he could be asked to drop into coverage quite a bit. He gave up a 129.8 passer rating on throws into his coverage, allowing four touchdown passes and completions on 86 percent of passes (via ProFootballFocus.com).
Wilson got burned in coverage last year, allowing completions on 71.7 percent of throws into his coverage along with four touchdowns, but he was solid in coverage this year, giving up 54.2 percent completions into his coverage and allowing just one touchdown all year. He might have been of value to the Bills' new-look defense, but at $2.9 million, the price tag was simply too high for an aging safety.
What about Buffalo's new aggressive scheme?
They blitzed on 17.5 percent of drop-backs last year, far lower than the league's average of 31.5 percent. They will be blitzing much more often this year, at least according to defensive line coach Anthony Weaver.
#Bills new defensive line coach Anthony Weaver, when told the team ranked near the bottom of NFL in blitzing: "won't be this year."— Jay Skurski (@JaySkurski) January 25, 2013
Wilson hardly blitzed at all, with just 17 rushes on the season, and only got pressure three times.
Barnett, however, was graded by ProFootballFocus.com as the league's second-worst pass-rushing 4-3 outside linebacker. He combined for two sacks and three pressures on 66 rushes.
Barnett may not be done in the NFL, but he is clearly not a fit in Buffalo any longer.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.