The first week of the 2013 NFL free agency is winding down, and Buffalo Bills fans want to know when the team will become more active players. The Bills did bring in ex-Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Manny Lawson and signed him to a deal, but he is the only player that Buffalo has been linked to so far.
The Bills have a number of holes they still have to fill after releasing QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, CB Terrence McGee, WR David Nelson, LB Nick Barnett, S George Wilson and WR Donald Jones. In addition the Bills lost G Andy Levitre and G Chad Rinehart in free agency. DE Chris Kelsay and DE Shawne Merriman announced their retirement from the NFL.
What have the Bills done to replace them, and why are they dragging their heels so much to get involved in free agency?
They signed Lawson to a four-year deal, and that is it. All quiet on the Western New York front.
CEO Russ Brandon and GM Buddy Nix remember how the Bills made as much noise as any NFL team in 2012 free agency when they signed Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to new deals. The returns on their investment didn't come close to what the Bills were anticipating, so that could explain the Bills' caution and reluctance to make another splash in 2013.
Meanwhile, using caution isn't the case around the rest of the AFC East, which is another reason Bills fans are growing impatient.
The following players have been added to Miami, New York and New England since free agency began on March 12:
Miami Dolphins: WR Mike Wallace, LB Dannell Ellerbe, LB Philip Wheeler, WR Brandon Gibson, TE Dustin Keller and they re-signed FS Chris Clemons.
New York Jets: DT Antonio Garay, RB Mike Goodson, T Willie Colon and they re-signed K Nick Foles.
When you look at the above transactions, what stands out is how much more active the Bills' rivals have been. Granted, there is the issue of quality over quantity. The Jets are hurting for cap space, which forces their moves to be quantity-driven. They simply can't afford to sign quality players this year. Taking a gamble that seldom-used Goodson will replace Shonn Greene is a good example.
Certainly Miami has added the most talent. GM Jeff Ireland was creative on some of the contracts by pushing larger salary cap commitments further down the road. The best example of that was convincing Wallace to play for a salary of $1 million in 2013. Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post wrote that Wallace's base salary then jumps up to $15 million in 2014.
Call it new-age math if you prefer.
Ireland added enough talent that the Dolphins may contend with New England for the AFC East division title in 2013. After 2013, who knows what shakes out? Ireland could be history if these moves backfire. Whether or not these free-agent deals ever reach the final years of their contracts remains to be seen.
New England is also taking on some calculated risks. Bill Belichick is betting that Amendola will be able to replace Welker in the slot and can duplicate the production without missing a beat. If it shakes out that way, then you have to tip your cap to Belichick. However, there is enough evidence due to Amendola's injury history that Belichick could really regret this decision.
There is also the factor of upsetting Tom Brady, who was livid over losing Welker. Tom Curran of CSNNE.com took to Twitter to report the following:
Tom E. Curran @tomecurran
Spoke to someone close to Tom Brady. Beyond enraged at contract details that netted Broncos Wes Welker. "Disgrace" "disservice" were used.2013-3-13 21:21:38
At least Welker won't be burning the Bills twice a year for the foreseeable future.
The Bills were already hurting at wide receiver, and that was before they decided to not bring back Nelson or Jones. In an article by Tim Graham of the Buffalo News, Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson shares the same agent with Gibson. Johnson had been recruiting Gibson and knew that he was open to coming to Buffalo. But the Bills never contacted him or his agent. Instead, he wound up going to the division-rival Dolphins.
If Jones winds up becoming a factor for the Patriots, that will be a hard pill for Bills fans to swallow. Johnson has reportedly turned his recruiting efforts toward Darrius Heyward-Bey instead. Josina Anderson of ESPN went on Twitter to share the following:
Josina Anderson @JosinaAnderson
#Bills WR Stevie Johnson to me on Darrius Heyward-Bey: "Tell DHB come be a Bill." "He was steppin.. http://t.co/gbesviZVEE2013-3-13 13:54:55
So when will Buffalo start to become more active in free agency?
It appears that the Bills are waiting for the big-ticket free agents to land, and then the next tiers of free agents will have a better idea of what their fair market price will be.
Now that the first wave of deals is completed, here is a brief overview of free agents who remain on the market and could help the Bills address glaring team needs. The free agents are listed in order of their assigned grades via ESPN Insider's Free Agency Tracker (subscription required).
No sure-fire starters available, but the Bills might want to add at least one more veteran to compete with Tarvaris Jackson and whoever they draft next month. I wrote an extensive article last week on the quarterback options available, which you can find here. The only change since then is to add Kevin Kolb to the list, as Arizona released him on Friday.
The Bills could either use a No. 2 wide receiver to support Stevie Johnson or bring in another receiver to challenge Johnson for the No. 1 position. The top-tier free-agent receivers are gone after Greg Jennings decided to sign with the Minnesota Vikings this week.
Free Agents Still Available: Brandon Lloyd, RFA Victor Cruz, Laurent Robinson, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Austin Collie, Mohamed Massaquoi, Randy Moss, ex-Bills Nelson, Josh Cribbs, Early Doucet, Kevin Walter, Steve Breaston, Michael Jenkins, RFA Emmanuel Sanders, Braylon Edwards and Brandon Tate.
After losing Levitre and Rinehart in free agency, the Bills need a starting guard and possibly one more to challenge Colin Brown for depth purposes.
Free Agents Still Available: Brandon Moore, Jake Scott, Eben Britton, Matt Slauson, Leroy Harris, Deuce Lutui, Bobbie Williams, Ryan Lilja, Cooper Carlisle, Leonard Davis, Doug Legursky, Reggie Wells and ex-Bills Derrick Dockery.
Due to Scott Chandler's ACL injury, there are no guarantees he will be ready for the start of 2013. Upgrading the position by adding another potential weapon makes sense.
Free Agents Still Available: Fred Davis, RFA Dennis Pitta, Ben Watson, Dallas Clark, Chris Cooley, Randy McMichael, Kellen Davis, RFA Ed Dickson, Will Heller, Kevin Boss, Alex Smith and Leonard Pope.
Adding Lawson helps to a degree, but this entire unit needed a talent upgrade. The Bills need to bring in competition to push Moats, Bradham, Sheppard, etc. It will be interesting to see if new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine lobbies for any of his former players from the Jets, as Bart Scott and Calvin Pace are still available in free agency. Since Pettine is open to playing both 3-4 and 4-3 looks, he could look at a wide range of options.
Free Agents Still Available: Karlos Dansby, Rey Maualuga, Barnett, Brian Urlacher, Daryl Smith, D.J. Williams, James Harrison, Justin Durant, Shaun Phillips, James Anderson, ex-Bills Takeo Spikes, Bart Scott, Quincy Black, Rocky McIntosh, Akeem Jordan, Bradie James, Brad Jones and Calvin Pace.
Due to the release of McGee and the suspect play of Aaron Williams, the Bills could use another starting corner. They might also want to bring in a slot corner if they wind up playing Leodis McKelvin on the outside.
Free Agents Still Available: Chris Gamble, Brent Grimes, DeAngelo Hall, Quentin Jammer, Nnamdi Asomugha, ex-Bills Antoine Winfield, Sheldon Brown, Terence Newman, Leroy Hill, ex-Bills Nate Clements, Tracy Porter, RFA Sam Shields, Shawntae Spencer, Cedric Griffin and Jacob Lacey.
The Bills gave Jairus Byrd their franchise tag but haven't signed him to a long-term deal yet. With the release of Wilson, the only other safety is Da'Norris Searcy, so the depth is really thin right now.
Free Agents Still Available: Ed Reed, Quintin Mikell, Charles Woodson, Bernard Pollard, Kerry Rhodes, Michael Huff, Dawan Landry, Gerald Sensabaugh, Madieu Williams, Ronde Barber, Stevie Brown and Eric Smith.
For each of the above positions of need, you want the Bills to address as many of these as they can in free agency. That allows Buffalo to have the freedom to draft the best players available when they are on the clock. If the Bills go into the draft still needing to fill some major holes, that is when the draft can become problematic.
Obviously there are a number of free agents from the ESPN Free Agency Tracker who won't be applicable for Buffalo. Some will either return to their old team or retire, while others will only consider playing for a contender. That is something the Bills would eventually like to be known as, but they can't make that claim right now.
Hopefully, the Bills will have added some more talent and depth to the roster one week from now. According to the latest information available from Spotrac.com, after the addition of Lawson's contract, the 2013 salary cap commitment so far is $101,626,344.
Since the NFL has set the 2013 final salary cap figure at $123 million, that leaves the Bills more than enough room to bring in some other veterans. Figure that the Bills will need to spend roughly $5.2 million on their draft picks, there is still $16.2 million left for signing free agents.
For what it is worth, here are Buffalo's remaining free agents: FB Corey McIntyre, DE Kyle Moore, RB Tashard Choice, DL Spencer Johnson, WR Ruvell Martin, QB Tyler Thigpen and LB Kirk Morrison. From that group, McIntyre and Moore would appear to have a decent chance to come back based on 2012 performance.
If we check back in a week, there will hopefully be some better news to report on. If not, we can turn our attention to March Madness instead.
Thanks for checking out the presentation. Follow me on Twitter—@DanVanWie