The free-agency period has been so quiet in Buffalo this offseason that one might forget that such a thing exists. Many publications have turned their focus to April’s draft because of the stagnant nature of the news coming out of 1 Bills Drive.
Buffalo released or allowed a slew of starters to walk after another disappointing season in Orchard Park, but had only signed one replacement through the first week of free agency – Cincinnati Bengals free agent linebacker Manny Lawson.
Lawson provides a starting-quality player on the front seven of the defense, but Buffalo has plenty of other gaping holes to fill.
After two weeks of white noise in the Buffalo market, the Bills ended their radio silence with the reported agreement with free agent quarterback Kevin Kolb on Saturday evening. ESPN’s Adam Schefter released on twitter that the two sides agreed to a 2-year, $13 million deal with plenty of incentives built in to the writing.
However, the Bills have yet to do a press release announcing that the signing has become official.
Kolb will be hard-pressed to see the full value of that contract and the Bills’ have protected themselves nicely if the base salary is well under the league average for the position. If Kolb can resurrect his career with two years in Buffalo, then it becomes a win-win situation for both parties.
The parameters of the contract make it seem that Kolb will immediately become the starter for the quarterback-less team. It has been perceived by a few of the Buffalo media that he will compete with freshly re-signed Tarvaris Jackson and whoever the team drafts in a position battle.
Head Coach Doug Marrone was asked about the plans for the two quarterbacks in a media session on Tuesday, but refrained from comment on Kolb because the signing had not become official.
Positional battles tend to bring out the best or worst in players, but according to a report by ProFootballTalk.com, Jackson and Kolb will be competing for the same roster spot.
If that is the case, then Jackson would be the most likely release candidate because he is guaranteed very little on his one-year contract he signed back in February.
Three more players entered the fold on Tuesday afternoon. Two players, Tashard Choice and Dorin Dickerson, return for third seasons with the Bills’ organization after both were mid-season claims two years ago.
Choice was thought to be a definite goner after two underwhelming seasons as the Bills’ third-string running back. He was a favorite of former coach Chan Gailey dating back to their days at Georgia Tech together, but he never carved out a niche for himself in a loaded backfield.
After a forgettable 2011 season, Choice was forced into duty as C.J. Spiller’s backup after Fred Jackson succumbed to injury early in the season. Choice improved his numbers across the board last season, but he will be relegated to third-string again for the foreseeable future.
The signing does allow the team to pass on a running back late in the draft this April, while focusing on more pressing needs.
Dickerson was an exclusive rights free agent this offseason, having just completed his third season in the league.
The former Pitt product is a bit of a tweener in the sense that he is neither a prototypical tight end nor a normal fullback. As an H-back, Dickerson does provide some value to the Bills in the direct future.
He offers very little as a blocker, but when split out wide the speedy Dickerson gives Buffalo another weapon in the mold of Aaron Hernandez. Dickerson is not nearly as big as the aforementioned Hernandez, but they offer similar mismatches with linebackers due to their quickness.
The injury to Scott Chandler left a wide open spot atop the depth chart and unless Buffalo focuses on drafting a tight end high, then Dickerson should be the starter heading into next year.
Later Tuesday afternoon, Buffalo announced the signing of run-stuffing defensive tackle Alan Branch. Branch visited Buffalo for the first time on Tuesday morning and within a few hours, they agreed to a reported 1-year, $3 million deal.
The 28-year-old defensive lineman was a huge part of making the Seattle Seahawks' defensive unit one of the scariest in the NFL over the past two seasons. Branch had an outstanding 2011 season, his first as a Seahawk, often eating up two blockers and racking up tackles for loss.
However, his 2012 season was not nearly as impressive. Branch struggled to find the consistency that made him a household name the season before, due to nagging injuries. His stats suffered accordingly.
For the sake of comparison, Branch was the sixth-ranked nose tackle with a +19.5 overall rating according to ProFootballFocus in 2011. Last season he finished much lower (53rd), while finishing with only one sack and recording no stuffs.
How Branch actually fits into Mike Pettine’s defense will have to wait until more information comes out about his scheme. It is a sure bet that Branch will be out there in obvious running situations, though, as a running mate with Kyle Williams or Marcell Dareus.
The lack activity early on may be discouraging some, but the recent flurry of deals is giving an insight to the order of the remixed regime. Buffalo wants to rebuild through the draft and supplement with role-filling free agents.
In a free-agent market that has developed very slowly for many of the big names, the Bills have done their due diligence by finding the best values rather than irresponsibly spending.