The 2013 offseason has been an action-packed one for the Buffalo Bills, as the franchise, once again, has reshuffled their deck in search for promising results.
It is almost hard to believe that in an age of parity and free agency, the Bills last playoff appearance was just eight days removed from the turn of the century. The lengthy, franchise-record playoff drought is chock full of bad coaching hires, decisions and draft busts, but the team is hopeful that this will be the group that turns it around.
How many times have Bills fans heard that declaration?
Ad campaigns and high-priced free agents have tried to reenergize every few offseasons, as the team tries to save face from their overly mediocre product on the field. The Bills' communications department released their pitch this year with a series of C.J. Spiller "Re-charged" ads which cycle through their multimedia content on the website.
The same story of hiring a new staff every three years because of avoidable blunders is on its sixth rendition after Doug Marrone took over Chan Gailey's director's chair. Marrone will, hopefully, do something the five men before him could not, lead the Bills to the playoffs once again.
New faces have appeared up and down the roster for the upcoming season. A new front-office structure and completely new coaching staff have followed suit after the hiring of Marrone.
Let's take a look at each of the Bills' moves this offseason as they try to climb out of the AFC East basement.
Chan Gailey's firing after the season was less than surprising due to a third straight uninspiring finish under his watch. Replacing him with Doug Marrone—a coach who had never had a head gig at the NFL level—was surprising, but understandable, considering the organization’s longing for a fresh start.
Marrone has certainly given the team the fresh look they were looking for thus far. He spruced up the fieldhouse as soon as he got to Orchard Park and has not looked back at reinventing the wheel, so to speak.
The reception of the hire by fans was lukewarm at the start, as New York state football fans tried to separate love for Syracuse and the Bills. However, Brian Galliford of Buffalo Rumblings documented this week that support for the coaching decision has risen to an optimistic level.
His hands-on approach to coaching and new attitude is refreshing, but it means very little if the team does not perform on the field.
David Nelson and Donald Jones represent the receivers who have played the No. 2 spot behind Stevie Johnson for the last two seasons. While both players are serviceable receivers, neither should have been in a position to be that high on the depth chart.
Nelson and Jones put up respectable seasons during their short stints in Buffalo, but injury concerns had begun to pile up with both players. Nelson missed the entire 2012 season aside from a few snaps, after a 61-catch campaign the season previous. Jones hasn't played a full season since joining the team as a UDFA out of Youngstown in 2010.
Letting them test the free-agent market was almost assured once Chan Gailey was given his walking papers. Jones signed with New England, while Nelson settled with the Cleveland Browns a month ago following ACL surgery.
The changing of the guard was not limited to only the coaching staff. Elder statesmen on both sides of the ball were released from their contracts after a few weeks of evaluation by the new staff.
Ryan Fitzpatrick's candidacy for release was easy to spot. He was a player married to Gailey's term as head coach and had zero chance of hanging on to a roster spot. His stay was a miserable and expensive mistake for the team, although he was the first quarterback to beat the New England Patriots since Drew Bledsoe.
Fitzpatrick's swagger and personality was endearing, but his play on the field was borderline maddening in three losing seasons.
Losing George Wilson and Nick Barnett had more to do with defensive scheme than anything else. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine wanted younger and faster across the board, so both players were cut. Neither was the reason for the Bills' porous defense last season, but became replaceable early on in the evaluation process.
Barnett remains the only player unsigned, as both Fitzpatrick and Wilson joined forces with Andy Levitre in Tennessee.
Tarvaris Jackson has had quite the offseason. He was re-signed by the new regime in March when Fitzpatrick was let go, despite not dressing in 16 games with the Bills last season.
He was atop the depth chart at quarterback and received plenty of first-team snaps during OTAs only a month ago, but was released two weeks later. Jackson never really had a shot at getting playing time as the starter, and his short stay as the top quarterback on the chart looks to be nothing more than a trial.
It was a trial that ended in a cancellation of his contract with the team.
Jackson ended up back with the team that traded him less than a year ago, the Seattle Seahawks. The seventh-round pick sent to Seattle was traded to Minnesota in the Percy Harvin deal and became guard Travis Bond.
The Bills ended up with nothing.
Grade: C for Confusion
Leodis McKelvin re-signing with the team was relatively small news on the media wire, but it was an important contract for the Bills to get done. His four-year extension of $20 million was a relative discount compared to the other high-priced deals on the open market.
McKelvin has not been the shutdown corner they were hoping to get when they drafted him in the first round, but he showed signs of improvement last season. Mike Pettine likes bigger corners, and McKelvin certainly fits the bill.
He will likely be the starter opposite Stephon Gilmore, assuming he can get the necessary reps following groin surgery.
The Bills were not as active in the premiere free-agent market as they have been in recent seasons, but they still added a few key pieces in Manny Lawson and Alan Branch. Both players were parts of playoff defenses last season and add some necessary bulk to the front seven.
Branch is a run-stuffer who will slide right in to a loaded defensive tackle position including Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. He is a virtual non-threat for sacking the quarterback like the rest of the guys at defensive tackle, but he will help the Bills' poor run defense numbers up the middle.
The Bills were second-worst in the NFL last season, allowing over 145 yards per game. That pitiful number was only beaten by the record-breaking bad New Orleans Saints defense.
Lawson has yet to practice with the team in drills this offseason, while recovering from injury, but he is expected to be a huge part of the hybrid defense. He has yet to fulfill his draft profile as a great pass-rusher, but, perhaps, Pettine can get the best out of the former first-rounder.
He only has 18 sacks in seven NFL seasons.
Love him or hate him, the possibility that the Bills' starting quarterback during Week 1 will be Kevin Kolb.
Kolb has gotten a raw deal during his last two stops in Philadelphia and Arizona, but is looking to re-establish some worth with Buffalo. He played in only five games last season, but went 4-0 with seven touchdowns in the four games he finished without injuries. The team he now plays for ended his 2012 season in Week 5 with a load of sacks in the first half.
Even with a little bit of changeover from last year, the Bills' offensive line will still be better than the one Kolb played behind last season. At the very least, he will have the time to throw and spend less time on his back.
Kolb is a low-risk investment for the Bills and gives them a player to keep the seat warm for rookie EJ Manuel until he is ready.
The Bills' draft class is going to make or break the careers of the current regime.
Buffalo added immediate starters Robert Woods and Kiko Alonso in the second round, while picking up depth at wide receiver, safety and tight end the rest of the way. The selection of Dustin Hopkins in the sixth round could also pay immediate dividends if the team decides to move on from reliable Rian Lindell.
However, the focus and pressure of the class will be on EJ Manuel from the start. Manuel was controversially picked as the first quarterback off the board after the Bills traded down into the mid-teens.
There is a lot to like about Manuel as a rookie, but the learning curve will be steep enough that we may not see on him the field for awhile.
Doug Whaley was brought in from the Pittsburgh Steelers' organization a few years ago to be groomed as Buddy Nix's replacement as general manager. After two seasons as the assistant to Nix, Whaley officially was placed in the role only two weeks following the April draft.
Whaley was bred to be a great personnel guy because of his experience with the Steelers during their playoff runs in the mid-2000s. Aside from the Oz-like Jeffery Littman, who serves as CFO and Ralph Wilson Jr.'s right-hand man, Whaley will have the final say on players from here on out.
He said in an interview with the NFL Network following the draft (h/t Chris Wesseling of NFL.com), that "he was a big part in the team drafting Manuel." Being forefront about the decision will directly tie him to it, despite not being a full-time general manager.
For his sake, Manuel better pan out.