The Buffalo Bills are on the cusp of becoming a contender again. If their offseason moves pan out as planned, they should be in the thick of the playoff hunt.
This year, the AFC East may open up as well. Only time will tell if the Dolphins can pull out victories with the Wildcat, if Tom Brady will recover completely from his knee injury, and if the Jets can get anything going without Brett Favre.
The Bills have done well to address their weaknesses and look to contend, regardless of how the rest of the division does. So, in short, they have given themselves a fighting chance.
Jason Peters, LT
Derrick Dockery, LG
J.P. Losman, QB
Angelo Crowell, LB
Robert Royal, TE
Peters will be missed by some, but his antics won't be missed by anyone. He is one of the better left tackles in the AFC, but his gold-digging, strong-arm hold outs will not be missed. Langston Walker should perform admirably shifting from right to left tackle this season.
Dockery never lived up to the promise that everyone hoped he would bring. His flashes of brilliance were overshadowed by letdown after letdown. The man is huge, but his weakness is picking up the blitz. Definitely not worth the money.
Losman's departure will only strengthen the Bills. Not that Losman was all that bad, but because no team can survive a lengthy quarterback controversy. With Losman gone, Trent Edwards will flourish even more.
Crowell has excellent size and speed and was a very good coverage linebacker. He just lacked the spark of a man of his talent. I always wanted to see him unload on someone—he never did.
Royal will be missed in the running game because he was a decent blocker and always put forth a lot of effort. He will not be missed for the numerous dropped balls; at best, Royal was just a role player.
Key Additions Through Free Agency
Terrell Owens, WR
Geoff Hangartner, C
Dominic Rhodes, RB
Drayton Florence, CB
Pat Thomas, LB
Owens will be the single most important piece of the Bills' puzzle this year. If he can deliver as promised, T.O. will greatly enhance the Bills' offense by pulling defenders off of Lee Evans and giving Edwards one of the best red-zone threats in the NFL.
Hangartner will have the inside track at the center position. He is very smart and was a very capable on/off starter with the Panthers. He uses his hands well and will start somewhere on the O-line if Dick Jauron decides to go with someone else at center.
Rhodes will be a capable backup for the Bills. At 30, some of his speed has left him, but he still played decent in his few starts with the Colts last season. He also should be used out of the backfield as a receiver, and will be a key factor during Marshawn Lynch's three-game suspension.
Florence is a mystery. He suffered a very disappointing year with the Jaguars and was released, but prior to 2007, he was an up-and-coming player. He has good cover skills and plays very physically. If the Florence of old shows up to camp, he will get the starting nod. If not, he may not be in a Bills uniform.
Thomas should be a solid backup. He has decent size and plays smart when he has had the chance.
Aaron Maybin, DE
Eric Wood, OL
Jairus Byrd, CB
Andy Levitre, OL
Shawn Nelson, TE
Nic Harris, S
Maybin is a pass-rush monster but still needs to develop himself. He doesn't have the bulk to be a bull-rusher, and if you see him on film, he can be redirected once a tackle engages him. He will improve as the season progresses and should give the Bills the pass-rushing spark that they missed last season.
Wood and Levitre both have very legitimate shots at finding a home on the O-line. Hangartner should be the center, which would leave the guard spots open for these two. Wood is a better center than Hangartner, but will probably play guard because he is equally good there.
Byrd is already a good corner but will get better. He left college early, and his father is former Charger Gil Byrd. Byrd is a ball-hawk with excellent instincts and always seems to find a way to be in on a play.
Nelson is a solid receiving TE, but lacks the blocking ability to be an every-down guy with Buffalo. He is fast (4.5 in the 40) and tall (6'5"). If he adds another 20 pounds to his 240-pound frame and learns how to block better, he could be a major contributor to the Bills' future.
Harris should make the team, mainly because he can add depth and will be a contributor on special teams. He may turn into a project at linebacker.
The Bills have addressed the need for a more consistent pass rush through the draft. This will help to fix two of their biggest problems—pressure on the quarterback and the play of the defensive backs. If the defense generates more pressure on the quarterback, covering a receiver just got a lot easier, because the field gets shorter.
With the dismissal of Losman, the Bills should see an increase in production from Edwards. He will no longer be looking over his shoulder and will be recognized as the true leader of the offense.
The offensive line is a question mark, but with the capable players that the Bills have selected through free agency and the draft, the group should become a functional unit. The new players are intelligent, hard working, and, most importantly, versatile. This group should gel together quickly and be as good, or better than, last season.
The biggest key to this year's success will be the play and presence of Owens. He has the skills to propel Edwards to the next level of play, as well as create opportunities down field for Evans. Expect the Bills offense to look alive with T.O. in the mix.
The Bills are in a position to surprise some people around the NFL, but not in Buffalo. Buffalo fans know this season is going to be one that should return the Bills back to the playoff picture.
The AFC East is in a state of flux right now, and the Bills are in position to surge ahead and out of the shadows.
Buffalo should be pushing for the division championship and no less than a Wild-card berth. Edwards will be on the map in the upper echelon of passers in the NFL and Jauron's future with the Bills should be safe.
I see the Bills finishing no worse than 9-7, but more likely at 10-6 and up the power rankings.