The Buffalo Bills' playoff hopes may be over, but their season is not. With four games remaining, the Bills' players still have something to play for: their future with the team.
With a new coaching staff led by Doug Marrone, the Bills are building their team with a new direction compared to the vision of the previous coaching staff. As a result, some players are bound to be more of a fit for the new look than others who were brought in to carry out the old model.
Aside from players who may or may not be in the long-term plans of the team, there are other players who simply need to show they are on a favorable trajectory, and that they haven't taken a step back in 2013.
Here's a look at some players who need to step their game up and finish strong to prove they have what it takes to be a long-term building block for the Bills.
Contract information courtesy Spotrac.com.
2014 Cap Number: $766,106
Years Left On Deal: One
The Bills took the "throw it against the wall" approach to filling the void left by safety Jairus Byrd early in the season, when their franchise-tagged safety had been missing due to plantar fasciitis.
Da'Norris Searcy played nearly every snap with Byrd out, but when Byrd returned, Searcy resumed a role as a backup safety in a rotation. As Byrd gets set to hit the open market, the Bills have a big question on their hands: are they comfortable enough with their backup safeties to allow Byrd to walk away, or do they need to make an effort to re-sign the top-tier safety?
Searcy won't be given ample opportunities to prove his worth; he has not played more than 42 percent of the snaps in any game for over a month. The Bills are going to have to search for a replacement, but Searcy could fill the position from within if he finishes out the season strong.
2014 Cap Number: N/A
Years Left On Deal: N/A
Moats is the only linebacker in the NFL that has yet to miss a single tackle, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). So, why has he been included on this list? Quite simply, his abilities in run defense are the extent of his contributions. Run-stuffing linebackers have a place even in a pass-happy NFL, but those are always players that teams will be looking to replace.
Moats has also made some plays on special teams, which has been his primary role on the team for the past four years.
As a result of that role, Moats isn't a completely one-dimensional player, but his role on the team is relatively small. He has played just 33.1 percent of the team's snaps this year.
If Moats comes on strong in these final four games, he could make a case for a bigger role with the team, but he'll also have to make a case for a contract, as he's not scheduled to be with the team beyond the 2013 season.
2014 Cap Number: $950,000
Years Left On Deal: One
Legursky was thrust into a starting role when starting left guard Colin Brown went down with an injury, but the fact that Brown wasn't doing well himself points to a glaring hole on the Bills offensive line up the middle. Brown was released by the Bills shortly after his injury, leaving Legursky as the lone prospect at left guard for the future.
As of yet, he's failed to show promise. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranks him as the 15th-worst run-blocking guard in all the NFL. For those who are wondering where the Bills' explosive running game has gone, the blocking on the interior of the offensive line could be a big part of their struggles moving the ball on the ground. They rank fourth in total rushing yards, but just 14th in yards per rush attempt.
Legursky could finish on a strong note to help solidify his status on the roster, but it's fairly safe to say, at this point, that the Bills should be in the market for at least one guard, if not two, come this offseason.
2014 Cap Number: $4,150,000
Years Left On Deal: Three
When the Bills gave McKelvin a four-year deal worth $17 million, fans wondered why. He hadn't shown a good deal of progress at the cornerback position, although he had been a weapon for the team on special teams. Speedster Marquise Goodwin has taken up most of the responsibilities on kickoff returns, and although McKelvin remains the team's primary punt returner, he has taken a significant step back this season.
He's averaging just 6.7 yards per punt return, with a season-long of 19 yards. McKelvin has been a better option than anyone else on the roster; the Bills' second-leading punt returner has been 31-year-old safety Jim Leonhard.
Although McKelvin has shown some improvements at cornerback, yielding completions on just 49.4 percent of throws into his coverage, the cornerback position as a whole remains a significant question mark for the Bills—they do have rookie corner Nickell Robey, but beyond him, their depth is lacking.
Which brings us to the final player that needs to finish strong...
2014 Cap Number: $3,295,679
Years Left On Deal: Two
It doesn't seem like too long ago that Stephon Gilmore was supposed to be coming into his own as one of the premier young cornerbacks in the NFL. A preseason wrist injury derailed his season at the start, but he has struggled throughout the seven games since his return.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Gilmore is allowing completions on 61.2 percent of throws into his coverage and 15.2 yards per completion. He's been targeted 49 times despite playing just seven games, more than 10 times in three of his games this season so far; as a result, Gilmore ranks third from the bottom in the NFL in cover snaps per target, two from the bottom in yards per cover snap, and 10 from the bottom in cover snaps per reception.
The injury may have taken away some of his valuable playing time, but the Bills were likely hoping there would be some signs of progress even in a shortened season for Gilmore. That hasn't happened, and now, the Bills have significant questions about their No. 1 cornerback. A strong finish to the season would go a long way in restoring the team's faith in its first-round pick from 2012.