The Buffalo Bills are one game away from completing their ninth straight losing season and 14th in a row without making the AFC playoffs. Despite the usual end-of-season doom-and-gloom rumblings, the Bills have plenty to be happy about entering the 2014 offseason.
Last offseason might go down as one of the best in recent Bills lore. The additions by then-general manager Buddy Nix and GM-in-waiting Doug Whaley did not have the high-profile nature of 2012 signee Mario Williams, but the front office plugged many of the team's holes with creative, low-cost alternatives.
Alan Branch and Manny Lawson were two under-the-radar moves after the first week of free agency who had a great impact on the defense improving in 2013. Add in two heady trades for Jerry Hughes and Thad Lewis, and the Bills might have made the best veteran moves that didn't make national headlines.
The early personnel moves plugged temporary holes, but an excellent draft class and subsequent undrafted free-agent signings laid the foundation for future success. The Bills have gotten immediate impact from four of their eight draft picks, and great play by UDFA Nickell Robey has solidified the nickel corner position for the foreseeable future.
The Bills' progress with a young roster is hard to measure by a quick glance at the standings, but the team does in fact look closer to competing than it has in past years. On Sunday, the Bills clinched their first non-losing record in divisional play for the first time since 2007, and if they somehow upset the Patriots on December 29, the Bills will finish with the best in-division record in the AFC East.
Still, the Bills are another year away from a playoff run if they can accomplish similar results in the 2014 offseason as they did this past year. The front office will be wise to focus on the team's own free agents—Jairus Byrd for example—so the draft will once again need to be a source for upgrading several glaring issues on the roster.
The players on the following slides will be available at different points in the draft, but all fit a specific need for building a culture of winning in Orchard Park.