The Definitive Blueprint to Buffalo Bills' Perfect Offseason
Last offseason, the Buffalo Bills made a number of changes within the organization, both on the field and in the front office. The team brought in a new coaching staff led by Doug Marrone and drafted a franchise quarterback with the first-round selection of EJ Manuel.
The players and coaches on the field are what fans notice first, but several changes in the front office were just as important. Russ Brandon, who served as CEO for a number of years, was named president, and general manager Buddy Nix stepped down to make room for Doug Whaley.
Now that the Bills have had all the key people in place for a season, they can evaluate this team and figure out the best way to end the 13-year playoff drought. The organization is in a good place to improve in the offseason with more than $29 million in available cap space, according to OverTheCap.com.
With the Bills having the seventh-most cap space available in the NFL, they should be able to re-sign their key free agents and still address additional needs. Here are the steps that Buffalo need to take this offseason to take the team to the next level and into the playoffs in 2014.
Re-Sign Jairus Byrd
The Buffalo Bills do not want to go through another stalemate with their starting free safety, and re-signing Jairus Byrd has to be their first priority. Last season, the team retained him by using the franchise tag, and this did not sit well with the safety, who sat out the entire preseason.
Doug Whaley has already stated this week that the Bills want to do everything in their power to keep Byrd. According to Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550, Whaley said at the season-ending press conference, "We're gonna try to the best of abilities because we're in the business of collecting good players and he's a good player."
Last year, Byrd was demanding to be the highest-paid safety in the NFL, and Buffalo was not ready to make that commitment. However, given how he played when he returned from his injuries, the Bills may be more willing to get closer to that demand.
If the Bills and Byrd are unable to come to an agreement on a long-term contract, Buffalo could still franchise-tag him for one more season. This is probably a path that neither party wants to take, though, because he would still not have his long-term contract and Buffalo would have to pay the safety more than $8 million next season.
Re-Sign Scott Chandler
Scott Chandler joined the Bills in 2010 and has improved statistically every year. This season he led the Bills in both receptions and yards even after coming off ACL surgery at the end of 2012.
He is a big target who is not afraid to go over the middle and is a solid tight end to have on the roster, especially with a young quarterback like EJ Manuel. A number of quality tight ends will be free agents this season, including Jimmy Graham, Dennis Pitta and Brandon Pettigrew.
With the number of top tight ends available, this should help Buffalo retain Chandler for a multi-year deal averaging around his 2013 salary of $2,725,000. It also seems like there is interest from Chandler, and if he returns to Buffalo, the offense will benefit next season.
Re-Sign Dan Carpenter
The Bills found themselves scrambling for a kicker when Dustin Hopkins suffered an injury before the season. They ended up signing Dan Carpenter, who went on to have one of the best seasons in Buffalo history. He tied Steve Christie for the team record in field goals made in a season and set the record for most 50-yard field goals made in a season with four.
Doug Whaley has already stated that he plans to try and sign Carpenter before he has a chance to hit the open market. He won't be the first kicker to re-sign with his team, as the Chicago Bears locked up Robbie Gould with a four-year, $15 million extension.
It would be surprising if Buffalo offered Carpenter that kind of contract, but something around three-year, $8 million would be a reasonable offer for the kicker.
Re-Sign Brian Moorman
Buffalo brought back Brian Moorman after it released Shawn Powell prior to Week 6. He is not the same player he was in 2005 or 2006 when he went to the Pro Bowl, but he showed enough over the course of the season that he still has enough talent left for one more go.
He is another player who has already expressed interest in returning to Buffalo, according to ESPN's Mike Rodak's tweet. If Buffalo can sign him before free agency, it would be one less position that the team would need to address once open bidding begins.
Sign Matt Slauson
The Bills lost guard Andy Levitre last offseason, and the offensive line struggled this year as a result. They tried Colin Brown and Doug Legursky at the position with little success. A strong offensive line can help accelerate the development of young quarterbacks and enhance the running game.
Matt Slauson was the starting left guard for the Chicago Bears after playing the three previous years with the New York Jets. He has started every game since the 2010 season and was rated as the fifth-best guard this season by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Inserting him between left tackle Cordy Glenn and center Eric Wood will have an immediate impact on strengthening the O-line and improve the offense as a whole.
Sign Brandon Spikes
This move is a long shot, but if Buffalo could find a way to sign Brandon Spikes, he would take this defense to the next level. The New England Patriots linebacker is one of the top run-stopping linebackers in the game and was even rated by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) as the top inside linebacker against the rush.
A combination of Spikes and Kiko Alonso would work well because one's weakness is the other's strength. Even though Spikes was the best against the run, he struggled in coverage with a rating of only minus-3.6. Alonso, on the other hand, struggled against the run with a rating of minus-3.9 but was the second highest-rated inside linebacker in coverage (11.3).
Some injury concerns as well as character concerns would give Buffalo some reservations about signing the linebacker to a long-term deal. The other hurdle is finding a way to convince Spikes to come to Buffalo. He would be leaving a perennial playoff contender to go a team that has not been in the postseason for more than a decade.
Draft Linebacker Help
Aside from Kiko Alonso and Manny Lawson, the Bills linebacker corps struggled and didn't have enough playmakers. This is where a player like Khalil Mack out of the University of Buffalo would come in. He is currently ranked as the eighth best prospect, according to CBS Sports.
He has 75 career tackles for a loss, which is an FBS record, and he is described as "athletic, instinctive and an explosive hitter." If Buffalo could sign Brandon Spikes, it could also bring in Mack and completely overhaul this group.
Another player who could be on Buffalo's radar is Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, who is the top-rated inside linebacker. If Buffalo can't sign Spikes and Mack is unavailable, Mosley could be the option for Buffalo in the first round.
Draft Offensive Line Depth
Even if the Bills can sign Matt Slauson, they can still use help on the offensive line, particularly at right tackle and right guard. Kraig Urbik and Erik Pears have played well at times over the past two seasons, but Buffalo should start looking for their replacements in this draft. It would provide competition at these positions and give Buffalo options to find its best five offensive linemen.
This year's draft class has a number of quality prospects at both tackle and guard that Buffalo could find after the first round. One player in particular is Baylor guard Cyril Richardson, who is projected to go in the first or second round, according to CBS Sports.
If Buffalo is able to address its linebacker need in the first round, it could use Rounds 2 and 3 to address its O-line needs.