The field conditions at the end of the Week 17 season finale between the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots was symbolic of the Bills capping off their 14th straight playoff-less season—a franchise stuck in the mud.
The Bills finished off their first season under Doug Marrone and his staff with enough positive flashes to give Bills fans hope for their long-awaited turnaround, but results in the standings were all too familiar. For the third straight season the Bills finished with a 6-10 record and last in the AFC East, while their divisional opponents were in the playoff picture until the bitter end.
Considering the reshuffling of the deck on offense last offseason, honest expectations were met by the Bills in Marrone's first season at the helm. There was much talk about Marrone and coordinator Nate Hackett's high-speed, no-huddle offense in the preseason, but the lack of quarterback consistency led to a sputtering unit. Red-zone scoring continued to be an issue, as the Bills scored a touchdown on just 47 percent of their trips inside their opponents' 20-yard line, which was the fourth worst total in the NFL.
The defense was considerably better under Mike Pettine, but the Bills arguably have the most talent on that side of the ball in the division. While the offense has many more glaring needs, the defense should be more of the focus when free agency opens in March.
Alan Branch, Manny Lawson and Jim Leonhard were all considered unexciting moves a season ago, but all three players had a direct impact on reshaping the culture of the defense. Marrone and first-year general manager Doug Whaley will need to find similar hole-fillers during the upcoming offseason if they want the team to take a step out of the mud in 2014.
The following five players provide the best value for a franchise committed to building through the draft.