Buffalo Bills Veterans Who Have Been Put on Notice This Offseason
After another disappointing season, the Buffalo Bills spent the offseason retooling their roster and doing everything they can to try and win now.
Besides using the draft, general manager Doug Whaley brought in several players in free agency he hopes will help the team improve. Because of that, some incumbent players on the Bills may be in danger of losing their jobs to newcomers.
With that in mind, let's take a look at some Bills veterans who should be on notice as the season approaches. They could either lose their starting job or end up looking for a new team altogether. We'll look at players who have underperformed on the field, players who have youngsters behind them nipping at their heels and players who need to shape up off the field.
The Bills wide receiver group looks vastly different than it did when the season ended.
Whaley shipped a sixth-round pick to Tampa Bay for Mike Williams, who is familiar with coach Doug Marrone from their time at Syracuse. Then Whaley swung for the fences in the draft when he moved up to select Sammy Watkins at No. 4 overall.
After that, the suddenly crowded wide receiver room had to be cleaned out. On the second day of the draft, Whaley sent Stevie Johnson home to California and the San Francisco 49ers for a conditional pick in next year's draft.
If Johnson, who once put up three straight 1,000-yard seasons, was deemed expendable, what does that say for T.J. Graham? Graham, a third-round pick in 2012, will be behind at least Watkins, Williams, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin on the depth chart in 2014.
(Looking back at missed draft opportunities, as Bills fans have been wont to do, the Bills took Graham six spots ahead of Russell Wilson. T.Y. Hilton also went later in the third round that year.)
In Graham's time in Buffalo, he has managed only 683 yards and three touchdowns on 54 catches. With Ramses Barden, Marcus Easley and Chris Hogan challenging for roster spots, Graham could end up on the outside looking in.
The Bills didn't necessarily bring in anyone that will challenge Marcell Dareus for playing time because of talent. Nonetheless, Dareus needs to make sure he plays his best and is on his best behavior, lest he find himself looking for another job.
Dareus was benched for the first quarter of the Bills' Week 16 game against Miami last year. Then, in Week 17, Marrone sat Dareus for the entire first half. Via ESPN's Mike Rodak, WGR reported that Dareus rode the pine because he was "habitually late" to meetings.
That didn't stop Dareus from earning a trip to the Pro Bowl, nor did it stop the Bills from picking up their fifth-year option on Dareus' rookie deal.
After his Pro Bowl appearance, it seemed Dareus' problems were behind him. That changed, however, when Dareus was arrested earlier this month. According to the ESPN report, Dareus was charged with possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia. Per Travis Leder of WVUA-TV, Dareus had synthetic marijuana.
As of yet, there has been no mention of what kind of discipline Dareus could receive. However, this will be a pivotal season for him to prove he can stay out of trouble. Marrone is a no-nonsense coach, and if issues continue to mount for Dareus, he may not be in Buffalo past that fifth year, despite his talent.
No position group saw a bigger overhaul this offseason than the offensive line.
The Bills put forth a concerted effort to improve a group that gave up the fourth-most sacks in the league last year. Because of that, right tackle Erik Pears is the most likely player up front to lose his starting job.
In the draft, the Bills brought in massive tackles Cyrus Kouandjio (second round) and Seantrel Henderson (seventh round). Bleacher Report's Brandon Croce even suggested the Bills release Pears to vacate a roster spot, provide some cap relief and let the newcomers fight it out for the starting job.
Besides Kouandjio and Henderson, the Bills also have Chris Hairston as an option as Cordy Glenn's bookend. Hairston was the starter until injuries started to trip him up. Hairston still has to pass a physical to be able to compete in camp this year. But if he does, his presence, along with Kouandjio's and Henderson's, could squeeze out Pears.
Doug Legursky is another player along the offensive line who is likely to lose his starting job.
The Bills used the draft and free agency to try and shore up their guard positions. First, Buffalo brought in free agent Chris Williams, who signed a four-year $13.5 million deal. That would be a lot to pay for a backup guard.
Then in the draft, Buffalo stole Baylor guard Cyril Richardson in the fifth round. Richardson was one of the top offensive line prospects last year, but weight issues caused him to slip in the draft this year. Gil Brandt's draft analysis on NFL.com said Richardson "worked hard" to lose weight and "he looked very good" at Baylor's pro day.
During Legursky's time in Pittsburgh, he consistently received a negative grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Not much changed, considering the performance of the Bills offensive line last year.
If Richardson can keep his weight under control, he and Williams will both give Legursky a run for his money during training camp.
Before everyone starts going crazy, Leodis McKelvin shouldn't be on notice for his play on the field.
McKelvin had perhaps the best season of his career in 2013, when he was the Bills' most consistent corner and posted a career high in tackles. McKelvin played in 15 games and held down the No. 1 corner role when Stephon Gilmore was hurt and Justin Rogers spent most of his time looking at the back of opponents' jerseys. Just last year, the Bills said they were happy with their cornerback depth, citing Rogers. He's no longer on the team.
But there is no denying that the Bills are concentrating on bringing in help at cornerback. They signed Corey Graham during free agency, who won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. The Bills also drafted Ross Cockrell in the fourth round, about whom Thad Lewis had plenty of nice things to say.
Besides Graham and Cockrell, the Bills also have Ron Brooks and Nickell Robey, the latter of whom Sal Maiorana of the Democrat and Chronicle called a "revelation" after his rookie year in 2013. Robey had three sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and one interception (which he returned for a touchdown) in his rookie year as an undrafted player out of USC.
Make no mistake: McKelvin is the starting cornerback opposite Gilmore. But if he gets hurt or his performance slips, there are plenty of hungry, up-and-coming players ready to take his spot.