5 Moves the Buffalo Bills Should Have Made This Offseason
There is no denying the fact that the Buffalo Bills had a busy offseason.
General manager Doug Whaley is working hard to impress the team's new ownership. Whaley signed several free agents (Brandon Spikes, Chris Williams and Corey Graham) who could start or receive significant playing time this season.
Whaley also made the boldest move of the NFL draft, moving up to No. 4 overall to draft Sammy Watkins. It was a risky venture because it cost the team next year's first-round pick, but Whaley is trying to win now.
All of these transactions look like they will help the Bills, but there are other moves the team didn't make that could have helped just as much, or more. Of course, there's a reason Whaley is GM and I'm just an outsider looking in, but that won't stop me from wondering what could have been.
With that said, let's take a look at a few moves the Bills could have made this offseason that could have helped get them back to the playoff promised land.
Signed Alterraun Verner
It was clear the Bills were looking for help at cornerback in the offseason when they signed Corey Graham to a four-year, $16 million contract.
But there were other options on the free-agent market the Bills could have pursued. Players such as Darrelle Revis, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Aquib Talib were all out of the Bills' price range, but Alterraun Verner could have been an option.
Verner's deal is a little more expensive than Graham's, but Verner is three years younger and could have stepped in and been a starter for the Bills. In a breakdown of Verner's game by Pro Football Focus, Sam Monson outlined how Verner was comparable to Revis in 2013.
Verner's PFF grade was lower, but he allowed a lower completion percentage and QB rating and fewer touchdowns than Revis Island. Monson also noted that "no other corner broke up more passes than the 19 Verner was able to either pick off or get his hands to."
While Monson's piece did say Verner isn't a shutdown corner in heavy man-to-man schemes, that shouldn't have worried the Bills too much. They are hoping Stephon Gilmore turns into their version of Revis or Richard Sherman.
If Verner started opposite Gilmore, that would have left Leodis McKelvin in the slot and moved Nickell Robey down the depth chart. But Graham will probably usurp Robey anyway, and while McKelvin did have a solid 2013 campaign, he would most likely have an easier time against opposing teams' third or fourth receivers.
Considering ESPN's Mike Rodak is already counting Graham as the Bills' most overpaid corner, the team could have looked at Verner as a younger option who could have provided more bang for the team's buck.
Drafted a Defensive End
One of the strengths of the Bills defense last season was its ability to get after the quarterback.
The team set a franchise record for sacks, but that was aided by the scheme of Mike Pettine allowing linebackers and defensive backs to get in on the fun. With Jim Schwartz installing a defense that relies more on the front four to get pressure, depth along the defensive line is paramount.
At defensive end, depth is one thing the team is lacking. Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes are both coming off double-digit sack seasons, but the cupboard is pretty bare behind them. Manny Lawson will provide some help, but there are only unproven players after him on the depth chart.
Because of that, the Bills should have considered taking a defensive end somewhere in the draft. The team had its eye on Oregon State's Scott Crichton and even had him in for a predraft visit, but he went one pick before the Bills selected in the third round.
Kony Ealy, Stephon Tuitt and Trent Murphy were all available when the Bills picked in the second round, and they all could have given the team some depth on the edge. While it's hard to second-guess a pick that could end up being a starter (and before he's even put the pads on), the Bills could have taken one of these players instead of Cyrus Kouandjio and targeted a tackle elsewhere in the draft.
It still seems like the Bills had a successful draft, but they still have a need for pass-rushing help. There are other ways they can accomplish that goal though...
Signed Jason Babin
The 34-year-old veteran is certainly getting on in age, but he could still be used as a rotational pass-rusher for the Bills. After all, Babin is coming off a season in which he played all 16 games and had 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
If the Bills signed him to a one- or two-year deal, Babin could have worked as a stopgap for the team until it finds some younger options in coming drafts. And it's not like the team has no interest in him; it tried to claim Babin the last time he was available.
Now Buffalo doesn't have to worry about other teams getting priority. If the Bills want Babin, all they have to do is pick up the phone.
Re-Signed Dan Carpenter but for Fewer Years
There's no denying Dan Carpenter had a great season in Buffalo last year. He set career highs in field goals made and percentage of field goals made.
The Bills re-signed Carpenter after the season to a four-year deal worth $9.5 million, per Spotrac. According to Rotoworld.com, only three of the 10 kickers that signed this offseason got deals for four years. That's a lot of time and money to commit to a position that teams have deemed expendable after one bad game.
There's also the matter of Dustin Hopkins, whom the Bills drafted last year as their kicker of the future. It was only because Hopkins suffered a season-ending injury that the Bills signed Carpenter in the first place. It seems a bit odd to give up on a player because he got hurt a few months after being drafted.
But that seems to be the case, as ESPN's Mike Rodak has Hopkins on the Bills roster bubble. Rodak said Hopkins was back "booming kickoffs" this spring but there would be little point to keeping him if Carpenter's kickoffs were good enough.
Rodak said it's a possibility the Bills could carry both kickers and have Hopkins handle kickoffs. With Kiko Alonso's injury, there is another roster spot available, but it could be used for another young position player.
If the team signed Carpenter for one or two years, it would have given it the flexibility to keep Hopkins in its plans instead of potentially giving him up before he plays a game.
Upgraded at Tight End
Aside from defensive end, tight end was another position the Bills needed to upgrade in the offseason.
Doug Whaley even indicated as much during the teams predraft press conference, when he said the position was "trending towards those basketball, athletic types." Whaley also went on to say that "that's the way it's going and you've got to get with the times."
Whaley was apparently just blowing smoke and trying to confuse teams about his interest in Eric Ebron before the draft, because the Bills did nothing to bolster the tight end position in the offseason.
Scott Chandler is a big target, but he lacks the athleticism to be a threat in the open field. And we still don't know what Tony Moeaki will bring to the table.
I can't fault the Bills for passing on Ebron because they jumped up to get Sammy Watkins. But there were other tight ends the Bills could have looked at in the draft. Jace Amaro and Troy Niklas were both on the board when the Bills selected in the second round.
Colt Lyerla went undrafted, mostly because of off-the-field concerns. But Lyerla has a lot of talent, and signing him as an undrafted free agent would have been a low-risk, high-reward move. And Lyerla went to Oregon, so Kiko Alonso could have helped the kid get on the right track.
The platoon of Chandler and Moeaki could end up sufficing for the Bills going forward, but adding an athletic specimen at tight end in the offseason would have given the Bills yet another dimension on offense.