After coach Dick Jauron was fired, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was promoted to interim head coach. Instantly, there were rumors speculating on the courting of Mike Shanahan to Buffalo. However, Fewell quickly instilled an intense passion within the players, hosting outdoor practices and pad practices in an effort to toughen the team.
Under Fewell, Buffalo has shown signs of explosiveness, and they utilized Terrell Owens downfield, a feat which had not been attempted under the regime of Jauron. Also, now-starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been performing above all expectations, displaying a strong arm, mental awareness, and agility behind a poor offensive line.
But what happens after the season is over?
Fewell has stated that he intends to be the future coach of the team, but with the ever-growing Shanahan rumors, it seems unlikely. Allegedly, Buffalo is prepared to offer Shanahan $50 million over five years, including a small stake in ownership of the team.
Turning down that offer sounds crazy, yet if he does, there are other coaching prospects available, such as Jim Haslett, a former Buffalo Bill and current head coach in the UFL, Mike Martz, Tony Dungy, Charlie Weis, Brian Billick, and Jim Harbaugh, as well as many others.
Look for Ralph Wilson to offer a great deal to a top-tier head coach that can make personnel decisions as well.
Until last season, Buffalo rarely addresses players in free agency. However, this offseason may be different. With angry fans and rumors of a moving team, as well as an unstable front office, Buffalo may choose to acquire a star player to anchor the team.
At the end of the season, WR Lee Evans, WR Terrell Owens, WR Josh Reed, OL Brad Butler, DE Ryan Denney, DT Kyle Williams, and DB Ashton Youboty will become free agents.
Evans will most likely re-sign with the team, but the return of Owens is questionable. Was his sudden change in behavior a sign of maturity, or did he realize that this is a one-year job audition for the team to end his career with? I say they part ways, allowing young WR James Hardy or Steve Johnson to prove himself.
Reed has been a consistent slot receiver for Buffalo over the years, so expect him to re-sign as well.
Butler was a great up-and-coming offensive lineman for Buffalo before his season-ending injury, so hopefully he will be re-signed as well. Williams and fellow tackle Marcus Stroud are company to the worst rush defense in the NFL. Let Williams go and draft a top defensive tackle to plug the gaps.
Players and Positions to Address
Many fans are calling for Buffalo to get a new quarterback in the offseason. I agree this is an issue, but the small selection of underperforming players such as Jason Campbell, Kyle Orton, Chad Pennington, and Tarvaris Jackson doesn't leave a lot to gain. Wait for the draft to address this position.
With Owens gone and Evans growing older, Buffalo needs another steady receiver for the new Bills quarterback to pass to. Among the available players are Vincent Jackson of the San Diego Chargers and Kevin Walter of the Houston Texans. Jackson has had a huge year in San Diego, and he will most likely extend his career with Philip Rivers.
Walter is a solid possession receiver who lines up opposite Texans wideout Andre Johnson, making him one of the most overshadowed No. 2 receivers in the NFL. Before suffering an injury this season, he averaged 60-plus receptions during the previous two years. Buffalo could definitely use another weapon to spread the field on offense.
Last offseason, Buffalo drafted two solid guards in Andy Levitre and Eric Wood, yet the loss of Jason Peters, who was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, is clearly evident. The Bills have struggled all year creating holes for running backs, as well as allowing the quarterback a decent amount of time in the pocket.
Although the performance of the offensive line was subpar this season, there is a solid foundation in place to build. They still need a solid left tackle to protect the blind side and act as the bookend this young squad needs.
Jared Gaither of the Baltimore Ravens becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and if acquired he would instantly make a difference to the line. Another free agent that may be available is Logan Mankins of the New England Patriots.
Mankins is a Pro Bowler, he is young, and he is an absolute stud at guard. He is a versatile player, so if he is available it would be greatly beneficial to the team.
Buffalo's run defense has been absolutely disgusting to watch this season, allowing average tailbacks to look like (insert legendary running back's name here). However, free agency may not have a lot to offer.
The only standout defensive tackles in this year's class are Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly, both of the Green Bay Packers. They are both solid players and are key pieces in one of the best run-stopping defenses in the NFL, but there may be better options available in the draft.
Buffalo's linebackers have been absolutely destroyed this season, both by injuries and by other teams. Kawika Mitchell was placed on injured reserve, as well as Keith Ellison, creating large voids in Buffalo's defense.
Luckily, the 2010 free agent class is full of stud linebackers, any of which would be a superb addition to the team.
DeMeco Ryans of the Houston Texans or Thomas Davis of the Carolina Panthers would be the first player I would approach in the offseason. Both are great tacklers, and very physical, while showing a good sense of the game.
What a difference!
After hiring a new head coach and adding some key players from free agency, the Buffalo Bills have a roster fit for a contending team.
QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick, (rookie drafted), Brian Brohm
RB: Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson
FB: Corey McIntyre
WR: Lee Evans, Kevin Walter, Josh Reed, James Hardy, Steve Johnson
TE: Shawn Nelson, Derek Fine, Derek Schouman
T: Jared Gaither, Brad Butler, Jamon Meredith, Demetrius Bell
G: Andy Levitre, Eric Wood, Kirk Chambers
C: Geoff Hangartner
DT: Marcus Stroud, (rookie drafted), John McCargo
DE: Chris Kelsay, Aaron Schobel, Aaron Maybin, Chris Ellis
OLB: Kawika Mitchell, Thomas Davis or DeMeco Ryans, Chris Draft
MLB: Paul Posluszny, Marcus Buggs
CB: Terrence McGee, Leodis McKelvin, Drayton Florence, Ashton Youboty, Ellis Lankster
FS: Jairus Byrd, George Wilson, John Wendling
SS: Donte Whitner, Bryan Scott, Cary Harris
With the addition of two to three players, the Bills already look like a better team on paper.
In my next piece, I will be discussing the 2010 draft, addressing the key prospects for the positions of need.
What other players do you think could make the Bills a contender?