Since the release of quarterback Trent Edwards following the Bills' loss to the New England Patriots, many have said that the Buffalo Bills organization is suffering of a lack of vision.
That sentiment has become more popular this week following the trade of running back Marshawn Lynch to the Seattle Seahawks.
I would agree that those two moves showed the same organizational lack of vision demonstrated by those that acquired Lynch and Edwards in the first place.
However, General manager Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey may not be entirely to blame. Yes, they did choose to name Edwards as the starting quarterback at the beginning of the season, and yes, they did not trade Lynch before the start of the season.
But their hand was forced to some degree. Edwards was the previous regime's starter and regarded as the best QB on the roster. Nix and Gailey had to evaluate him during the preseason trial to know what they had.
Edwards simply failed that trial. It became obvious that he was not going to be the long-term solution. Vic Carucci of NFL.com said on the pregame show prior to the Bills-Patriots game two Sundays ago, it turns out that Edwards was not really jelling with his teammates nor the coaching staff. So to prevent any long-term locker room issues and supposedly to give him an option to play elsewhere (which he has found in Jacksonville, already having claimed the #2 position on the depth chart), Edwards was released.
Regarding Lynch, the Seahawks were rumored to be interested in trading a fourth round pick for him previous to the draft. Due to the Bills’ patience, they ended up with that pick plus a second pick in the following draft. To me, the Lynch trade especially screams a long-term plan.
These moves are both in the evaluation phase. When Nix and Gailey took over the team, they needed to find out how the players currently on the roster would fit into their long term plans.
But this kind of long term planning takes time, something fans and media are are rarely willing to grant.
Obviously, no one wants to be the worst team in the NFL, so the Bills attempted to both assemble talent to be competitive this season and simultaneously build for the future. So far, the former has failed for the most part.
However, both Nix and Gailey have been quick to realize that they aren't good right now, and are making moves that fit almost exclusively into the long part of the plan.
The talent evaluation period and accumulating assets for the long haul portion of the plan is in full swing.
So I would consider these moves to be part of a larger plan and vision, not a lack thereof. That’s not to say that they necessarily make a lot of logical sense in regards to timing, but this certainly doesn’t point definitively at the supposed lack of any long-term thinking that many seem to think it does.
It will take time for that plan to come to fruition, and it will possibly take a long time for us to completely understand that plan. That does not mean, however, that there is no plan.
While this plan isn't perfect, we forget that sports are fluid, There is never a completely smooth road for teams in the NFL. Nix, Gailey, and the Bills as a whole are trying to improve. While I don't understand the Chris Kelsay extension (he struggles in the 3-4 scheme), it may be part of this process.
Even though this team has lacked in the performance department this season, there have been a few players that I’ve come away impressed with, giving me hope for the future.
Wide receivers Steve Johnson and David Nelson are showing glimpses of what they could be with continued playing time. Johnson had a bad short-armed attempt at a catch against the Packers that resulted in an interception, but since that play, he’s improved. He had a very nice catch and run later in that game, and then has a touchdown in both of the last two games.
Nelson was also one of a few players who showed up against the Jets.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has also continued to impress me. He doesn’t have all the physical tools you would like out of a starting quarterback, but he certainly has the mentality you want out of one. Against the Jets, he rebounded from sacks and bad play from most of his offensive players to keep attempting to make plays even when the game was far out of reach.
The defense has struggled mightily, but for the most part, I think cornerback Leodis McKelvin will be a huge part of the defense for years to come. He may make mistakes from time to time, but no one is perfect at the cornerback position.
So while the Bills sit at 0-4, there are still some signs of life in spots on this team. It may not mean much short term, but I think that Johnson, Nelson, and McKelvin will all have important roles with this team for foreseeable future.
When the season gets tougher following more losses, it is helpful to think of this season as an extended preseason. Find out who fits the plan. If they don’t, try to see if anyone wants to trade for them, like Lynch. If nobody is interested in trading for them, cut them like Edwards and tackle Jamon Meredith. That makes sense to me.