With the NFL draft in the rear-view mirror and the 2011 season in limbo, free agency is likely to be the first event on the card if and when the NFL resumes normal operations. Bearing that in mind, let's take a realistic look at the positions and players the Buffalo Bills may target.
Note that when I say realistic, I mean it. Based on the team's past, we know they aren't going to be players for big money free agents. So don't look for players like Nnamdi Asomugha or Braylon Edwards to be mentioned here. While it would be great to add that kind of talent, it's not going to happen.
To begin, since no one truly knows who all of the free agents will be due to terms of free agency being undefined because of the lack of a CBA, I elected to use a list complied by Jason LaCanfora of the NFL Network, using players with six years of service of greater. This, in effect, reverts to the old rules on free agency.
The first thing to do is see where the team may have a need that wasn't addressed in the draft. There were no outside linebackers drafted, no quarterbacks of any type, technically no interior offensive linemen, although draftee Chris Hairston could end up inside. Tight end was not addressed, no wide receivers were added and even though the defensive line was addressed, it could be argued that both lines could still use depth.
Now let's try to put some type of order of importance to the positions.
Since the tight end position plays no role of major importance in the Bills offense, I'm dropping that position down immediately. We already have sufficient numbers of wide receivers, but I still wouldn't mind one more. Even so, it's not important enough to be near the top. Further defensive line depth is also something that can wait a bit.
That leaves us with outside linebackers, quarterback, offensive line, and even though two draft picks were spent there, we do have free agents who could leave, so the defensive secondary could also be addressed. Plenty of work to do. But where to begin?
To me, that is an easy question to answer. What is the one position where one injury would create panic looking at the way the Bills roster is currently constructed? Quarterback. We have Fitzpatrick, Levi Brown and nothing else. A backup with some experience is critical.
Some names we can immediately rule out are Trent Edwards and J.P. Losman. No one wants to see them back in Buffalo, I would think. Kerry Collins, Billy Volek and Matt Hasselbeck will all be staying put. None of them are all that attractive anyway. I don't want to try to trade for either Kevin Kolb or Donovan McNabb either, and Vince Young would be the last guy I'd want in a Bills uniform.
If we could get him, and I understand that is a big if, the guy I'd like to get would be Marc Bulger. Were Ryan Fitzpatrick to get injured and miss a few games, Bulger would be a nice insurance policy to have. He basically sat out last year as Joe Flacco's backup, so he's fully healthy.
So, while I realize that rumors have linked him to Arizona as a possible starter, I'm betting that they will pull out all the stops trying to get Kevin Kolb in a trade first. Hence, I want to make a real effort to sign Bulger first.
Should attempts to get Bulger fail, I'd settle for Patrick Ramsey. My reasoning is that I still want some experience at backup, and I don't believe Chad Pennington is going to be able to play this season, not after an ACL in January. Alex Smith is likely staying in San Francisco, and no one else out there gives me much of anything to think about. So those would be my two choices.
My next position on the list would be outside linebacker. I chose that as my second priority for one simple reason: I am totally unconvinced of Shawne Merriman's ability to make it through a sixteen game season. To be completely honest, I don't know if I'd bet on him to make it through the first monrth. So I feel like I want at least one guy at the position, maybe even two.
There are a few players I like here. Tyjuan Hagler from the Colts, Travis LaBoy from the 49ers, Ben Leber from Minnesota and Jamie Winborn from the Titans. Those would be my probable first choices. My second choice consists of one guy.
He's not going to give the Bills much. But that's okay, I want him for leadership, intangibles and to teach our young players what it takes to win and how to be a professional. That would be Mike Vrabel from the Chiefs. I look at him as a luxury type of acquisition, one that would be nice to have, but not critical.
My first choice would be Travis LaBoy from San Francisco, followed in order by Leber, Hagler and Winborn. I have to believe at least one, probably two, of those players would be in the Bills price range in free agency. At this point, I'm not going after Vrabel but will look at other needs first, coming back to him only if I believe I can at the end.
At this point, I'm going to look over the available defensive backs and offensive linemen to see if there's any players who really jump out at me. At a glance, the one name that jumps out at me is Ravens cornerback Chris Carr. I view him as one of the better second tier free agents at the position, largely because I see the first tier as beginning and ending with Nnamdi Asomugha. He may have a higher price tag than the Bills will care to pay, but exploring it doesn't cost a thing.
As far as offensive linemen, no one jumps out at me dramatically as being someone representing a dramatic improvement over the Bills current personnel. The Rams Adam Goldberg would be a decent pickup, if the price is right. Bengals strong safety Gibril Wilson would be someone else I'd categorize similarly to Goldberg. If there were any interest in adding a defensive end, Jacques Cesaire could be a decent pickup.
One of the things that makes it truly difficult to evaluate this free-agent class is the aforementioned fact that we don't know who all of them will be. If the rule should be changed, and players with four years service are granted free agency, that will change the landscape dramatically, no doubt.
So, at the end of the day, what I've tried to do is look at potential additions to the Bills roster that would be within the price range the Bills would be willing to pay who might be helpful to them. I hope I've presented some viable options.