Buffalo Bills: Shawne Merriman and Four Others Facing Make-or-Break Seasons
Every company, of any reputation, gives it's employee's a performance review. This is something that might happen quarterly, if you're in sales, or annually if you are Santa Claus.
Whatever the terms may be, it is quite clear that as employees our performance is always under observation. The Buffalo Bills in that sense are no different from the company you, or your parents, might work for.
Each year the management team looks at cash flow, ticket prices and player contracts, amongst other factors to determine what are the best business moves they can exercise to make more money or put a better product out on the field, hopefully.
While it is not for certain whether or not next season will even happen, or what impact this shortened off-season will have, one thing is quite clear: when the season does start some Buffalo Bills will have a bulls-eye target on them. This target signifies that it is a make or break year for them.
The criteria used for deciding which Buffalo Bills made this list was based on one of the following factors, their contract ending soon, questions about their long-term status with the team based on age, high salary, declining production or competition from back-ups. So basically any player not named Kyle Williams or Marcell Dareus could be on this list.
1. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick
Contract Status: 1 Year Remaining at 3.195 Million
Pressure from Back-Ups: Minimal at this point
2011 Base Salary: $3.195 Million
Rationale: Fitzpatrick has earned the love of many Buffalo Bills fans and the respect and admiration of his teammates. For these factors alone Ryan should warrant a new contract, however as a long term option for the Bills at quarterback there is a lot of skepticism.
Fitzpatrick throughout his career has been a journeyman back-up type before playing out of his mind last season. Despite his respectable totals his stats were quite average
2011 Ryan Fitzpatrick: 23 TDS, 15 INTS , 57.8% Completion PCT, 81.80 Rating
2011 Average NFL QB: 21 TDS, 13 INTs , 61.4% Completion PCT 86.83 Rating
While many fans got excited about his play, Bills decision makers seem to have shown mixed feelings about committing to Fitzpatrick long term. If his play improves from last year's renaissance season it is likely Fitzpatrick will get that extension he is looking for, but with the lack of options the Bills have and the growing support for him within Bills nation this move might happen quickly.
2. Left Tackle Demetrius Bell
Contract Status: 1 Year Remaining at $555,000
Pressure from Back-Ups: Non-existent
2011 Base Salary: $555,000
Rationale: Throughout the course of his career Bell has been touted as the second coming of Jason Peters, while that is high praise it is also indicative of his talents as a player. These talents have earned Bell a place in the starting line-up when he is healthy, but how long can the Bills remain patient as they wait for him to be at full strength for the season.
Bell's career at this point is at a big-time cross-roads, if he spends more time on the injured list than on the field it might make the Bills start to look in a different direction for a book-end left tackle. This is a vital season for him to stay healthy as it is a contract year.
3. Outside Linebacker Aaron Maybin
Contract Status: 4 Years Remaining with over $5 Million in base salary plus another $7 Million in incentives.
Pressure from Back-Ups: Low
2011 Base Salary: $757,500
Rationale: Without a doubt if there is any player Buffalo Bills fans would love to see more out of it is former First Round Draft Pick Aaron Maybin. Many fans would love to see him play up to his contract and draft status.
Some are still optimistic that this can be the year. Whatever your perspective everyone in Buffalo knows that this is the season that Maybin has to show up or his career which is at a crossroads will take him to a new team and city. How Maybin responds will make or break his career with the Bills.
4. Center Geoff Hangartner
Contract Status: 2 Years Remaining averaging over $2.7 Million a season.
Pressure from Back-Ups: High
2011 Base Salary: $2.55 Million.
Rationale: Hangartner has been a main-stay on the Bills' offensive line for several seasons and has even been named a team captain. This all might be coming to an end soon, as Hangartner is in an unusual situation on the Bills roster, he plays in a position of depth.
This depth, which comes from the potential move of Eric Wood from Guard to Center, has Hangartner at a cross-roads. While his experience and leadership would make him a great depth guy if he loses his starting spot, his contract numbers make this a tough pill to swallow for the small market Bills.
It is likely that if he is unable to hold down his spot coming out of training camp or at the end of the season that this could be his swan song just off Lake Erie.
5 Outside Linebacker Shawne Merriman
Contract Status: 2 Years Remaining at $10.5 Million.
Pressure from Back-Ups: Low
2011 Base Salary: $2.75 Million
Rationale: Perhaps no player comes into the 2011 season with as much pressure and as many questions as Shawne Merriman. The Bills absolutely need him to regain his sack-master ways, so much so that they were willing to pay him like a sack specialist in good faith. Merriman doesn't have to approach double-digits in sacks and do any lights out dances.
But he does have to bring something the Bills have not found anywhere else on the roster. Constant pressure on the Quarterback, if Merriman provides that spark he will be well worth the investment, if he doesn't it will be painful to watch the season unfold. Merriman has earned his share of critics since his suspension and subsequent knee injury but he has to prove his doubters wrong and this is a big chance for him to do that.