Buffalo Bills: Shawne Merriman and Four Others Facing Make-or-Break Seasons

Bobby DaleContributor IIJune 15, 2011

Buffalo Bills: Shawne Merriman and Four Others Facing Make-or-Break Seasons

0 of 5

    BALTIMORE, MD - OCTOBER 24:  The Buffalo Bills kickoff team huddles before the kick against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on October 24, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Bills 37-34. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
    Larry French/Getty Images

    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

1 of 5

    MIAMI - DECEMBER 19:  Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the Buffalo Bills throws against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on December 19, 2010 in Miami, Florida.The Bills defeated the Dolphins 17-14.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    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

2 of 5

    ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 01:  Antonio Smith #94 of the Houston Texans speaks with Demetrius Bell #77 of the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 1, 2009 in Orchard Park, New York. Houston won 31-10. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    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

3 of 5

    ORCHARD PARK, NY - MAY 01: Aaron Maybin #58, 2009 first round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills waits in between plays during Buffalo Bills minicamp at the Buffalo Bills Fieldhouse on May 1, 2009 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Imag
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    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

4 of 5

    ORCHARD PARK, NY - OCTOBER 10: Geoff Hangartner #63 of the Buffalo Bills stands on the field during a time out against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Ralph Wilson Stadium on October 10, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York. Jacksonville won 36-26. (Photo by Rick S
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    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

5 of 5

    CHARLOTTE, NC - FEBRUARY 14:  Shawne Merriman of the Buffalo Bills watches on during the game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Charlotte Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena on February 14, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly a
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    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.