The NFL is back, and for many cities the thoughts of winning a Super Bowl excite the fanbase. Not in Buffalo. Last year was exciting because they were much less awful than expected and showed heart despite lacking talent. The shopping frenzy that will be the 2011 Free Agency period is about to kick into full gear, and the high of the Pegula era in Buffalo will soon wear off. Especially since Pegula owns the Sabres and the Ralph Wilson era hangs over the Bills like a black cloud.
To give you an idea of how bad the recent years have been, the 2007 draft should have been a building block for a franchise, since they had two of the first 34 picks. As of Friday, they will have zero players from that draft on their roster, a draft that took place only doue years ago. Not every team hits a lot in every draft, but as of Friday the Bills won't even have trades to show for that draft. Nothing.
Free agency hasn't even begun yet and the Bills are already losers. Paul Posluszny, an often injured but definitely the Bills' best linebacker, has decided to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars. According to the Buffalo News, Posluszny's agent said the main reason for choosing Jacksonville over Buffalo was because of their 4-3 defense (and their likelihood to move to LA, that's just my guess).
Does anyone have any confidence in the Bills management at this moment? They let their best linebacker go so they can play a 3-4. Let me take a moment to analyze their current roster before I analyze what they need.
At linebacker, they currently have Danny Batten (who I will be nice to since I may see him at Joe's BBQ), Antonio Coleman, Andra Davis, Chris Kelsay, Jammie Kirlew, Aaron Maybin, Shawne Merriman, Arthur Moats, Kelvin Sheppard, Reggie Torber and Chris White. I just listed 11 guys, and I'm not sure three of them can start in the NFL at linebacker. Andra Davis was injured most of last year, half of these guys are rookies, Maybin is close to being cut and Merriman has a long way to get back to his form if he ever can. Chris Kelsay is really good in the Bills defense, as a lineman in the 4-3. He stunk at linebacker last year. Arthur Moats was the one guy who stood out last year.
On the defensive line, they have Alex Carrington, Marcell Dareus, Dwan Edwards, Kellen Heard, Michael Jasper, Spencer Johnson, Torrell Troup and Kyle Williams. Although there are three less people on this list, just add Kelsay to this list and then compare.
I can definitely see why the Bills would want to lose a linebacker free agent they wanted to keep over a system they can't run effectively, as exhibited by past experience and by a complete mismatch of talent. It's not like they just have lacked linebacker talent in the last year. This problem has been around for years, along with a below average offensive line and no tight end. Why fill a hole when another running back can be drafted?
The Bills have already leaked a move, probably the worst-kept secret in the quarterback group for free agency. They are going to sign Tyler Thigpen to back up Ryan Fitzpatrick. Thigpen is a perfect fit for Buffalo in a few ways, one reason because his career starting record is 1-11. Another is that Thigpen joined the Chiefs and looked like he was going to be a joke. With the help of Chan Gailey, Thigpen looked pretty good in his time starting for the Chiefs, throwing 22 touchdowns. Having Herm Edwards as the head coach didn't help the win-loss record. He should be confident with Gailey again and is solid enough to be a backup and spot start if he needs to.
Coming off of a 4-12 season, and having many drafts that were wretched, the Bills need to do a lot in free agency. They need offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, secondary, tight end and maybe a receiver. They will get some of those needs, mostly because the NFL has mandated each team has to spend up to a certain amount of the salary cap.
The Bills will definitely sign a cornerback or safety. The Bills brass tends to put a high focus on corners, unless it involves resigning their own. Nate Clements may be available. Since the Bills lost out on Posluszny, they may now panic and re-sign the guy they think is their second best free agent, Donte Whitner. I felt the chill some of you just got. Look, I have to be a bit realistic when it comes to analyzing a team that hasn't made the playoffs since the Music City Miracle. They tend not to do the most logical thing.
With the drafting of Dareus, it looks like a renewed emphasis may be thrown onto the line, and a lineman is most likely to be signed. The Bills have thrown big money at lineman in free agency before. Marcus Stroud was solid but far from overwhelming (it doesn't help when the guys directly behind him were terrible). Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker were horrendous (also signed in 2007, keep in mind that some of the same people who were on the staff making management decisions in 2007 are still there).
There aren't a lot of tight end options in free agency, and the Bills could use an interesting tight end option in David Nelson. He might not have the weight of a typical NFL tight end, but he has everything else and runs great routes off the end of the line. The last Bills tight end to catch 50+ passes was Jay Riemersma in 2001. If they haven't addressed the tight end issue in 10 years, this isn't the time they are doing it.
The Bills did sign London Fletcher as a big name linebacker, for one contract at least. They also signed Shawne Merriman as a rehab project. Otherwise linebacker is the home of undrafted players and undersized guys trying to start. At this rate we could see the 5th annual "How is Keith Ellison starting again" tour. At this least year, a linebacker is a possibility because the Bills have to spend the money.
If Nelson is a dedicated tight end, a wide receiver is an option, although most likely a guy who fits in and not a star. I think the Bills like their receiving corps, and if Roscoe Parrish is healthy, they should.
What the Bills Should Sign:
- A pass rusher
- Two Linebackers
- A Safety or Corner
- An Offensive Tackle
- Zach Miller if available
What the Bills Will Sign:
- Not naming rights to their stadium
- A corner that will be moved to safety
- Keith Ellison
- An Offensive Lineman Hopefully Better than Dockery
- Extensions to Current Players to reach the Cap
Maybe once the season gets going and I see the same energy the Bills had for a lot of last year I will become more positive about the team. At this moment, understanding how quickly this free agency period will move, I have nothing but pessimism for an organization led by Ralph Wilson. He's no Pegula. He's no Golisano at this point. He's more like Rigas without the criminal kids.