NFL Free Agency: Donte Whitner's Departure Brings Battle for Buffalo Bills

Robert QuinnCorrespondent IAugust 4, 2011

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12: Donte Whitner #20 the Buffalo Bills waits with teammates to enter the field against the Miami Dolphins during the NFL season opener at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 12, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York. Miami 15-10. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Donte Whitner, the former strong safety of the Buffalo Bills, has reached an agreement with the Cincinnati Bengals this afternoon. Whitner wasn't really expected to return to the Bills, after a tumultuous offseason of arguing with fans via Twitter and happily stating that he was a free agent. 

Whitner was a vocal leader on the defensive side of the ball and always played hard, but was vastly overrated. Drafted with the eighth overall selection in the 2006 NFL Draft out of Ohio State, he never lived up to his hype or potential.

A solid tackler, Whitner racked up over 100 tackles twice in his career, but was often beat by tight ends and struggled to contain opposing wideouts. He never showed the ability to be a game-changing safety, recording just five interceptions and forcing just three fumbles in his five seasons as a pro.

With Whitner finally out of the picture, the competition for the starting strong safety role is between veteran George Wilson and rookie Da'Norris Searcy, a fourth-round draft pick out of North Carolina.

Wilson is the NFLPA player representative for the Bills, and is much more of a playmaker than Whitner. Last season, the 30-year old recorded 35 tackles and picked off two passes in limited playing time, after recording 103 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and four interceptions in 2009.

CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 22:  Da'Norris Searcy #21 of the North Carolina Tar Heels runs on the field during the game the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Kenan Stadium on November 22, 2008 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty I
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

There's no question that Wilson can play the position, and may even be a better fit for the Bills' system than Whitner was.

Searcy, on the other hand, is a stocky 5'11", 223-pounder who can flat-out level the toughest of receivers. He is instinctive, has great ball skills and vision and is usually in on every play.

Despite being suspended for three games last season at North Carolina, he still led the Tar Heels in interceptions, with four, and in pass breakups, with nine.

Unlike Whitner, Searcy holds his own with tight ends, but he can tend to be a bit over-aggressive and try to do too much.

Personally, I believe Wilson will earn the starting role to begin the season, but wouldn't be surprised to see Searcy get some significant playing time by midseason.