The Bills had such high hopes heading into the season, sadly, they've all turned out to be false and misguided. Outside of a few teams who win because they are just a level above the rest, there is a blueprint to winning in the NFL.
Considering the Bills have a cost-conscious (re: cheap) owner and live in a city which is incredibly undersirable for free agents, here is how the Bills can realistically bring themselves into respectability after their agonizing, decade-long fall from the top.
Step One: Acceptance of Reality
What should happen and what can happen are two entirely different paths.
Ralph Wilson isn't making a ton of money each season (in comparison with his NFL brethren, not to you and me), but is making enough to have no interest in selling the team. He isn't going to spend money where he doesn't have to, and his opinion of "have to" is clearly different than that of the average Joe (or Jane).
This means people need to stop explaining that "if only he would sell the naming rights on the stadium, the Bills would be have the money to court better free agents!"
The idea is a fallacy. Wilson won't dish out for top executives, coaches or players, and thinking adding $5 million a year to his pocket would suddenly change him from Mr. Scrooge before Christmas to Mr. Scrooge after Christmas, is lunacy. If Wilson did re-name the stadium, it would solely be to line his bank account.
Still, whether it is out of ego, pride, the desire to leave a legacy or simple hard-headedness, he won't take his name off the stadium or start shelling out money he wasn't shelling out already. Accept it and get realistic (ie. stop thinking/praying/discussing Bill Cowher coming to Buffalo).
Step Two: Look Inward
Why has the team consistently failed, when nearly every other team in the league at the very least lucks into the playoffs at some point? Part of this has already been discussed in hitting on ownership, however the Bills have missed a lot more than they've hit in both the draft and free agency.
Despite this point, Tom Modrak and John Guy still lead the personnel department, while other top, young evaluators have jumped ship to other teams or not brought in. Most notably the loss of young and talented Marc Ross, to the Giants and not bringing in Greg Gabriel, from the Bears.
Step Three: Rethink the Front Office
With Russ Brandon running the business side of things, the Bills need to find new personnel men who mesh with Brandon's younger, more aggressive style. Dick Jauron isn't going anywhere, so getting a young talent evaluator who will make Jauron a better coach is critically important.
Sometimes the "best player available" approach works. This works when a coach understands his players abilities well enough that he maximizes their strengths and eliminates their weaknesses. This philosophy isn't just used in football, but within the sport, Bill Belichick, Tony Dungy, and Jon Gruden/Monte Kiffin at the pro level, and Pete Carroll, Urban Meyer, and Nick Saban are all extremely good at this.
The philosophy doesn't work in Buffalo. Its what brought in Willis McGahee when Travis Henry was perfectly acceptable, and why the team has drafted numerous wide receivers and quarterbacks in early rounds when those are the two riskiest positions to draft early.
It is important for the team to have a talent evaluator who understand Jauron.
Step Four: Teach Jauron What A Head Coach Should Do
Players love playing for Jauron. Part of that reasoning is assuredly because of his light training camps, part of it has to be because he takes accountability, and part of it has to be that he connects with the players. Understanding players and taking accountability are important aspects of head coaching.
Equally as important is delegating. Again this isn't just a football method, it is also a business method. Jauron needs to learn when to delegate and when to lead.
Many people see the successes of first year coaches this season and probably think he has had enough time and should know the answers by now, but for many coaches, it just takes more time.
Jauron needs to step into the head coach role, embrace it completely, take charge when appropriate and back off when appropriate. He needs to learn when to make the decision to override a coach and understand when moments are critical and a head coach's leadership is needed.
Step Five: Blame People For This Season
The team was perfectly setup to be competitive and relevant in the league again—easy non-division opponents, injured Tom Brady, Jets and Dolphins shouldn't have been great—but they went down quicker than the stock market after the mortgage bubble burst.
It is someone's fault. Sure, the team can talk about unity and how they're all in this together, but with terrible play all season from the defensive line, linebackers and the safeties, Perry Fewell, Bill Kollar, George Catavalos, and Matt Sheldon need to be replaced.
Sure, the defense held the team in games at points this season, but it still underperformed, and replacing the defensive side is a lot easier than the offense, where Turk Schonert and company will get another shot.
Step Six: Change the Drafting Philosophy
Jauron intimately knows the Tampa 2 system, but it hasn't worked in Buffalo. Partly because the Bills have mastered the art of drafting average, and only average, linebackers, and partly because the team loves undersized, white defensive linemen.
Virtually every successful team, be it a 3-4 or 4-3, has athletic, smart linebackers who fly to the ball and understand how to play in space.
Kavika Mitchell has been either mind-numbingly terrible or rather excellent at points this season, sometimes even in the same game. Paul Posluszny leads the team in tackles, but it seems he is leading the team in tackles out of default because he is the middle linebacker, more than a playmaker. He doesn't make a play, ever.
And Keith Ellison wasn't a starter to begin the season because Crowell was starting, but with Crowell's injury, he is back in the lineup. Ellison is just that, a backup, and Crowell has seen his last play in a Bills uniform.
Stroud in the middle has been ok, but just ok. He was expected to be more, and Spencer Johnson and Kyle Williams both put in a day's work each game, but in the end just are barely average and are suited more to be backups. Kelsay also is an effort guy, but losing Schobel this season hurt the team badly.
Still, even with Schobel back, the team needs to focus on their areas of need above the best player available. They need linebacker, a center and another defensive tackle. With the team having a pick around 10-12 in the draft,any number of good players at any of those positions should be available based upon my ridiculous assumptions. That being said, they'll probably do something stupid.
Step Seven: Go Back to the Retro Jerseys
This would be a slick marketing move and make a lot of Buffalonians happy. Everyone adores the old jerseys, probably because it reminds them of when the team was actually good. Make a white one, too, have a red one as the alternate, and wear them.
Step Eight: Draft Drew Willy
Assuming the team is sticking with Edwards (which they will), snagging Willy would be both a smart football and marketing move. Willy has talent, played in a pro system at UB and will be a fine backup in the league.
I kind of slacked off in the end steps because I'm tired. I'll do better when its, you know, the actual offseason.