State of the Bills Roster: Outside Linebackers


Ellison's spot should be upgraded (buffalobills.com)

The "State of the Bills Roster" series trucks on! If you're new around these parts within the past nine months or so, this series is an off-season progression of posts in which we'll break down Buffalo's roster in-depth. From these discussions, we'll put together a "Community Needs List" in priority order, then begin researching potential free agent and draft acquisitions that will satisfy all of the Bills' needs as we perceive them.

We continue our foray into heavy-duty off-season work at Buffalo Rumblings right now. It's our "State of the Roster" series, off-season mode, and we'll continue the discussions by breaking down the Bills' situation at outside linebacker, a position that is still an area of need for the Bills.
  Previous installments: QB :: RB :: TE :: WR :: OT :: G/C :: DE :: DT :: OLB
  New: Prioritized Offensive Needs List

Opening statement
When LB Angelo Crowell was placed on IR prior to the start of the 2008 regular season, Buffalo's linebacker depth - bolstered by the off-season acquisition of Kawika Mitchell - was suddenly back where it had been at the end of the 2007 season. Now, with Crowell an unrestricted free agent and unlikely to return, the Bills must once again look for a starter at this position - and a little depth wouldn't hurt, either.

#59 Kawika Mitchell (starter, weak side)
  6'1", 253 pounds
  Age: 30 in October 2009
  Contract status: 4 years remaining (UFA after 2012); owed $9.7M in base salaries.
- Mitchell had a roller-coaster season as Buffalo's starting weak-side linebacker. There were games in which he was dominant, such as the season opening win against Seattle and in a Week 7 victory over San Diego in which he provided a sack and the game-clinching interception. There were also games where his tackling resembled the respectable work done by matadors. Of course, even when he was down, it was hard to complain about Mitchell, mostly because his 82 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and 3 passes defended made him Buffalo's most consistent defensive playmaker this year. He needs to play consistently next season; if he does, he's going to be very good.

#56 Keith Ellison (starter, strong side)
  6'0", 228 pounds
  Age: 25 in February 2009
  Contract status: Restricted Free Agent.
- I have a pretty healthy respect for Keith Ellison, because despite being one of the most physically overmatched linebackers in today's NFL, he very rarely makes mistakes. It's like watching Mark Kelso play linebacker for the Bills, except without the interceptions and the cool helmet padding. As a restricted free agent and a favorite of the coaching staff, the chances that Ellison is signed - maybe even to a lengthy extension - are quite good. That said, there's no way this guy should be a starter in the NFL. Not on a serious contender, anyway.

#55 Angelo Crowell
  6'1", 243 pounds
  Age: 28 in August 2009
  Contract status: Unrestricted Free Agent.
- Make no mistake about it, Crowell has fallen out of favor with the coaching staff in possible. Don't make the mistake, however, of thinking that will prevent Crowell from re-signing in Buffalo. Depending on who in Ralph Wilson's vaunted "inner circle" is now making final football decisions, there will always be a chance that Crowell returns. If Dick Jauron has his way, however, Crowell will walk, and the Bills will be looking for a replacement on the outside.

#50 Alvin Bowen
  6'2", 222 pounds
  Age: 26 in December 2009
  Contract status: 3 years remaining (UFA after 2011); owed $1.355M in base salaries.
- Bowen's rookie season was over before it began when he tore up his knee during an early training camp practice. Buffalo likes his speed, versatility and special teams prowess, but it's never wise to count on a 26-year-old second-year player with no experience to be a contributor. He should make next year's team, but he's got a lot to prove.

#57 Jon Corto
  6'1", 208 pounds
  Age: 25 on 1/1/09
  Contract status: 1 year remaining (UFA after 2009); owed $385K in base salary.
- The converted safety was one of Buffalo's best special teams players last season, but he also dealt with injuries while making the transition to linebacker. He's definitely a guy who might stick on Buffalo's roster in 2009, but he isn't solid linebacker depth.

#54 Blake Costanzo
  6'2", 235 pounds
  Age: 25 in April 2009
  Contract status: Restricted Free Agent.
- Costanzo is Buffalo's most relentless special teams demon. But that has less to do with talent than it does simply having a job; Costanzo is a fringe NFL player whose only contributions will likely ever be in the special teams department. As Buffalo's best - yes, best - kick coverage man, he'll be in training camp next season, but he's not a lock to make the roster.

#53 Marcus Buggs
  5'11", 225 pounds
  Age: 24 in September 2009
  Contract status: 1 year remaining (ERFA after 2009); owed $385K in base salary.
- Oh, look - another undersized reserve linebacker whose specialty is special teams. Buggs wasn't outstanding either in the pre-season or when he was on the active roster last year, but he has enough raw potential to land back on Buffalo's practice squad next year.

The Breakdown
Keepers: Mitchell, Bowen. Mitchell is obvious. Bowen still has to prove himself, but his special teams potential is through the roof.

Extendables: Ellison. Never underestimate the value of smart, versatile reserves that can play all three linebacker positions. Especially when that player can also play special teams very well.

Expendables: Costanzo, Corto, Buggs. I sang the praises of the special teams ability of all three of these guys, but at some point, Buffalo's reserve linebackers need to contribute something. Maybe one of these guys sticks around - and if they do, I'm pulling for Costanzo - but I'm not going to be upset if none of them return next season.

Questionables: Crowell. There are a lot of folks who want Crowell to be re-signed, but I'll re-iterate for the umpteenth time that if Jauron has anything to say about it, it's not likely to happen - and that's not a bad thing. We can certainly do better than Angelo Crowell, folks. Still, bringing him back does make a degree of sense, and he's clearly an upgrade over Ellison in the starting lineup.

What we need: Not much, considering the results of yesterday's polling. This community voted in an overwhelming majority that, at an absolute minimum, moving Paul Posluszny to the outside should be a serious consideration. So we'll keep it at that for now - a consideration. Over the past two days we've listed five linebackers as "keepers" for the Bills; that leaves one or two spots to fill this off-season. We'll keep them as generic linebacker spots for now, and we'll re-assess when we start naming names of available talent this off-season.

That's it. I'm done with the easy stuff. Now it's on you, folks. How serious do you think Buffalo's interest in Crowell is? Is Posluszny the answer to our woes at outside linebacker? What type of linebacker should we be looking for as our third starter or as reserves? Have fun with this, and let's get brainstorming.
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