State of the Bills Roster: Free Safeties


Bills need to pick a position for Whitner (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 free safety.
  Previous installments: QB :: RB :: TE :: WR :: OT :: G/C :: DE :: DT :: MLB :: OLB :: CB
  New: Prioritized Offensive Needs List

Opening statement
Our very own Kurupt noted a disturbing stat this week in regards to the safety play of the Buffalo Bills: only three times in team history (that's 49 years) have Buffalo's safeties failed to record an interception throughout the course of a season. All three seasons have occurred since 2002. If that isn't indicative of Buffalo's serious lack of a playmaker at the safety position, then I'm not sure what is. This, folks, is an area of the team that defines what the Bills are all about. Here's why.

#20 Donte Whitner (starter)
  5'11", 208 pounds
  Age: 24 in July 2009
  Contract status: 2 years remaining (UFA after 2010); owed $4.4M in base salaries.
- The first pick of the Dick Jauron era, Whitner has failed to live up to the expectations set for him as a top ten draft pick. Sure, he's averaged 85 tackles per season, but his tackle numbers have decreased in each of the past two seasons. He has just two career interceptions, two forced fumbles and seven passes defended. In three years. He's played in 43 games, and his biggest impact play came in his first game, when he intercepted Tom Brady in his NFL debut. Part of the problem with Whitner, however, may be the fact that the team can't find one position. He's played both safety spots as well as nickel cornerback in his Bills career to this point. If the Bills can keep Whitner in one spot and let him get comfortable for once - as well as upgrade the talent around him defensively - then he might grow into a productive role in Buffalo. I'm doing the dirty work for the Bills right now - Whitner should play free safety. I've said it for two years now. Until he gets help and he defines a role here, he unquestionably remains a disappointment.

#30 Ko Simpson
  6'1", 202 pounds
  Age: 26 in November 2009
  Contract status: 1 year remaining (RFA after 2009); owed $530K in base salary.
- If Whitner is a disappointment, then Simpson is an utter failure. He re-gained his starting free safety spot entering the 2008 season, only to lose it when Bryan Scott out-played both he and Whitner, forcing the Bills to bench their 2006 fourth-round draft pick. Simpson played a significant amount at safety throughout the remainder of the season as the Bills continued to shuffle Whitner around the lineup like a utility infielder, but Simpson's impact was minimal. With one year at a cheap rate left on his deal, he'll be back. But it's clear at this point that Simpson isn't a starter in this league. At least not yet.

#37 George Wilson
  6'0", 212 pounds
  Age: 28 in March 2009
  Contract status: Restricted Free Agent.
- It's unclear whether or not Wilson will be back. How often are 28-year-old restricted free agents re-signed? A captain of Buffalo's special teams unit, he - at the very least - has some value there. He's also - gasp! - made some plays from the safety spot in the past. (Just not last year.) As it stands right now, the Bills might actually get more bang for their buck by keeping Wilson as their top backup and either trying to move or flat-out releasing Simpson. The coaching staff loves Wilson's attitude.

The Breakdown
Keepers: Whitner. It's still too early to give up hope that he can be a competent player in this league, but the term "bust" is starting to get whispered. He needs to step up his game fast, and it'd be nice if the team helped him out by making things easier for him.

Extendables: Wilson. He clearly won't command significant cash, and he probably won't get a ton of interest from other teams. He's as good or better than Simpson is at safety, and his special teams value makes him worth keeping around.

Expendables: Simpson. Again, he'll probably be back because he's got some experience, but a reserve safety that play a limited special teams role might turn out to be a luxury that the team can't afford.

What we need: In reality, nothing is going to change here. I really believe that Whitner will find his role as the free safety next year. Wilson will probably be re-signed. Whether or not Simpson is retained is irrelevant if the first two occur. So personnel-wise, the free safety spot defines what the Buffalo Bills as a whole are all about: acceptable talent, terribly mediocre results. As long as the personnel is used wisely and the players find a way to make an impact, this spot is fine.

That's it. I'm done with the easy stuff. Now it's on you, folks. Do you believe Whitner will be the team's starter at free safety next season? Or should he remain in the box, where he's been highly average throughout his first three years? Do you prefer Wilson to Simpson, or vice versa? Have fun with this, and let's get brainstorming.
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