So I really enjoyed Brian's recent article that dealt with who are the "cornerstone" players of the Bills and began thinking harder while in my tree stand bow hunting this morning. I was thinking, what would be considered the "cornerstone positions," and do the Bills have any of those players and have they addressed any of those positions in the past. After thinking, I came to the conclusion that the offensive and defensive lines are most important followed by the Quarterback position. Over the last 10 dreadful years the Bills have not had any of these three cornerstone positions filled with extreme talent or should I just say solid talent. We have gone through a slew of bad Quarterbacks and spent a lot on under achieving lineman. After the jump I am going to go a little deeper and explain mainly the offensive line woes and touch upon the other two "cornerstone" positions and what I think are the Bills most pressing needs at this point. To this point, I think we can say we are very solid in the defensive backfield; having a lot of young talent and very solid starters for the foreseeable future. Our Running back crew seems to also be solid with Lynch and Jackson. And lastly, in my opinion our wide receiver corps is pretty solid. I think Hardy will soon transition nicely and eventually complement Evans. So that leaves us with pressing needs at the defensive line, Linebackers, Quarterbacks and Tight ends. Three out of those five which are pressing needs are what I consider the cornerstone positions of a franchise and the Bills have been missing those players for some time now.
Most Pressing Need:
Offensive line: Dick Jauron has officially taken the blame for his decision to go with an extremely young line this year. He traded franchise LT Jason Peters, Cut OG Derrick Dockery and OT Langston Walker, and in my opinion, these cuts/trades will cost him his job this year. For anyone who expected this team to go far this year with this young line was extremely optimistic (My prediction was 4-12 at the beginning of the season by the way). I next want to talk about Levy as the old GM. Many people mocked Levy for what he did and blame him for our present woes. I don't think Marv made the wrong moves (positional wise), I just think he was obtaining players that were considered good that were unfortunately not so great. As we know Marv knows football and he showed it by making big splashes in the free agent period, signing the top rated OG Derrick Dockery for 60+ million and proven starter RT Langston Walker for 25 million. Marv's strategy was right on here; he was trying to rebuild this team through the offensive line, by signing what was thought to be the top lineman of that current year. Unfortunately for Marv, both players turned out to be under achievers and way overpaid. I still think we would love Walker at right tackle now though. Bottom line, Marv tried the right way "logically" to fix this team, he just missed out because the talent wasn't there in the free agent market. I am going to do a brief dissection of the current/future Offensive line and provide future solutions (player wise). I will neglect the draft since I am not 100% familiar with all the current prospects and where they will fall at this point (too early). Therefore, I will look at the free agent pool more.
Left Tackle: D. Bell- Has showed that he can play well at times and bad at others. He can be dominated, but we have seen him play well at times.
Future: D. Bell has showed me that he can be a dependable back-up in this league. He has the athleticism to maybe one day be a solid starter. But as of now, we need an upgrade. For you D. Bell fans out there, I still think this guy could one day be a potential starter. The Bills can develop him behind a proven starter.
Best Free Agent Selection at This Point: Marcus McNeil, San Diego (25 years of age). With McNeil you get a proven starter who is maybe a tad overrated but still a dependable every down starter. He is still very young which is a plus. By the way, the Chargers have almost everyone on their roster to be resigned so you can expect some of them to be free agents. The Chargers have a good front office, and I believe they will probably retain McNeil, probably making top priority over Merriman. At this point McNeil seems to be the best option as of now.
Left Guard: Andy Levitre- I think Levitre is having a solid rookie season. He isn't great, but he isn't bad. He has shown he can be a dependable guy who's future looks bright.
Future: Levitre looks to be a future starter for this team. I like his demeanor on the field and his smarts. He will develop into a solid starter for years to come.
Center: Geoff Hangartner- I haven't been entirely impressed with Geoff. He seems to be on and off. Overall he is better than Melvin Fowler and Duke Preston but still isn't a solid starter. This goes to prove how bad the Bills front office is. They make a back-up center their absolute top priority in free agency. They are right on with the position as being a priority, but fail to obtain anyone with solid starting talent.
Future: I believe like Bell, Geoff is just not starting material. He plays alright at times, but he isn't great. I really see Wood being the best option at manning the center position in future years- see next breakdown.
Right Guard: Eric Wood- Wood is quickly becoming one of my favorite Bills. He plays with a absolute mean streak, he is always fighting until the whistle blows and he often starts confrontations with opposing players simply because he doesn't give up on a play. He hasn't been amazing, but he has shown that he has the ability to be dominant in the future, something his other 1st round choice has failed to do thus far.
Future: Wood will simply be a stud in this league, there is no doubt in my mind. I do see him maybe switching to center if Geoff doesn't pan out. If he does move, the Bills will need to find a new starting guard. Here is a suggestion.
Best Free Agent Selection at This Point: Jahri Evans, Right Guard, New Orleans (age 26)- Evans has been a stud and is regarded as one of the best players at his position. He was drafted in the 4th round of the 2006 draft and has allowed very few sacks. Good lineman, give Q.B's more time to throw and running backs more holes to run through, Hence New Orleans offensive production this year. Evans will probably be retained, but another viable option is Logan Mankins, New England Patriots. 26 years of age.
Right Tackle: Who ever isn't hurt? This is probably the position that is killing us the most on the offensive line, especially when Chambers enters the game- see the Miami game. All of our options are back-up's in this league. I would honestly love Langston Walker. The guy said he couldn't play Left Tackle, they moved him to left and guess what? He couldn't do it. Walker allowed "NO" sacks (I pretty sure on this so don't quote me, but it wasn't many if he did allow some) last season at right tackle. Why get rid of a solid starting Right tackle? It's because Dick is clueless. He should have realized Walker couldn't play Left Tackle and just kept him at his original position. He was solid, why try to change him?
Best Free Agent Selection at This Point: Maybe Winston Justice, Eagles (24 years of age)? Justice started out pretty poorly when he first entered the league as a second rounder. He is becoming more and more dependable as he plays more. I am not saying he is the absolute best thing out there, but from what I can find, he seems like an alright choice this early in the game.
Well, thats my short breakdown, sorry if you disagree or find this completely crazy in regards to the offensive line. I just really think the Offensive line is where this team needs to start building around if they want to be competitive. Good teams like Eagles and the Patriots prove it every year. Their QB's have all day to throw and their running backs have huge holes.
*T.O side track* since it coincides with my offensive line point-
For all you T.O haters out there who want to run him out of town and are calling him a bust; let me ask you, are you serious? If you have no line, no time to throw, and no Q.B, how is the guy going to flourish? He can't throw himself the ball, or can he? If you're going to hit me with the "drop" thing, you knew that when we got him. You knew he dropped about as many balls as he scored TD's. I would like to see him in B-Lo with a new coach and revamped Offensive line next year. I honestly am starting to feel bad for this guy, he can't do nothing right, even if he keeps his mouth shut.
*Lynch side track* since it coincides with my offensive line point-
For all you Lynch haters out there that say "he dances too much," let me ask you, are you serious? He dances because he has no holes to run through. He is always looking for a small crack to hit. He usually gets to the line, where there is no hole and runs with 8 guys surrounding him and carries them for 2-3 yards and half the time doesn't hit the floor because no one can bring him to the ground. Trust me, my season tickets are in the "rock pile" which is about corner endzone 15 rows up, I can see that there are no holes for Freddy or Lynch to run through, especially when they are backed up against our goaline. If you are going to tell be how come Freddy ran so well the first couple games? it is a simple answer. Somehow this line blocked extremely well then, especially in New England. There was huge holes versus new england, and the play calling was excellent. I don't know whether it was Monday Night Football or what, but thats probably the best you'll see this unit ever block. And for Tampa, well, its Tampa.
Most Pressing Need:
Quarterback: I skip over the defensive line and address Q.B second because I simply think overall, our Defensive line is better than our Quarterbacks. Unfortunately for Trent, he has not progressed. I really wanted both him and Losman to be good, but the fact is, they're not. I would like to see how Trent finishes the year and then make decision. As of now, there are no solid options at Q.B in free agency in my opinion. Kyle orton will probably be resigned, and I really don't think he is that good anyways. He is more of a game manager than a playmaker. Drafting a Q.B seems to be logical, especially if we have a high, high pick. Unfortunately, I am not thrilled about any Q.B in this draft. My favorite is probably Locker right now out of Washington. This is going to be a tough decision this offseason. Something obviously needs to be done hear, because we haven't had someone since Jim. And, unfortunately for Trent, new coaches usually means new Q.B's. I am not a Trent Fan at all, but would like to see him with a good line and coaching staff before I totally canned him.
Best Free Agent: Kyle Orton
Best in Draft: IMO, Bradford/Locker
Most Pressing Need:
Outside Linebacker: So I just skipped over the D-line again, even though I considered those positions as "cornerstone" positions. Why? because we simply are better at the D-line versus the Linebacker crew. Our defense is sadly last in the NFL in rush yards allowed per game, a horrible achievement. I really think this stems from our linebacking corps more so than our D-line. Poz is the only one worth mentioning as solid. I really like Nic Harris and think he can be a future starter in this league. Ellison is awful and doesn't deserve to start at all ever again. Mitchell is a scary loss since he tore a ligament in his knee at a older age. I believe he is 29 or so, and with that knee injury, you could see the Bills release him or see his production start to fall quick. We desperately need outside linebackers and there are a few solid names out there at the linebacking position.
Best Available Free Agents:
Shawne Merriman, Chargers, age 25. A stud at rushing the passer. His production has dropped since his injury, but knee injuries usually take some time before the person returns to full strength. I believe Merriman will get back to full strength next year. It also helps that he is still so young. The Chargers like I said have a lot of guys to retain, and this is one of their guys I see escaping. Bottom line, he won't cost as much since he endured that knee injury, but his price will still be too steep for Ralph I am sure.
Well thats it, hope you enjoyed my little dissection and some future possible free agents that the Bills will never sign. Again, I stress the importance of starting with the offensive line. I think the Bills already made a step forward in investing in both the O-line and D-line from the past draft. The Bills need to provide there playmakers with opportunities. You can have all the playmakers you want at WR and RB, but if you cannot protect the Q.B, you will not be able to throw the ball the your WR's, and if you cannot blow open holes, you will not be able to run the ball. This IS the problem the Bills are having. I believe Owens has said it best. He always mentions the O-line when asked "why is the offense not getting it done." There is a reason for that. He had great O-lines in Phily and Dallas, and knows it is very important for success. He has been saying our line is "young" and "injured" and that makes it hard. He is 100% correct.
Let me know what you think. I also attached a poll to let you decide what you think should be the Bills most pressing need this offseason. Thanks for reading!