As the Bills search for a new Head Coach and promise a "total overhaul" of the front office, one of the top tasks will be to identify areas where new starters are needed. The Bills appear stocked with some quality backups at some positions, but may lack a legitimate starter. Some of what follows, of course, is moot if the Bills switch to a 3-4
QB: There is not a starter in the bunch (at least right now…sorry Brian Brohm fans). I think most here (myself included) would be content to have Brohm and Fitzpatrick be the backups next season. Trent Edwards needs to be relocated. Perhaps if he can go to a team with a quality coaching staff and be a backup to a quality quarterback (Manning, Brady, Brees, Rodgers, etc.) he will be able to become a good quarterback in this league. Unfortunately, he’s lost the team. Trade him if you can, or cut him loose, but the bottom line is he’s got to go.
Suggestion: If the Bills believe that one of the players they’ve identified as a "franchise" quarterback will be available when they pick, they need to take him. If not, free agency appears to be the bottom of the barrel. My concern is they will reach for a quarterback in the draft because the free agent class looks so bad. Pennington appears to be the best option in free agency, and the Bills could do worse. He provided leadership to that young Dolphins team, and perhaps he could do the same in Buffalo.
RB: The Bills have two starters in Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson. To those of you advocating trading Lynch (and at various times, I’ve been one of them), I just don’t see them doing it, nor would I advocate it. His trade value will never be lower and if he keeps his nose to the grindstone in the offseason with a new regime he could thrive. Jackson is a solid guy who does what needs to be done and is good in all aspects of the game. The difference between he and Lynch is that if Lynch gets his act together, he will be great. If there is a true blue competition to start and for playing time next year, I think these two will thrive.
Suggestion: Nothing. Much bigger needs than addressing RB3 for this team.
FB: If this teams seriously wants to use a true fullback in the offense, I would suggest an upgrade, but that’s about all the time I care to take on this position.
WR: Evans is here to stay. Beyond that, who knows? Will the Bills attempt to resign TO? I doubt it and don' t know if I would or if he is interested. Parrish needs to go b/c he doesn't want to be here any longer and we seem unable to trade him. So, what about next year? Can Hardy be a #2? What about Johnson? Is Jenkins anything more than a special teams guy? Do they resign Reed?
Suggestion: I understand that Fewell is coaching for a job, but Johnson and Hardy need to see the field a little as we near the end. If neither is a slot guy (and I don't think they are) why don't we move around Owens and Evans to put one of them on the outside a few snaps a game? I'd like to at least get a look. I think the team should see if they can resign Reed at a reasonable price. He's useful under the right circumstances as a slot guy in the least. Also, if Owens, Parrish and Reed are all gone, our WR core looks awfully green. I think the team needs to bring in a veteran guy to compete with the youngsters and keep their fingers crossed. I think this is a need that doesn't get addressed long-term this offseason, but next offseason instead.
TE: This all depends on Shawn Nelson. Can he become more dependable and polish up his game in the offseason? Will there be a quarterback willing to throw the ball down the middle of the field? Schoumann and Fine are acceptable backups, but let’s just hope neither is in the plans for the long-term starter at TE.
Suggestion: There are much bigger needs on the team than TE if Nelson turns into what many believe he can. It just takes a new QB and coaching staff to figure out how to use him, and an offseason of hard work on his part. I wouldn’t do anything with this position in the offseason. We don’t need another round (or later) TE on the roster and I wouldn’t take one any earlier than that.
O-Line: Where to begin? Penalties and Injuries have killed this unit, but even without injuries, they’ve been wildly inconsistent. Best case scenario: Butler and Wood are back and ready to go and healthy for a full season.
Suggestions: Go get a starting left tackle, whether in the draft or free agency. Then, the name of the game is building depth. If the team goes into the season with the poor O-line (and linebacker) depth they had coming into this season, it will be a horrible miscalculation and we will be having this same discussion next year.
D-Line: A quick glance appears to say that the Bills are fine at this position (at least for next year). Schobel is healthy, Kelsey has improved, and Williams and Stroud have been solid. Look a little closer, however, and it would appear that the Bills have a problem here. They have drafted Maybin, but after that, they don’t appear to have much depth behind an aging defensive line (Williams excluded). Also, the ends have appeared to be a part of the problem in the run defense. Whether this is scheme or the players, it needs to be addressed.
Suggestion: Bring in a veteran DE in free agency. A middle of the road kind of guy. Let him battle it out for the starting job with Kelsey and Maybin. Let Denney walk. He’s been pretty useless this season and unless they plan to fake 50 FGs next season, I don’t see him fitting in. They also need to build depth at DT. I shudder to think of what happens if Stroud or Williams goes down for an extended time. Oh, and get rid of McCargo.
Linebacker: Since these suggestions are just for this year and are being made with the idea that the Bills will remain in a 4-3, I ask you to keep that in mind. If Mitchell is healthy, it is obvious that he and Poz will be 2 of the 3 starters. Then what? It would seem that they don’t have another starting linebacker on the roster. Don’t get me wrong, I like what Draft has done (see below), but if he’s in the starting lineup in week 1 next season, the team had better hope that it is because of injury. Long-term, all three linebacker positions might have new starters (particularly if Poz doesn’t turn into a playmaker soon).
Suggestion: Re-sign Draft (I believe he’s a FA after the season). He’s solid if unspectacular. He’s a good depth guy and if he has to come in b/c of an injury, I wouldn’t be upset. Cut Ellison. Perhaps he’s improved. Perhaps I’m being to hard on him. But, on too many big running plays he either: runs right by, or is swallowed up by an O-lineman. If the Bills do not get a franchise QB in round 1, they should get an OLB. LBs can make a difference right away. They also need to look at depth behind Poz at MLB.
CB: McGee, McKelvin, Florence. The top three appears pretty solid. If they cannot find a CB 4 out of Youbouty, Lankster, or Corner, then WHY HAVE WE BEEN DRAFTING ALL OF THESE CORNERS!!! If they can, well then, carry on.
Suggestion: Don’t do anything!
Safety: Whitner, Wilson, Byrd, Scott. They appear set here (at least for one season). As much as I would like them to replace Whitner, there are much bigger needs heading into the offseason.
Suggestion: Do nothing for next season, and then look for a playmaking SS the following offseason.
Punter: Not even going to bother.
Kick returner: McKelvin should be fine here.
Punt returner: I’d like McKelvin to get a shot here as well. Cut Parish. Perhaps he’ll find that it wasn’t just the coaching staff causing him to be a mediocre (at best) receiver. If they don’t think McKelvin is the answer, they should draft someone in the later rounds who would just fill a returner role.