I started writing this about 7 weeks ago but just couldn't find the passion to finish it after the complete letdown the 2008 season was for me personally. The complete free-fall from a 5-1 start to 7-9 is almost impossible to fathom let alone witness. I needed 2 months to digest it all, recover, and now with FA just a day away I am ready to unload some thoughts.
Since the announcement from Ralph Wilson that he was indeed retaining Dick Jauron, and having some time to really sit back and evaluate the 2009 season, the roster, and where I am as a fan, I have come to what I hope/think will be some interesting reading for some of you who dare to take the time to read all what I'm going to lay out before you. There is no method to my madness, however hopefully you will find my thoughts interestinga and thought provoking to at least lead to some more discussion. Let me say this before I start. The last 5 years through blogging, reading Bills books, NFL books, following profootballtalk.com and many other webistes religiously, logging on here daily, and reading everything and anything I could ever get my hands on regarding the Bills and the NFL in general, has led me to feel like I have a Master's in everything the Bills & NFL. I'm a long ways from getting my PhD, but i feel its inevitable as I'm addicted to the Bills, NFL and yearning to see the Bills be successful once again and win a Super Bowl. I'm consumed by it. It runs my life for 22 weeks during the season and playoffs, and all off-season as well. I love it. Now let's get my ramblings:
First once again look at Ralph Wilson's quotes and statement on why to retain Dick Jauron:
"It is well known that I share many of the fans’ dissatisfaction with our offensive game management. That being said, I believe that this team, at this time, is better served by continuity in the coaching staff rather than a disruptive overhaul. The team played hard all year long and there are many positives to build on. This is not to say that we will be complacent. In my discussions with Dick and our senior football people the issues are recognized and I am confident they will be addressed."
"I believe in the last few years we have gotten close personnel wise and look forward to another strong draft, more assertive veteran leadership and continued improvement from our young quarterback."
This was the big bomb dropped on Bills Nation on December 30th, 2008. Amazingly, almost 90% of Bills fan polled on this website and the Buffalo News wanted Dick Jauron canned. I had backed him up to this point, but finally on the 29th, wrote this story detailing why I think Dick Jauron should have been fired. I was even convinced there might be a mutiny because the disdain for the man echoed by many people on this very site, led me to believe the pressure the Front Office was hearing was so great that they had to fire him. Shows what kind of person I am, I can hardly handle the heat and I'm just a fan of the coaching staff, not even on it! Imagine the backbone these men must have to stomach the criticism and stay true to their philosophical beliefs on how to build an NFL football team.
Game day decisions, time outs, too stoic of a personality, etc, etc have been grossly magnified about Dick Jauron due to his 21-27 record as Bills Head Coach. It is the nature of this business. But, most, if not all of these things would be forgotten if Trent Edwards or JP Losman before him, would have played at a level on par with Phillip Rivers, Big Ben, or Eli Manning of that 2004 draft class, or a handful of other NFL signal callers. Our offense has been putrid in Dick Jauron's tenure, and no matter how big our OL is, or how much beast mode Lynch has, or how fast Lee Evans is, none of it matters if the QB cannot scare opposing defenses.
Ralph and the "inner circle" didn't fire DJ and company. Now, nearly two months have passed, the Super Bowl is over, teams are releasing cap casualties, and finally we are here on the brink of FREE AGENCY and another 8 weeks to the NFL Draft. Thankfully. It's been a wicked 9 years as a fan of the Bills organization. They say the past is usually a good predicator of the future. Let's just take a quick look back at some things that I think tell the story of why the Bills are where they are now and then I'll dive into my thoughts on these events have shaped how the Bills have gotten to where they are now.
January 8th, 2000 - Bills lose to Tennessee 22-16 on the infamous "Music City Miracle" Play
January 2001 - Tom Donahoe hired as GM to replace John Butler (during Butler's 10 years as a personnel director and GM the Bills held a 140-83 spanning 1987-2000)
January 4th 2006 - Bills announce the firing of Tom Donahoe
January 5th, 2006 - Bills announce hiring of Marv Levy as GM
December 30th, 2007 - Marve Levy Retires from Bills, Bills do not name successor GM but promote Russ Brandon to COO
December 30th, 2008 - Owner Ralph Wilson releases statement that Dick Jauron will come back for a 4th season after accruing a 21-27 record in 3 years as the Buffalo Bills Head Coach
There is no doubt that this organization lost so much when John Butler left the Bills to go to San Diego after the 2000 season and the loss to the Titans in that playoff game. The Titans ended up representing the AFC in the Super Bowl, in 2001 the Bills tanked going 3-13. This article from Don Banks does a great job summarizing Butler's surprising firing if you want to take a trip back in time. From this point forward the Bills have not coincidentally missed the playoffs nine straight seasons. I want to just highlight notable players the Bills have drafted since then to give you an idea of what talent we were and weren't plucking out of the draft with Donahoe and the new regime of 2 years of Levy and 1+ years of "inner circle."
2001 - Nate Clements, Aaron Schobel, Travis Henry
2002 - Mike Williams, Josh Reed, Ryan Denney, Coy Wire
2003 - Willis McGahee, Chris Kelsay, Angelo Crowell, Terrence McGee,
2004 - Lee Evans, Losman, Tim Anderson
2005 - Roscoe Parrish, Kevin Everett, Duke Preston (draft for the ages)
2006 - Whitner, McCargo, Youboty, Simpson, Kyle Williams, Brad Butler, Keith Ellison,
2007 - Lynch, Posluszny, Edwards
2008 - McKelvin, Hardy, Ellis, Corner, Fine, Bowen, Omon, Bell
As you all well know the #4 pick in 2002 of Mike Williams really set this franchise back. Anytime you miss on a top 5 pick it is a huge blow to a franchise. Then when you try and draft the QB of the future in 2004 and give up draft picks to do it you severely set your franchise back even further. QB is the story in the NFL. We all know it. In Buffalo we've been searching for a winner at QB ever since Mr. Jim Kelly retired. Since Donahoe's firing in Jan of 2006 and the "new regime" taking over, we have had solid drafts but yet to have much what wonks call "elite" talent. That remains to be seen as Lynch, Edwards and McKelvin all look to have great careers ahead of them. However, by looking back at the history we can clearly see what happened to this franchise. Tom Donahoe tried to spend money on FA's, make some trades (Drew Bledsoe) and build a winner. He built a heck of a defense and with Wade Phillips and Greg Williams as coaches the Bills had a few top 5 defenses. However, the search for a franchise QB eluded Donahoe, and his attempt in 2004 failed. Incidentally, if the Bills had stood firm and just drafted Evans at 13 in 2004, and kept their 2nd round pick, they would have been one spot ahead of Indy and could have drafted Safety Bob Sanders. But that is neither here nor there. We can play that "who could they have drafted" game every year and it doesn't solve any issues.
Since 2006, this franchise I believe has been on the right track. We have made shrewd moves, trading McGahee, trading for Stroud, drafting core players such as Lynch, Edwards, McKelvin, Pozluszny, Kyle Williams, Brad Butler, and Derek Fine. The talent is not perfect by any stretch but the regime has built a solid Offensive Line, drafted a stud RB, developed Fred Jackson/Jason Peters on offense, and last improved the defense from the bottom of the NFL to the middle, and all the while Bobby April has continued to do his thing leading the best Special Teams units in the NFL.
At the end of the day, Trent Edwards is where this regime has pinned its hopes and dreams on. They found him, sitting there, in the 3rd round of the 2007 draft, and when he came into camp, every coach raised his eyebrow a bit at how good this kid was. He has unbelievable pedigree. A blue chip prospect out of CA, a solid arm, good intangibles, great accuracy, and a tough SOB. While areas of concern will continue to linger every year, this year it happens to be DE, TE, and LB. It will always seem like there are more holes to fill than possible, if Edwards does not step up his game to a level that raises this entire Bills team. Dick Jauron is not just well liked, he is well respected amongst the finest coaches in the NFL. However, he has never had a great offensive attack, and he has pinned his hopes on #5 as he is a man that I believe Dick sees some of himself in. Character, work ethic, perseverance, dedication and a drive to succeed no matter what the circumstances.
This football team needs playmakers. Perry Fewell mentioned it on defense, and offensively we need one more big time weapon, that with the hoped development of Trent, will lead this Bills team to a playoff berth for the first time in a decade. I see Trent as a guy who can make enough plays, but he needs a full arsenal of weapons to do it. Evans, Reed, and Royal scare no one. Ive watched every snap last year and every stinkn game Evans was doubled over the top. WE HAVE TO HAVE a guy that can exploit the other side. It's mandatory. It simply is. FA gets everyone excited because big names are out there, and people are looking for the quick fix. I don't see it that way. The way you build your team is by finding 3 starters an off-season and continual development of players from within. If I'm the Bills here are must moves this off-season
1) Trade for Owen Daniels, or draft one of the top 5 TE's: Pettigrew, Nelson, Ingram, Coffman, or Casey, or get a playmaking WR. I don't care how you do it, but get an IMPACT player at a SKILL position on OFFENSE PLEASE! Please. I can't stress this enough. I think it's the single most important thing this off-season. Come away with a playmaker. We cannot rely on Reed, Johnson, Parrish, Fine or Schouman as the huge drop-off after Evans.
2) Draft a front 7 DEF player at #11....I prefer a LB as Mitchell and Poz need help to stabilize that LB corps....solidifying the LB corps, allows Mitchell to blitz more frequently and would all the rookie LB to play in space and use that youthful speed to cover and rush off the edge.
3) Sign a vet QB like Huard, Grossman
4) Look at improving that back end. Whitner/Scott is not acceptable. Donte is not what the Bills wanted him to be. If the value is there in round 2-4 take one. If Dawkins, Sharper or another vet FA is available bring him in to improve that back end and bring the veteran experience we need. A reason why trading out of #11 to get a LB and a S or C is a prospective thought
5) please, cut Royal, and don't make me see Fowler again.
Honestly, I don't want or demand much this off-season. Spending outrageously is not going to do this team any good. Overpriced FA's largely don't work out, and I want the future of this team financially to be bright. Plugging in holes with mid-low priced FA's, going after possibly 1 big financial commitment: Laverneus Coles or TJ Housmanzadeh anyone? This team has holes, but people need to be realistic and realize that no matter what happens, it all will come down to two men, the same two men who I and many others claimed it would come down to last year: Trent Edwards, Turk Schonert. Turk has to better communicate what he wants to do, and Trent has to own those ideas, take them to his own, and be able to execute those ideas flawlessly and effortlessly. He's not Big Ben, he doesn't by time, he needs to be a cerebral QB, and needs to work tirelessly with his WR's, TE's this off-season to become better than ever.
Free Agency is almost here. I am stoked. 5 full months from now, training camp will begin at St John Fisher, Bills greats Bruce Smith and Ralph C Wilson will be inducted into the HOF. The Bills will kick off the pre-season with the HOF game vs the Titans. The Bills celebrate their 50th season. Their coming off an abysmal collapse in 2008. 0-6 in their division was putrid. Picking in the top 12 of the draft....again. We've been in the bottom 1/3 of the NFL for this decade. And the take home lesson of this article, should be, QB, QB, QB. For all the faults of Tom Donahoe, Tom Modrak, Ralph Wilson, Marv Levy, Russ Brandon, Jon Guy, and everyone ele in the personnel and pro-personnel departments. Clearly they have made many mistakes.....but IF and its a big IF, but IF Trent Edwards shows us in 2009 that he can be a big time NFL QB, minimize his slumps and maximize the performance out of his weaponry, than all will be forgotten, because meaningful games in Orchard Park in December, is a feeling and an atmosphere that is unlike any other in all of sports.
To Modrak, DJ, Ralph, Russ, Guy, "inner circle." Go get us some players and improve this roster.....and let's go play in 2009!