20/20 Hindsight: Re-examining the Bills' 2006 off-season


TE Robert Royal joined the Bills in 2006 (photo source)

To say that the current front office regime of the Buffalo Bills has taken a lot of criticism over the past three-plus years is an understatement. The group - featuring GM Marv Levy (for two years), COO Russ Brandon (for two years), head coach Dick Jauron and VPs John Guy and Tom Modrak - has made several bold personnel decisions through four off-seasons of re-building, and the result has been three consecutive 7-9 seasons. When finger-pointing, most Bills' fans fingers - we'll leave you to speculate on which fingers are used - are pointing directly at this group.

As hindsight is 20/20, we thought it would be prudent to take a look back at the regime's initial off-season in Buffalo, transitioning between 2005's 5-11 group (led by GM Tom Donahoe and head coach Mike Mularkey) and the '06 Bills that would finish 7-9 under the leadership of Levy and Jauron. How did the Bills get there? More importantly, looking back three years later, do we perceive the season as one of progress or recession?

Here's how the 2006 off-season (with a bit of in-season dashed in) unfolded in Buffalo. Your homework? Tell us whether or not you like what happened.

+ Jauron chooses - then sticks with - QB J.P. Losman
When Jauron arrived in Buffalo, he inherited a murky quarterback situation. The 2005 Bills, behind Mularkey and his desperation to field a winner, split QB duties between Losman - a first-year starter - and veteran Kelly Holcomb. Jauron held an "open competition" during training camp for starting quarterback duties, but it quickly became apparent that Losman would beat out Holcomb - which, of course, he eventually did.

Far more importantly, Jauron stuck with Losman, even after the team started 2-5. Jauron's patience paid off a bit, as Losman would go on to enjoy his best season as a pro, finishing the season with an 84.9 quarterback rating, 3,051 yards passing, 19 TD and 14 INT. The Bills closed out the season 5-4, with a Christmas Eve loss to the Tennessee Titans permanently derailing their playoff hopes. Clearly, we all know how Losman's career finished in Buffalo, but Jauron gets a thumbs-up for this move - in the midst of re-building, he got a full year out of his inherited young quarterback, found out what he had in the asset, and nearly pulled a playoff appearance out of the decision.

+ The mid-season O-Line shuffle
Buffalo started the season 2-5; during their Week 8 bye, Jauron elected - rather boldly, I might add - to re-shuffle his offensive line. Mike Gandy moved from left tackle to left guard. Jason Peters flipped from right tackle to left tackle - a position at which he would earn two Pro Bowl berths in later seasons. Rookie seventh-round draft pick Terrance Pennington took over at right tackle; while starting C Melvin Fowler and RG Chris Villarrial (with Duke Preston as an injury fill-in) remained, Tutan Reyes found himself on the bench.

By all accounts, Buffalo's offense functioned better during a stretch that saw the team put up a 5-2 record to reach 7-7, on the cusp of the playoffs. The Bills improved their per-game scoring average to 22.2 points per game over their final nine games (5-4), as opposed to just 14.3 points during their 2-5 start. Again - a bold, in-season move by the Bills' coach that paid dividends.

There were some good moves made, clearly, but not all was peachy keen during '06 - the initial season for the current regime. Head on in past the jump for other important developments during the 2006 season.

+ Finding five rookie contributors in the Draft
In an off-season in which the team rid itself of some veteran roster fat (see below point), the Bills did well to find five rookies that were able to contribute positively in 2006. S Donte Whitner (Round 1), S Ko Simpson (Round 4), DT Kyle Williams (Round 5), LB Keith Ellison (Round 6) and OT Terrance Pennington (Round 7) all started games, with the first three on that list emerging as full-time starters. Three more players - DT John McCargo (Round 1), CB Ashton Youboty (Round 3) and OT Brad Butler (Round 5) have contributed as well, though the rookie season impact of each player was largely minimal.

+ Shedding veteran roster fat
The first thing Jauron and the current regime did upon arriving in Buffalo was get rid of overpriced and/or underachieving veterans. Household names such as WR Eric Moulds, OT Mike Williams, DT Sam Adams and safeties Troy Vincent and Lawyer Milloy were let go. TE Mark Campbell, OG Bennie Anderson, C Trey Teague and LB Jeff Posey joined them. The Bills didn't have salary cap issues at that point in time, but losing these players didn't exactly hurt them in the long run - not even Adams, a pretty good player in his heyday, was productive post-Buffalo (23 tackles and 2 sacks in his final two seasons).

- Weak free agent class
Perhaps the most frequently-referenced and noticeable downfall to this initial off-season was the lack of impact found in the free agent class. Take a look at the veteran players brought in:

RB Anthony Thomas
WR Peerless Price
WR Andre' Davis
TE Robert Royal
OG Tutan Reyes
C Melvin Fowler
DE Anthony Hargrove (trade)
DT Larry Tripplett
CB Kiwaukee Thomas
S Matt Bowen

Tripplett was the "big" signing of the group, yet he lasted just two unspectacular seasons in a Bills uniform. Royal became notorious for dropped passes and key fumbles. Fowler was a major flop as the starting center, eventually being replaced by the aforementioned Preston - who also is no longer with the team. Perhaps the best player of this group is Davis, a speedy wideout that saw little playing time offensively, signed with Houston in 2007 and promptly put up solid receiving numbers (33 receptions, 583 yards, 3 TD) while returning 3 kickoffs for touchdowns. The sad reality is that of the names on this list, only Royal and Fowler lasted more than two seasons in Buffalo, and neither is with the team any longer.

- Lack of big-play impact
This ties into the free agent group listed above, but also counts for the nine players the Bills drafted (all of whom have been mentioned aside from seventh-round OG Aaron Merz) - Buffalo was unable to find a single long-term impact player during this critical first off-season. Not even Whitner - widely considered one of the NFL's best young players at the safety position - nor other starters from the draft class (Williams and Butler) have earned the "difference-maker" label. Buffalo did well to find a few starters in this draft class - Williams and Butler in particular were excellent picks - but the overall lack of play making from their rookies and, more importantly, their free agents really hamstrung a young team playing behind a young quarterback. Which leads me to my last point...

- Where is the help for Losman?
Any time you're building around a young quarterback, you need to surround him with weapons. Maybe Jauron knew at that point in time that Losman wasn't really his guy; maybe he just wanted to address the defensive side of the ball first (his first five draft picks in Buffalo were defenders, after all). Either way, Trent Edwards wasn't in the picture at that point in time. Losman was the future then. We gave him three late-round rookie linemen, two journeyman veteran linemen (Fowler and Reyes), Peerless Price and Royal. Losman didn't even have a full season's worth of starts under his belt at that point in time; Lee Evans and Willis McGahee were effectively all he had offensively. The offense was productive at times, sure, but is it any surprise that teams eventually figured out that to stop the Bills, all you had to do was double-team Evans?

There's a lot to like about this initial off-season - in particular trimming veteran fat, getting a deep (if unspectacular) draft class, and committing themselves to one quarterback. Those were good moves; so was the mid-season re-structure of the offensive line. But the lack of impact from the rookie class and what many might consider one of the worst free agent classes in team history considerably weakens any positive that emerged from Year One of the Jauron regime in Buffalo.

The poll question is self-explanatory, and the comments section is open. Before you ask, the answer is yes - we'll be doing this for 2007, 2008 and even 2009 as well.

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