I'm finally getting around to writing my thoughts about the season that was, the current state of affairs, and what should (or could?) be an eventful off-season, along with some ideas for what should be a tame free agency period and VERY important draft. I've been wanting to throw my thoughts out there, but just haven't had that strong desire to do so, much like how most of us felt trying to root for our Bills this year. I did this last year, and it turned out being as long as a PhD dissertation. I didn't expect that going in, but I am expecting it going into this one. Think of this as my extra thick, corn-filled krytime style dump (t.m.i.). Be prepared for a long read if you have the time!
I know many of you label me a pessimist and maybe the most negative person on the site. I don't mean to come off that way, and I'm not normally like that. I like to call it how I see it, and what I've seen with the Bills has been mind-numbingly disgusting. They bring out the worst in me, what can I say?!? I had very little expectations going into the season and after a few weeks where it was business as usual with our Bills, I just couldn't get into the season as much as usual. I know there are a lot of others like that out there. To me, going in, this was going to be a wasted season. Once Dick Jauron returned, all hope I had vanished. I feel crappy knowing that that's how I viewed this past season, but I just didn't feel it this year. I hope that going forward I never feel this way again. I don't want to feel a disconnect with the Bills. I don't want to feel apathy towards losses. I don't want to feel nothing again. All I really want is to feel something towards the Bills again, something positive and exciting. I've lost that loving feeling, but it's not gone, gone, gooonneee whoa-ooh-ooooh. I just need it rekindled. We all need it rekindled. Bring us back some hope and joy, One Bills Drive!!!!
It's been a few weeks now, so the Buddy Nix hiring has finally settled in. I like what he's been a part of and what appears to be a strong track record of draft success. It's always tough to know what his role was with SD regarding players drafted, but I'll assume he had enough input with some of the studs they've brought in. That's encouraging. I'm fine with the guy we have now, but it's still unnerving the way Ralph tends to stick with guys he knows. We all were hoping for a young, fresh face from outside the organization, but we probably should have known better. Ralph was going to stick with someone he knew and had some relationship with. Ah well. I do have questions about Nix's age, not about how he'll fare, but how long he'll remain in the position. Just like with ownership, a GM succession plan wouldn't be such a bad idea. I don't really see any candidates currently in our front office to be tabbed as the future GM, so maybe it's time to hire someone from the outside in a prominent role in our front office under Nix. Would that mean Tom Modrak is out? I'd be ok with that if a quality guy was brought in. I do hope John Guy gets canned soon. I have a feeling he isn't going anywhere though...
I thought we saw some nice performances from a handful of players this year, but overall, individual performances were as disappointing as the team's performance. Obviously, injuries ravaged this team, but it was plain to see from the start that this team just wasn't talented enough to make a playoff push. We got to see a lot of young players get on the field, which was a good thing in the face of something bad. Many of our injuries were to mediore or useless players, but it did hurt losing guys like Leodis McKelvin, Eric Wood, Brad Butler, Demetrius Bell and Derek Schouman for much of the year, simply because it hurts their development in their roles. Those guys have a lot of work to do this off-season, both in getting healthy, but also in making up for the lost time of this season. McKelvin, in particular, really needs to work his tail off. And I still have to hope for the best with Wood. Who knows what lies ahead for him.
I'd like to give my thoughts on every player, but that is probably a little much. I'll stick to positional overviews, I guess....
QB: Trent Edwards answered the question of whether he was the long-term quarterback for the Bills. Unfortunately, it's not what we wanted. Being too hesitant and tentative with his passing absolutely crippled him this year and destroyed any confidence he might have had. He may actually be too broken to fix for any team, too. It's hard to envision a guy that plays like he does ever amounting into something more. I'd have to imagine his time in Buffalo is long done. Ryan Fitzpatrick was actually a surprise to me. He was mostly terrible, as expected, but there were some good moments too. He had a few solid games midseason and actually threw the ball very well in the snow against Indy. If the new coach wants to bring him back as the backup, I suppose I'll be ok with it. I think we need to do more than that at QB though. I don't expect much from Brian Brohm in the future, but maybe an offseason in Buffalo, working with the new offensive coordinator and staff will help him grow into something useful. I don't see anything more than being a career backup out of him, but he does have some talent. I hope he's brought back as the #3.
RB: Fred Jackson was excellent this year. His numbers would have been huge if he had been given the majority of the touches all year. For the Bills' future, it's probably good that he didn't see any more touches though. I wasn't sure if he could handle a full-time role for a long stretch, but he seemed to answer that for us. I expect him to enter the season as the starter next year, and he should be given every chance to be the every down back. Hope to see him used as a receiver more again next year, too. Marshawn Lynch may have been the biggest disappointment of the season. With this team, that's saying a lot. I'm not really down on his lack of production, but rather, how poor he looked on the field this year. He looked slow and unable to break the tackles he was running through in the past. Maybe he shouldn't have added weight in the offseason, maybe he never recovered from the month he missed. Either way, he was bad this year and was totally outplayed all season by Jackson. Where was the beast? He just looked like another guy out there, but there is hope he'll recover simply because of how young he is. I hope he comes into camp (assuming no trade or suspension) slimmer and in much better shape.
WR: Terrell Owens may have disappointed production-wise, but with the scrubs throwing him the ball this year, it's hard to totally be upset with him. Those drops he had the first half of the season were ridiculous (he finished tied for 4th most with 9 on the season) and he looked to quit on plays at various points in the season, but overall I was pretty okay with how he played. It was nice having a superstar personality on the team even if his skills are declining. I wish this team would have used him over the middle more, allowing him to run after the catch. We only saw a handful of passes thrown his way on crossing routes, which is a total misuse of his skills. It was pretty exciting every team he scored though, and I think he really enjoyed his time playing in front of Bills fans. For once, he looked humbled and appreciative.
Lee Evans really disappointed me though. What's up with this guy? He finished with just 44 catches and averaged a pathetic 38 yards per game, which is less than such luminaries as Davone Bess, Jabar Gaffney, Earl Bennett, Chaz Schilens and Brandon Gibson. I know the QB's did not help him one bit, but you know what? He didn't exactly help them out that much either. He'd catch a pass and immediately get wrapped up. He dropped some catchable passes this year. He just doesn't give his QB's a good target. There are a ton of crappy QB's in this league, yet you still see WR's stepping up. Lee Evans just never seems to do that, and he definitely doesn't do it consistently. For as overpaid as Aaron Schobel, Marcus Stroud and Chris Kelsay are, Lee Evans takes the cake (shout out to norcali).
It was disappointing not seeing James Hardy and Steve Johnson more than a few plays here and there this year. I was really looking forward to seeing if either of them could be a quality player for us for the next few years. I guess we'll have to wait to find out. I really wish Perry Fewell had gotten them snaps, but it's understandable because he was just trying to win games. Tough situation. I hope both of them put in good off-seasons and really take a huge leap as they enter their 3rd years. It's now or never for them.
Josh Reed...meh. I've defended him in the past and I definitely don't think he played poorly this year, but it may finally be time to move on. His contract is up, and I'd rather go young at the position. Slot receivers aren't always difficult to find. Let's find some speed in the draft and let Reed move on. If he's brought back, I understand and wouldn't be upset, but I'd make a change if I was in charge.
Roscoe Parrish...peace out! With crappier blocking in front of him this season, his punt return ability appeared to disappear. I think he was aided by good blocking and quality return schemes in years past. With all the turnover, injuries and new guys on the special teams units, his play and production suffered. I hope they continue to try trading him, but right now, it's a little too pricey to keep a mediocre punt returner around at his price tag. That new, quick slot receiver mentioned in my Reed blurb above would be great if he also returned punts!
TE: Derek Schouman looked solid until he busted his ankle. I hope he's brought back as a rotational guy. Derek Fine does nothing for me anymore. I don't see him on the team next year. Shawn Nelson has a bright future and really showed some nice flashes this year. I love his potential to make plays down the middle of the field. His body control on some catches was great and I really hope the new staff utilizes his mismatch potential against slower LB's or smaller DB's. Jermichael Finley should be the blueprint for how Nelson is used going forward. I just hope we have someone to get him the ball.
OL: Ugh. What a mess. Obviously, injuries decimated this unit and ruined whatever success they were going to have this year. I like what I saw out of the two rookies, but both have a lot of growing to do. Assuming Wood fully recovers, I really like the future with him and Levitre, especially if he moves over to Center. I wasn't impressed with Geoff Hangartner, but it was hard to expect much more out of him. He was solid much of the time, but did struggle at times. He's probably better as the 4th interior lineman. I don't know what to think about Richie Incognito as a player. He's got talent and ability, but what a frustrating fatso. For every good block he makes, he seems to get a holding penalty. He didn't even get a personal foul penalty here, so he much be even more frustrating when that's involved. I do hope he's brought back though. With an off-season working with this offense, instead of just a few weeks, I think he can become a solid player for us. He can fight for a starting job, or at worst, become a very good backup Guard. It'd be dumb not to tender him, IMO.
I really wish Brad Butler hadn't gotten hurt. I really liked his potential at RT. A big, mean, strong run blocking player over there is exactly what this team needed. It's too bad he suffered such a tough injury, too, because it'd be nice to know if he could really handle that position. If healthy, I'd like to see him back at RT next year, or maybe even back at RG. I think he's a very good player and should be in the starting lineup when healthy. I wasn't really impressed with Bell when he was healthy. He was weak and just not good enough to play LT. Maybe in time, he'll be able to handle the position, but I really don't want to see him in the starting lineup any time soon. The role as the swing tackle seems to fit him better. Johnathan Scott and Jamon Meredith really don't do much for me. I'd like to see Meredith brought back next year because him and Bell both have solid potential. With more time and coaching, he could become a good player. He has talent. Kirk Chambers, nice knowing ya.
DL: Great season Kyle Williams. I was really impressed with him this year. He'll never be a dominant player or one to build a DL around, but he is just so solid. He can still be overwhelmed at the point of attack, but if he can slip initial contact, he is tough to stop. If only he had a better player next to him....Marcus Stroud looks totally washed up to me. Did he make any plays this year? Besides having terrible LB's, I think Stroud was the biggest reason our run defense stunk this year. Spencer Johnson had some decent moments and he should be a key cog in the DT rotation next year. If we end up switching to a 3-4, his role could really expand. John McCargo may be done as an NFL player. I'm sure he'll get another shot, either with the new staff here or in someone else's camp next year, but he really never showed any improvement. Yet another one of Marv's poor draft picks...
Even though I don't think he was that impressive, I have to hand it to Aaron Schobel for producing solid numbers again. I didn't think he could ever get more than 6-7 sacks again, so I was happy to be proven wrong. I hope he doesn't retire because he still has some good football in him, but I do understand his frustration with having never made the playoffs and the unlikeliness that he'll make it as a Bill. If I were Nix, I'd inquire about trading him. Find out if he's willing to play elsewhere, and what the market might be. I don't expect him to play more than another season in Buffalo, so getting something for him now makes a ton of sense. I know a lot of people want to say Chris Kelsay played pretty well this year, but I'm not going to go there. You all know my disdain for him, but I still don't think he did anything worthwhile this year. Sure, he played better this year and put up better numbers, but remember where he was coming from? He played well enough where I'll leave him alone, but I still don't think he should be around next year. He probably will be because what else do we have? I hope Chris Ellis gets a chance next year. He has talent, and maybe he'll finally put it together. He can't be much worse than what we've seen for years.
Aaron Maybin has been talked about enough. I just wish he had shown flashes of becoming a contributor even. Luckily, he's still very young, and obviously raw. This off-season is Billy Fucillo yyuuuugggeee for him, so I hope he's ready. He needs to work on strength, speed and agility, and developing some pass rush moves. That weak crap he tried this year just won't cut it.
LB: I'm going to give credit to Poz. I thought he stepped up his play over the second half of the season. I still think he needs to be a secondary player in that unit, but he's a solid player that will be a starter next year. He finally started making some plays this year, but still has to find a way to shed some blocks and become a more consistent linebacker. He needs more help around him, that's for sure. I respect the hell out of him for how hard he plays and how he always brings it. The rest of the unit is terrible and needs to be replaced. If Kawika Mitchell can get healthy, I'm okay with him returning to the starting lineup, although he has to play a lot better than he has. If those are the only two that are back next year, I'm fine with it.
DB: Jairus Byrd, congrats. I'm happy to see you prove myself and pretty much every other Bills fan wrong. You were a good pick. He has an incredible nose for the ball, and that's something all the top free safeties have. In order for him to reach that level, he really needs to improve his tackling, recognition, run support and just overall make quicker decisions. His lack of athleticism is concerning, but he can overcome that by playing smart football and really improving in run support. I think he can really improve, but does have a limited ceiling. I still don't really have anything good to say about Donte Whitner. He's just another guy playing safety. There's nothing special about him and he was probably our 4th best safety this year. Guy still doesn't make plays. Bryan Scott is a solid veteran and really proved his worth moving from safety to LB for us this year. I like what he brings to the table, but as a free agent, it wouldn't be upsetting seeing him leave. I hope he's brought back because he's a solid player and can play special teams. I was thoroughly surprised by George Wilson this year. He was pretty damn good supporting the run this year, something he had never shown in year's past. He has really become a solid all-around player, and it's a credit to his hard work that he's gotten this far. He's another guy limited physically, but is smart and tough. I love having football players like that on my team, so I hope he's brought back. It's tough to envision a Byrd/Wilson duo, simply because of athleticism concerns, but rotating all these guys again next year wouldn't be such a bad thing. I'm a big fan of Wilson's leadership, and was impressed with how well he played coming up to make plays against the run this year. I know he didn't, but it sure seemed like made more tackles in the backfield that anyone (He actually only had 4).
Even though the CB's didn't seem to play that well this year, they weren't really picked on a whole lot, other than good old Reggie Corner. McKelvin was pretty bad when he played, but Terrence McGee and Drayton Florence were as solid as expected. I think that's our starting duo next year, unless Leo really comes on. This is a solid unit.
Brian Moorman was very good this year, even though he was a shankopotamus more than usual. He had his best overall season, and that's really something considering how well he's played for us over the years. Rian Lindell was his typical self. Consistent for the season, but seemingly shaky at times. We've seen a ton of terrible kicking this year in the NFL, so it's good to have a pretty decent one. The return units stunk this year, but I think that's mostly because of how much turnover we saw with these units. It's tough to have strong return teams when players are constantly shifting in and out of the lineup.
Wow, that was a bunch of rambling and useless player thoughts....
As for the coaching search, I don't think I have a preference. What I really want is for Nix and Brandon to really do their due diligence and make sure they interview a number of qualified candidates. If it ends up being a Brian Schottenheimer or whoever, fine I guess. I just hope we get a guy who can take control of the locker room and really change the culture of losing we have. No more complacency and lack of toughness. I want a guy who will instill a great deal of toughness and find a way to develop a quality offense. I just don't know who that is.
This team has so many player needs that it's difficult to imagine them even filling half this year. The biggest question marks are obvious....quarterback, tackle, defensive end and linebacker. We absolutely have to find a long term solution at at least one of those positions this off-season, and hopefully two more more. Beyond those super-obvious positions, we probably need a starting WR, maybe a G/C depending on the healthy of Wood, potentially another DE depending on Schobel's status, probably another starting LB and depth at DT and LB......at the very least.
Besides specific player needs, I really think this team needs to add speed. The offense doesn't have a whole lot of speed outside of Evans. I'd love to have a running back with the ability to break some big plays. On defense, our linebackers could really use some speed and size. The defensive line needs some size as well.
Many of you hope the Bills will sign such and such free agents, but that just isn't realistic. With the lack of a CBA, there will be far fewer quality free agents available than usual. What's going to be out there is guys who are 6+ year veterans, meaning they are roughly 27-28 years old or more. I'm not sure how many of these types of players the Bills should be bringing in as they need to rebuild. I'm sure we'll bring in a couple of Drayton Florence or Spencer Johnson type guys, but that's it. Mostly because there won't be that many top FA's available. This team can't be throwing draft picks at restricted free agents like Malcolm Floyd or Derrick Johnson or Jared Gaither or whomever. Any restricted free agent that's worth anything will be tendered with a 2nd round pick or higher. Unless the Bills feel they are getting a player to build around, they can't be getting involved with these players. A team like New England with a handful of 2nd rounders could be pretty active in restricted free agency.
I really want to name a bunch of players I hope the Bills can sign, but I really don't think they'll be all that active unless they switch to a 3-4. I think they could be active in the trade market though. There are a number of players on the Bills who could be traded this offseason, including Lynch, Schobel and even Whitner and Evans. With what needs to be a total rebuilding effort by Nix, I wouldn't be opposed to trading anyone. I don't know how much value some of these guys have, but I hope Nix is open to making any trades to help this team. That also includes going after players from other teams. People talk about Derrick Johnson all the time, and I really think he could be a good player in a 4-3 defense. If we could somehow get him for a later round pick, I'd definitely look into that. Remember though, he's a restricted free agent and would need to be signed to a new deal if acquired. I think the team should look to the trade market for a QB. It's unlikely they'll find anyone that would be the long term solution, but a short term solution might be available. Troy Smith is a possibility. Michael Vick is definitely a possibility. Charlie Whitehurst was mentioned earlier, but I don't think he'd help much. Anyone else? With free agent QB pickings so slim, the Bills might need to get creative.
There are some free agents that I think the Bills should look at, even though I don't expect much movement:
Larry Foote: Foote would be a nice veteran presence, with scheme versatility. Many people want Poz on the outside, so with Foote in the fold, that would probably happen. Foote is also intriguing if a switch to the 3-4 is made.
Matt Light (if released): I really like the idea of a veteran stopgap at LT, especially if we don't take a tackle #9 overall. Light would be a decent stopgap for us. His team Nick Kaczur could also be an option if the Bills want to add a veteran RT.
Chester Taylor, Willie Parker, veteran to be released later: If Lynch does get traded or even cut outright, the team needs to add a veteran presence behind Jackson, IMO. I really like Chester Taylor as a player, as he does everything well enough.
Terrell Owens: I really do want to bring him back. I know it's probably unlikely, and TO probably would rather try his luck elsewhere. With his former college coach (Buddy Nix) calling the shots here, I wonder if he'd be open to returning? If not TO, we probably do need to add a veteran receiver unless Hardy and Johnson are to be counted on. Antonio Bryant would be my preference, but that's pretty unlikely. Chris Chambers has been mentioned in the past, but I'm not a huge fan. I could see the appeal though. Kevin Walter might be an option too.
If Schobel retires and Kelsay is dumped, along with Denney not being re-signed, there will need to be at least one and probably two, veteran DE's brought in. There's not a whole lot available though. Guys like Adewale Ogunleye, Derrick Burgess, Chike Okeafor or Leonard Little could be options. It's tough to figure out where this position will be in a few months.
There are so many questions about the current roster right now. Will it be scrubbed? Will most of these guys remain? Will anybody be re-signed? What schemes will we run? It's tough to make any suggestions or concrete thoughts in this area with all these questions!!!
Usually by now, I'll have a mock draft in mind. This year....not so much. I haven't really gotten into draft mode yet simply because of the coaching search and the bad taste in my mouth from this wasted season. With so many needs, I don't even know which positions I hope we consider in the 1st. I think an OT is probably the best course of action, unless our DE position is drained with defections. With all that said, I'm still giving it a go, with the assumption we're still running a 4-3....
1st: Anthony Davis, Rutgers, or Bryan Bulaga, Iowa - OT. I expect Jimmy Clausen and Sam Bradford to be off the board. If either are available, I wouldn't be opposed to the pick. I really think we need to address our tackle woes. Davis is probably the most athletic OT in the draft, and despite weight issues throughout his career, he looks like a very good prospect. Bulaga is somewhat limited athletically and is probably more of a top 25 guys instead of a top 10 guy, but I think we need a stud run blocker and more toughness. He'd bring that.
2nd: Brandon Spikes, MLB, Florida. A lot of people have Spikes in the first round, and I don't necessarily disagree. He has a somewhat down senior season and MLB's have dropped in recent drafts. I think he could definitely be there in round 2. With this pick, Poz moves outside. I want to add more size and athleticism to our LB unit, and Spikes will do that.
3rd: Austen Lane, DE, Murray State. This guy has a ton of potential. He has great size at 6'6", 260. It's unlikely he'll contribute right away, but the upside is definitely there (where have we heard that before?).
4th: John Skelton, QB, Fordham. This is another small school kid with plenty of upside. Has a good arm and great size. I want to see some film on him and am really interested in how he performs in the Senior Bowl and pre-draft process. I don't know a whole lot about him, but want to soon.
5th: Torrell Troup, DT Central Florida. I think this defense really needs to add a true space eater at DT. Troup isn't huge, but he's bigger than anybody we have now. We need SIZE on our DL and someone to help spell Stroud and Williams. This guy was doubled all year, but still played pretty well. I wouldn't be surprised if he moved up, like Terrence Knighton last year.
6th: Kavell Connor, LB, Clemson. Linebacker depth is a huge need.
6th: Erik Cook, C, New Mexico. We need depth at Center if Wood isn't moved. Even if he is, interior depth is never a bad thing.
7th: Kyle Williams, WR, Arizona State. Williams is a good punt returner and could develop into a solid slot option. He had a pretty nice season as a receiver this year (57 for 815, 8 TD's).
7th: LaMarcus Coker, RB, Hampton. The former Tennessee RB, who had issues there, is one of the faster RB's in the draft. I really want this team to find a RB with some speed and big play ability. Coker is worth a shot here, despite the baggage.
I'm sure there will be plenty of changes to that over the next few months.
That's about it. This ended up even longer than I expected. Oh well. I'm looking forward to the off-season, because that's our Super Bowl. I'm really hoping, and praying, that Buddy Nix is the guy that will finally get this team out of the abyss. It's hard to expect any team with Ralph Wilson's influence having any success any time soon, but there is always hope. Maybe we'll find the QB we've been looking for for 13 years. Maybe we'll finally solidify the OL. Maybe we'll finally field an offense that doesn't make me want to squeeze lemon juice in my eyes. Maybe we'll finally have some coordinators, especially on offense, that aren't complete bozos. As always, we have to hope for the best even though we're expecting the worst.