Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey has told his players heading into a Week 17 finale with the New York Jets that they're all playing for their jobs. While that's a nice motivational tactic and probably technically true, let's face facts: there are plenty of players on this team whose jobs are very safe.
But there are plenty of veteran players that have had their moments - and their struggles - in the first year of the Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey era. The season finale against New York represents one last opportunity for those players to get good material on film heading into the off-season; should they fail to do so, it could create a butterfly effect of sorts on how the Bills attack their weaknesses over the spring months.
Marcus Stroud, defensive end. Allen Wilson has a nice piece up about Stroud's future in Buffalo at the Buffalo News. Stroud has been rather anonymous for the Bills this season, with his big plays few and far between, but not sticking out like a sore thumb in a negative way, either. Buffalo is clearly going to try to get better defending the run this spring, and with younger, higher-upside players already on the roster - and more likely to join - Stroud has one game left to prove that he's worth keeping around for another of the two years remaining on his lucrative contract.
Paul Posluszny, inside linebacker. With his rookie contract set to expire, Posluszny has had a solid season for the Bills, setting career highs with 139 tackles and two sacks. He has, however, been a rather massive liability in coverage from time to time, giving up several huge plays to opposing tight ends this year. Still, he's only 26 years old, and word is that the Bills would like to keep him around. What capacity they'd like to do so remains the big question.
Terrence McGee, cornerback. To say that it's been a rough year for McGee would be a big understatement. He's only appeared in eight games this season, having required surgery to repair a nerve problem in his back, and is nothing more than a sub-package corner at this point in time, as he's been getting a lot of work covering kicks for the Bills. McGee signed a five-year, $27 million contract extension in September of 2009, and is under contract - at fairly significant salary levels - through the close of the 2013 season. With Leodis McKelvin struggling and Drayton Florence set to become an unrestricted free agent, McGee might be the biggest wild card at cornerback for the Bills this off-season.
Erik Pears, right tackle. Gailey has been searching for a competent right tackle all season, having played Cornell Green, Cordaro Howard and Mansfield Wrotto on the edge at various points this year. Now he's working in Pears, a street free agent signed just weeks ago who split reps with Wrotto at the position last week. Pears is in line to get the start against the Jets, and a strong showing could influence the degree to which Nix and Gailey feel they must address their offensive line this spring.
Akin Ayodele, inside linebacker. Looking at things objectively, inside linebacker seems the most likely position to be overhauled for Buffalo, as Posluszny, Ayodele and Keith Ellison are all set to hit free agency, while Andra Davis is a year away from that himself while recovering from a torn labrum in his shoulder. Linebacker play has been brutal for the Bills this year, but Ayodele, to his credit, has had his moments. He's racked up 93 tackles this season - a personal high since he played in Jacksonville in 2004 - and has been steady, if rather unspectacular. Like Stroud, he's got one more game to prove that he can be part of the Bills' efforts to shore up their run defense going forward.
There are plenty of names, of course, that can be added to this list. If you've got a player in mind, make your case in the comments section.