In this second article looking at the Future of the Bills, I will examine the Offense and where we might see changes this year.
The third and final article will draw together my thoughts and indicate what I think the Draft and free agency intentions may look like.
I’ll make clear now my thoughts on the Bills Offense: I don’t think it needs the level of personnel changes that a move to a 3-4 Defense will see on that side of the ball. I actually feel that the offense has talent in key positions and can be more productive if they have the right game planning and scheme in place. If there’s one thing Gailey will change early on it will be the Offense and I expect a much more productive unit next year with minimal personnel changes.
Now let’s take each area of the Offense in turn to have a look at what we’ve got on the roster and where we need change. I’ll run through Quarterbacks, Offensive Line, Running Backs and Receivers in turn starting at the single most important position on the Bills to sort out.
Clearly, this is the single most important position for Gailey and Nix to sort out. Were the season to start tomorrow, my feeling is Ryan Fitzpatrick would be the starter. That’s a scary situation to be in and one that cannot be allowed to materialise.
Now let’s have a look at what each current QB offers us.
Trent showed poise and purpose in his early starts for the Bills and garnered some attention as a good prospect for the future. He seemed to have the most upside of any QB we’ve had in quite some time. This year should have been his breakout year, hence the reason for TO’s signing during last offseason and we all had high hopes for the kind of year and career he could have as the face of the franchise.
However, the front office and coaching staff dropped the ball. Our solid draft last year brought in Levitre and Wood for the offensive line to link in with Hangartner as our new starting Center. The outlook was bright as our interior was now pretty solid.
However, the Bills also traded their Pro Bowl LT Jason Peters and failed to select his replacement in the draft, despite a chance to do so at our draft slot. We also failed to bring in any seasoned vets to play this important position protecting Trent’s blindside and instead relied upon Langston Walker being able to fulfil the role, with Brad Butler manning his former position at RT and Bell/Chambers providing cover.
Just days before the new season began, we had the embarrassing fall out between OC Turk Schonert and Dick Jauron which led to Turk leaving the team. Alex van Pelt, a woefully inexperienced coach, was all too rapidly promoted into the OC role.
The Offensive Line woes started once Walker showed he couldn’t handle the LT position and was cut. We entered the season with our LT position manned by a mixture of inexperienced project players and we later lost Brad Butler to injury too. The interior of the line did its best in the running game and in pass protection, showing what could have been whilst both tackle positions saw a mixture of poor play and inexperience to undercut the efforts of Wood, Levitre and Hangartner.
With that said, I will nail my colours to the mast: All of this left Edwards in an impossible position which meant he could never have hoped to realise the potential of what could have been. His confidence was smashed by the holes in the line and some key drops by key players. His decision making suffered, and he became afraid to try for the long ball or hit open receivers which meant that our collective confidence in him (and that of the coaches) was also smashed.
It is my honest perception that we still have something in Trent and that he cannot yet be completely counted out from discussions over our starter at the position. I think Gailey and Nix will be trying to ascertain whether his playing confidence can be rebuilt and whether he can come back stronger from the hellish year he’s just experienced. If it can, then he deserves another shot. If it can’t, then we must cut ties and move on.
Fitzpatrick did what was expected and managed to give the team a lift when he took over from Edwards under Fewell. He opened out the passing game and made some use of TO and Evans downfield. However, in my opinion Fitzpatrick is nothing more than a career backup and whilst I feel he will stay on the roster for next season, I do not want the Bills to enter next season with him under center.
Brohm is an enigma. A highly touted prospect when he left college, he fell in the draft and didn’t take long to convince the Packers that he was not worth keeping around.
He didn’t play badly in his one start for the Bills last season, but he didn’t flash any great potential either. In my view, he’s a project player that needs work and I think the chances of him staying on the roster into next season are 50-50. If Gailey and Nix use an early draft pick on the future starter at the position (or trade for one) then I think he could stick around as the 3rd Stringer, as a work in progress. If the Bills take a project player late in the draft (a second day choice) then I think that is a sign that they don’t see anything worth keeping in Brohm.
Hamdan will be gone. He has no chance of sticking around as he offers the team nothing going forward.
Looking at the state of the Bills at this position, I feel that they need to bring in two players this season at this position: a competent starting QB and possibly a project player to compete with Brohm for this place on the roster.
I feel that the Bills could do a lot worse than trying to sign Chad Pennington this offseason. He’s a good starting QB in this league who is also very familiar with our division having played his whole career in it. He’s an accurate passer with good decision making ability and those that criticise his arm strength should remember that he played for the Jets in the swirling Meadowlands winds. He has enough to make the plays. I think of him as a one to two year stopgap player to allow our future at the position to sit and learn behind him. He could mentor them and I think he would offer us a fighting chance on Offense of putting points on the board.
By way of project player, I mean that I want the Bills to draft a player who can sit and learn and not be forced into action too early in their career with the Bills (as perhaps happened with Edwards). We need a good decision maker with a very strong arm and preferably experience of playing in poor weather. This player could sit behind Pennington and await their opportunity whilst learning Gailey’s offense.
Other options that I would not be opposed to playing the role outlined for Pennington above include Jason Campbell (but not worth giving up a first round pick for) and Michael Vick. I would not be opposed to a trade for McNabb, if he could be had for a 4th round draft choice. I think to pay more than that for a player with perhaps three good years left in him would be unwise. I also wouldn’t be opposed to bringing in Troy Smith if he could be had cheap in a trade. I wouldn’t want to pay more than a 6th rounder though as there is no guarantee he could actually start and improve our roster at the position.
All in all, I expect either Edwards or Fitzpatrick to be on the roster next year (unless Gailey sees Edwards as his starter) backing up a newcomer as the starter. Brohm has a chance of making the roster as 3rd Stringer but I hope that he will have to fight for this position with a late round draft choice. Hamdan is gone.
Kendall Simmons (free agent)
Seth McKinney (free agent)
Richie Incognito (RFA)
Jonathan Scott (free agent)
We have a problem here with the Tackle positions and I hope that we will be drafting one early to compete for the starting LT position. I think Butler could be a quality RT if he can just stay healthy.
I think the interior of the line will be similar to last year, with Hangartner at Center unless Wood makes it back from injury sooner than expected, Levitre at LG and Wood/Incognito at RG. I don’t think it needs any focus this offseason, it is tackle where the Bills should focus.
Clearly Incognito will need to be re-signed (and he should be as he’s a quality player). McKinney and Simmons will likely be gone. I think Hennessey, Ramsey and Gaddis all offer nothing and will be gone. Chambers may stick around for his versatility.
Watkins, Bell and Meredith will probably come to camp and have a shot at making the roster. I thought Bell and Meredith flashed signs of potential last year and deserve a chance to impress. Bell could get reps at RT next year if Butler gets injured again.
I hope the bills ignore free agency and stick to drafting the future. We need at least one starting Tackle to come from the draft, and I wouldn’t be adverse to them using two picks on this position.
Fred Jackson had a well deserved breakout year last season and should enter 2010 as the starter. However, he will be 29 in February and cannot be viewed as the long term future at the position.
Lynch I feel still offers potential at the position and I would hope that he has a quiet offseason on the legal front and comes into camp next year ready to win his job back. Modkins and Gailey can maximise his value next year and trade him next offseason for a 2nd or 3rd rounder if they don’t want him long term. However he is still young and has plenty in the tank.
Besides those two, there is nothing else on the roster worth keeping at this position. I think McIntyre should be gone as I don’t feel if offers anything and if we’re intent on playing with a full back then we should bring in an undrafted free agent to place this position.
I would not be adverse to another running back being added in the draft late on, as there is depth of talent there this year. However it is not a priority as Lynch and Jackson are quality backs to give us a 1-2 punch this coming year. A power back would be nice though and given the emphasis Gailey places upon the ground game, I would not be surprised to see us draft one, even early on.
Joe Klopfenstein (RFA)
Josh Reed (free agent)
Terrell Owens (free agent)
This unit’s productivity is clearly tied to the ability and performance of the Quarterbacks last year, but there is talent on the roster. Gailey has inherited a decent core to build around in Shawn Nelson at TE and Lee Evans as number one receiver. We also have Hardy and Johnson who have talent but have yet to fulfil their potential. I would expect both to make a step up next year.
However, the rest of the roster is pretty disposable. At Tight End, Klopfenstein and Stupar should both be gone as they offer nothing to the roster. Fine and Schouman may both stay.
At wideout, Reed will probably be gone although he can be a useful slot option if he was re-signed cheaply. Owens will likely be gone too, although he is a useful option to stretch the field and has plenty left in the tank. Even with his tendency to drop passes, he offers more to the roster than Hardy or Johnson at number 2. He can break out big plays and the Defense has to cover for both him and Evans, meaning that the running back can get some space. I wouldn’t mind having him back again next year.
The rest of the wideouts are disposable and none more so than Roscoe Parrish. I would hope the team can attract a 4th or 5th rounder for him from a team short of return threats, although his value has probably dipped a little thanks to this season.
I think the Bills will try to pursue a number 2 wideout in free agency. If it isn’t TO, then there are other options out there including Chris Chambers, Antonio Bryant and Kevin Walter. I don’t think this will be a priority in the draft, especially considering that we already have two young players with potential on the roster in Hardy and Johnson. I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Chambers or Walter signed, but Bryant may cost rather more than he is probably worth.
We could do with a better blocking tight end to assist red zone situations and it may be something that Nix will wish to use a late draft choice on.
In summary then, I think the Offense needs a new veteran starting quarterback whilst a long term player is groomed at the position. The key needs are a starting Left Tackle and a number 2 receiver. A power running back and a blocking tight end would be a very nice addition, but I wouldn’t suggest that this is essential.