To start off, I want to say this entire post is speculation. I am no insider and have no special knowledge. That being said, I have thought a lot about what has transpired this crazy off-season and attempted to synthesize all the events that have happened so far, as well educated speculation (if that’s possible) as to what might happen next year. This year and next are uncharted territory for the NFL in general (because of the CBA) and therefore creates many situations that normally wouldn’t exist. This is a unique opportunity for the Bills, and I think Buddy Nix is positioning the Bills to take advantage of this one in a lifetime opportunity.
When Buddy Nix took over as GM of the Bills, he inherited a team in complete shambles. The Bills had completely collapsed down the stretch of the ’09 season, firing their head coach, losing faith in their QB’s, and giving up more rushing yards than they have in almost 20 years. Buddy, looking at a roster devoid of talent, was paid to come up with a plan to bring the Bills back to relevancy. We all hear at BR have looked at an underwhelming draft, little movement in FA, and the same QB’s we had last year; and have be a bit disappointed (even the most optimistic of us), but the one thing I keep hearing is that at least Nix and Gailey have stuck to their guns, not fed us misinformation, and have stuck to their “Plan.” What that “Plan” is however has not been discussed at much length around here, so I’m gonna take a stab at what I think Nix (and therefore Gailey) are doing now as part of their plan, and then speculate what that overall plan for a return to the playoff might be. In the comments, feel free to post what you think their plan is too.
First off, I believe that Nix took a look around the league this year, and determined that realistically competing this upcoming year for a playoff spot was a long shot at best. Two primary reasons for this is the lack of roster talent (QB in particular), and the strength of our division opponents right now. Our division is loaded with good running, hard hitting teams, and we play in a sometimes hostile environment in the Ralph. Armed with this, be decided that a multi-year building process was the correct course of action for this team.
Nix had to evaluate the strength and weaknesses of the team from last year, in order figure out where to start. They were pretty obvious:
Strengths: DB’s, Interior OL, RB’s, and a few individual players, effort
Weaknesses: QB’s, OT’s, Run defense, Strength/Conditioning, Overall Roster Depth, 4th Quarter play in general
Nix may have a southern accent, but he is anything but stupid. These holes cannot all be fixed with quality players in one offseason. But you can fill enough holes this season to make the team competitive this year, while setting himself up for the next step in the rebuilding process. Looking at a multi-year approach, Nix next had to evaluate how many years it would take to rebuild the Bills roster. Normally a rebuilding project of this magnitude would be a 3 year project (at least that what you always hear), but I think Nix has come up with an accelerated 2 year plan.
The league is in the last year of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and different rules apply for FA. You must have 6 years of experience to be a UFA, instead of 4 years. Right now every roster has many good players who are RFA, who would normally be UFA. Nix realizes that this has two effects. First, these players have little to no bargaining power relative to the teams that own their rights, and therefore are really at the team’s digression as to if and where they can move. Second, after a new CBA is reached, (the NFL will have a new CBA even if there is a lockout) all these player will be hitting the market at the same time. FA will be loaded with two (or more) year’s worth of FA’s. I think that this a crucial part of Nix’s plan and why he hasn’t been trade happy. Why waste resources on acquiring players from other teams, when they will be hitting the market before the ’11 season (when the CBA is reached). Most of these players who hit the market will be looking for the big deals they were not offered by their former teams, who chose to tag them cheaper this year approach, instead of signing them long term.
Fitting the plan to what has happened in ‘09
Nix, armed with a multi-year plan, starts work on the FO and coaching staff first. While in the process of evaluating the roster, he hired a coach who fit his criteria, albeit not a flashy coach. He fired the manager of pro-personnel, who was largely responsible for our many FA misses, and established a succession order by hiring Doug Whaley. The argument could be made that he didn’t overhaul the FO enough, but progress cannot be denied at the same time.
Nix then went to work on the roster. He stated that we wanted to “stack players on players’ and his coach of choice stated his need to a ‘quick as a cat waterbug” RB. Nix started to overhaul by not resigning players who cost too much and/or didn’t fit into the new defensive scheme. Ryan Denney and TO are great examples of this. I think that Nix did this for a couple of reasons. Some of these players were poor fits of the new defense (Denney), others cost too much (TO) and others were preventing the young players from stepping up (J. Reed). By getting rid of players like these, Nix created environment where young players have to compete and maximize their potential to gain roster spots, instead of starting cause of salary.
Nix and company did little in FA, but what they did do will have a huge impact. Our biggest needs were OT and QB, but there were no quality players who played those positions in FA this year. So Nix set out to fix another big problem, our run defense. By signing D. Edwards and A. Davis. Edwards, because of his spine problem had problems signing on with a team. While there is a risk by signing him, but he was the best 3-4 DE on the market, and Buffalo has problems sign FA’s, so I think the Nix saw more reward than risk. In Davis, Nix saw a LB with the experience to call plays in the 3-4 (which we didn’t have) as well as a run defender. I also think he was brought in to teach Poz how to call plays at some point down the road. At the same time, he also stacked these FA acquisitions on top of the players that were here, generating competition.
I think that Nix’s plan for the draft (and in general) was first and foremost to acquire talent for a roster lacking it, regardless of position. At the same time, I think that is the value of the pick was right, Nix would opt for the position of need over other players. Nix did not see any of the QB’s in the draft at a top 10 pick (except maybe Bradford, but that was never feasible), and only saw a possibility of two OT’s (Williams and Okung) being worth #9. Therefore he went with the BPA strategy, which also happened to fit two other requirements for his rebuilding plan. With Spiller, he stacked a lot of talent at RB, (hopefully providing Lynch with motivation or a worst an insurance policy), and he got his coach his “waterbug” RB. I think the second round pick was a combo of the BPA and need. The farther you get down a draft board, the less difference there is in talent level. So I think that while the Bills had Troupe rated higher than most “experts”, he was the BPA at a position of need. The same can be said for A. Carrington. But both of the picks (as well as the switch to a 3-4) point to how much of a problem Nix thought our run D was last year (and I agree). We were in almost every game going into the 4th quarter last year, but our run D never seemed to get timely stops to at least a chance for the offense to win the game. The only way to make Buffalo’s offense worse than it was last year is to keep it on the sideline, which happened way too often last year. So in Nix’s plan, step one is to fix the run D (critical in November and December in Buffalo), step two fix the passing offense (to be addressed next year).
I think that Nix is using this year a one big audition for next years team. I really expect that we might see some younger and more talented, but not as good players, take some prominent role on the team this year. After this year, Nix will do another in depth analysis of the roster and figure out who worked and who didn’t this season, and use those positions as targets for the draft, but also the glut in the FA market. Luckly, Nix will have ejected the overpaid players and set us up to be competitive in the FA market. At the same time, we most likely will not do too well this season (lets be realistic, barring a major upset we are and have been last in the division) setting us up with another Top 10 pick next year. This makes us competitive in both the major avenues of talent acquisition next year. He also may find a few of the younger players on our roster now that were not given a chance before (ie. J. Hardy). With hopefully these ways of finding new talent, I think that Nix should be able greatly improve the talent next year. It might take another year to make that talent gel, but I would be hard to deny that it would be there.
This is all mere speculation, but this is as close to a plan that I think Buddy is following. Fix the Run D and Run O this year, worry about the rest next year when there will be more talent to choose from, as well as less holes in the roster to fix. In the mean time, play to our environment in the Ralph and make a hard hitting, run based team to compete with our division, instead of getting pushed around by it. If you made it this far, thanks for reading my speculation as to what the plan is, and feel free to post/comment about where I am probably wrong and/or your ideas of what Buddy Nix’s plan is for rebuilding the Bills.