Two games into the season, it appears the Bills are in need of a wholesale rebuild. Ryan Fitzpatrick been handed the reigns as the Bills Quarterback, replacing the unproductive Trent Edwards. Fitzpatrick should be viewed as nothing more than a steady veteran who can bring some leadership, moxy, and confidence into an offensive huddle adrift in a sea of confusion and ineptitude. He is not the long term answer at the QB position. The Bills Offensive line remains truly...offensive, as the Bills are in need of improved line play at all positions and in need of replacements at Right tackle and Center. If Demetrius Bell fails to prove himself capable of manning the Left Tackle position the Bills will be in the market for starting bookend tackles. The Bills also lack a proven Tight End and have only one proven Wide Receiver.
On the defensive side of the ball the Bills suffer from a lack of play-makers in the front seven, and major deficiencies at LB. Andra Davis is a good run stopper, but is a major liability in coverage. Fan favorite Paul Pozluzny has yet to prove himself anything but an average inside backer, excelling neither against the run or the pass. Former Defensive End turned Outside Backer Chris Kelsay is solid against the run, but is not physically suited to pass coverage. Former Defensive End turned Outside Backer Chris Ellis may prove a fit in his new role displaying good run play and solid tackling. Aaron Maybin has yet to display the mental or physical tools necessary to man either OLB spot. Proponents of Maybin readily admit he is at least a year away from making consistent contributions to the defense, while others cite maybin's lack of field awareness and seemingly stiff movements as signs he may fail to become the play maker the Bills sought with their 2009 1st round draft pick.
On a positive note, the Bills Secondary should be set for the next two years and the Defensive Line is sound, with depth and potential on the roster. The major Defensive needs are clearly at the LB positions, where playmakers are absent.
How the Bills Front Office should fill these postions is presented after the jump.
Many pundits subscribe to building through the draft, valuing each draft pick as though it was one of the pundit's own children. Others are proponents of bringing in Free Agents to fill glaring gaps in a roster. Both strategies make assumptions. Those in favor of drafting for the future assume the Front Office has the necessary patient support of fans and ownership to see that approach to fruition. Those in favor of FA spending sprees assume the Front Office has the financial resources to make that strategy viable. I will assume the FO has the support necessary for both strategies.
The Bills must use a multi pronged approach to field a competitive team. Without improvements at OLB, OT, and QB the Bills will be unable to legitimately compete for a playoff birth. OLBs are the front seven play makers in a 3-4 defense. Bruce Smith was an anomaly as a game changing 3-4 DE. Game changing OLBs such as Kevin Green, Bryce Paup, Greg Lloyd, James Harrison, and Clay Mathews are the engines that make the 3-4 shine. Stability at OT is necessary to utilize the offensive talent (Spiller, Evans, Jackson) already on the roster. An efficient QB is required to orchestrate any semblance of productive offensive football.
There are simply too many holes to fill through the draft alone. Given the draft is at best a 50/50 proposition, by the time the Bills fill QB, Tackle, and OLB positions through the draft they will need replacements at safety (Wilson due to age, while Byrd's rookie contract will be up), CB (McGee due to age, and McKelvin's rookie contract will be up), WR (Evans due to age with no replacement in sight), DE (Stroud due to age, Spencer due to age). I believe the Bills will need to utilize Free Agency and aggressive trades, in conjunction with the draft to field a competitive team within the next two seasons.
Draft picks have no inherent value. Draft picks hold only potential value. I posit the Bills need players on the field more than they need draft picks. Attracting Free Agents to Buffalo is a difficult proposition. Few NFL players view Buffalo as an attractive place to play or live. The last prime time FA signing the Bills made was nearly a decade ago when the team signed Takeo Spikes, who at the time was one of the leagues preeminent OLBs.
Not wanting to speculate on future potential (draft picks), and facing the reality Buffalo will have difficulty attracting top free agents, I suggest the Bills aggressively deal future picks for players that have proven track records that fit the Bills current schemes. The only draft pick I would be reluctant to trade would be the Bills 2011 #1 draft pick, and that would be contingent upon the scouts assessment of available QB prospects. If our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round draft picks could be used in conjunction with current players (Lynch, Whitner, McGee) to bring in proven veterans at key spots(ie. McNeil from San Diego, or an older 3-4 pass rushing LB, such as Harrison from Pitt - they usually dump their OLBsin their early 30s), the return would be instantaneous. The players would both upgrade the team and help other future FAs view the Bills as a competitive team worth considering. Targeted players would be traded for only if the players agreed to multiyear contract extensions, or had three or more years remaining on their contracts. This option would require more money upfront, but would hasten the Bills rebuild with proven players rather than speculative draft picks.
Sacrificing 4 or 5 draft picks and/or a few players in order to adequately fill cornerstone positions will be beneficial in the long run. We don't need more draft day potential, we need more game day talent.