What I would do if I were Buddy Nix once free agency/CBA opens up:
1. I would re-sign Paul Pozluszny. The Bills made the selection of Kelvin Sheppard to build depth at the position, not be the cornerstone. Pairing Sheppard and Pozluszny together you would get two smart, instinctive players who may not possess elite athleticism, but will more often than not make the right play. Losing Pozluszny would put added pressure on Sheppard while hurting some of the progress that the entire defense made through the draft. Merriman-Pozluszny-Sheppard-Kelsay/Coleman/Batten/Moats could be a substantial improvement over 2010.
2a. Find a backup for Ryan Fitzpatrick. There are a lot of viable options in this year’s free agent class that would be suitable. Tyler Thigpen, Tarvaris Jackson, Drew Stanton and others would be serviceable and have seen time in the NFL but do not jeopardize Fitzpatrick’s position on the team. Some of the available players will be determined based on whether or not the league reverts back to 2010 rules or not, but the Bills should be able to get a viable option.
2b. I would re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick now. I think the Bills will do this because they don’t want to have Fitzpatrick build off last year’s performance and possibly dictate more on the free market. I would try to get him a slightly lower amount this year for a three year extension and address the quarterback position in next year’s draft. There will be a rookie wage scale for next year’s draft class which should minimize the financial impact of drafting a quarterback highly meaning a little more money can be invested in Fitzpatrick. Three year extension would allow him to start in 2012 and bench the rookie and then possibly in 2013 or 2014 would be open quarterback competition and you would still have Fitzpatrick as a backup. In a perfect world this would create an Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees situation that would allow the Bills to sit their young quarterback one if not two years.
3. Re-sign Drayton Florence and cut Terrance McGee. This is easier said than done because you already have one signed to decent money and the other is going to look for the best available contract, however McGee’s inability to stay on the field is detrimental to the secondary and with the focus on the secondary in the draft the Bills are trying to reposition their depth chart there anyways. Florence made several of the bigger plays by the second in 2010 and had his struggles. If you can’t re-sign Florence keeping McGee and/or signing another free agent may be the force play to maintain the secondary.
4. Look to upgrade the tight end position. The Bills passed on several opportunities to upgrade the position through the draft however there is a respectable pool of free agents at the position that include Zach Miller (Raiders), Kevin Boss (NYG), Matt Spaeth (Steelers) and others, including Robert Royal (kidding….seriously I’m kidding). None of these are you elite pass catching tight ends (save possibly Zach Miller) but should fit in with the Bills plan of dual purpose tight ends that should not break the bank. I wouldn’t expect the Bills to be a huge player in the free agency market at all so upgrading this position would be a place they could be a player. The availability of some of these players again depends on whether or not the league reverts back to 2010 rules.
5. As obvious as it sounds, part ways with Donte Whitner one way or another. I have a hard time knocking Whitner as much as some people because he is a pretty good safety, however like many people on the Bills roster he’s good, not great. The problem is he thinks he is great. The Bills drafted Da’Norris Searcy and have George Wilson that can play the strong safety position and both could spell at free safety if need be. I’m not sure how they’ll manage to do it, but I think the Bills would easily take some form of draft pick to part ways with Whitner should he return to the Bills with the league reverting back to the 2010 rules.
6. Consider extending Stevie Johnson’s contract. The Bills have several talented young wide receivers and Stevie Johnson led them all in 2010. Re-signing him after one breakout season though possesses some risk, but letting his contract expire after a second breakout season is even riskier in my opinion. By no means should the Bills overpay Johnson, but it is at least something I would consider.
7. Definitely extend Kyle Williams contract. The Bills are building a young front seven and need someone like Williams to lead the group. He is your typical lunch-pail toting professional that can help teach young pros how to be pros. His work ethic and play are things that coaches can only preach, but having him there to mentor some of these young players will be imperative to the team’s development. Oh yeah, he’s pretty good too.
Obviously this is a pretty boring offseason plan for the Bills, but they have stated over and over again about building through the draft so I wouldn’t expect them to be in the market for a big name player in any position. Even as I said I would be a player at potentially upgrading the tight end position the team is going to operate out of a lot of spread formations allowing Fitzpatrick the freedom to make his own reads. Because of that, I don’t have my heart set on them doing much there, however looking at the roster it is one of the few real holes that I think a starter could be brought into. I believe that the Bills think they have their starting offensive line and front seven already on the roster and may add depth, but not much else. There are a few holes in the secondary at cornerback, but they also have several ways to go about addressing those holes.
I do hope that they Bills clean up some of the key personal players who are entering into contract years earlier as opposed to later since there are only a handful to address. I would honestly be shocked if they don’t extend Fitzpatrick by at least two years and think he’d be smart to ask for that third year.
I do think this team is at the point where they are a player or two away from really competing for playoff spots although the division presents a big problem, but if Dareus can couple with a hopefully emerging Moats to be playmakers on defense and Stevie Johnson & company can provide playmaking ability on offense I think this team is closer than some think, but still not quite there yet. Nonetheless, I am excited about the trip to get there.