On Thursday, the Buffalo Bills signed free agent jack-of-all-trades Brad Smith to a four-year, $15 million contract. They did so while chasing other free agents at other positions of need - players that they'd eventually miss out on, in fact - and because of the lack of perceived need, many Bills fans openly panned the move, even while admitting that Smith is a good football player.
Whether you liked the agreement or not, it is the latest in a series of moves the Bills have made to improve their overall depth and roster versatility this off-season.
Before the NFL lockout was instituted, way back in March, the Bills gave short-term contract extensions to offensive lineman Mansfield Wrotto and safety George Wilson. Wrotto has experience as the starting right tackle in Chan Gailey's offense, and can also play either guard position. Wilson is a special teams captain (and a great performer there), and also has a jump on the starting strong safety position at the moment.
During the 2011 NFL Draft, the Bills picked up several positionally-diverse players. Second-round pick Aaron Williams will play cornerback in Buffalo, but if he doesn't work out there, many talent evaluators considered him the best free safety available in last year's talent pool. Da'Norris Searcy has played several different positions in the defensive backfield, and also has experience as a return specialist.
The real coup of the draft was fifth-round pick Johnny White, who aside from Smith is the ultimate in roster flexibility on Buffalo's squad. He ended his career at running back at North Carolina, but not before playing several other positions, including defensive back and receiver. He is an outstanding special teams player on coverage units, and has some limited experience returning kicks. White will be Buffalo's third running back this year, and rather than dedicate that spot to a player that will see a few snaps per game, if any, they'll give it to White, who will be able to help the team out in several different areas.
Now there's Smith, a wide receiver by trade that could very well end up being Buffalo's third quarterback on game days in 2011. The NFL's new game day roster rules eliminate the old trick of designating a third quarterback as inactive; now, instead of listing 45 active players and a third quarterback on game days, teams can simply have 46 active players. That last active player should be Smith, who has experience as a quarterback and can be listed there simply to avoid sitting another talented player at a deep position (like receiver).
We're well aware that this is the type of thought process that typically bores fans, because it's not a need-oriented focus. Time will tell if the Bills' current decision-makers are inept, but they are most definitely not stupid. They know where they need to get better, as evidenced by some of the other players they're targeting in free agency. Getting deeper and more versatile is another, far less obvious way of getting better, and the Bills absolutely did that in signing Smith yesterday. Add in the fact that Smith is a big-play threat capable of making game-changing plays at the blink of an eye, and I'm really struggling to understand why, in a vacuum, this move would be panned by anyone at all. That's doubly true when considering just how much this move hurts the New York Jets, from whom Smith defected.
Stay patient, Bills fans. This was an outstanding and very reasonable signing. Smith is going to do very good things for the Buffalo Bills.