I like a large proportion of Buffalo Rumblings followers (83% at last count) was especially surprised to see my beloved franchise trade Lee Evans for a reported 4th round pick. Although he has not been a Pro-Bowler as of yet, he has been a Pro-Bowl worthy member during this turbulent time in the franchise's history from a fans perspective.
This got me thinking...one of the routine criticisms of the franchise has been its inability, or unwillingness, to retain talented players drafted and developed under the Bill's system(s) who then move on to become All-Pro performers. The words "farm team" have been thrown around a lot lately. To prove or disprove this point I hunkered down by the computer for an afternoon and ran my own analysis. I needed a quick way to address talent and success, and the efforts by the franchise to retain those talented players. To achieve this I took a look at all of the Bill's draftees over the past 20 years, and at least one signee who was undrafted (our favorite OT with the Eagles). I then compared those draftees to the roster of Pro-Bowlers over the past decade. Once I had identified all of those players that had earned Pro-Bowl roster spots (including those appearing as reserves, and those not appearing due to injury) I took a look at their careers with the Bills, in many cases the situations in which they parted with the Bills, and how their career progressed or regressed after that point.
Those that have paid any attention to my regular postings will know that I don't tend to put an enormous amount of effort into my posts. Well that is about to change after the jump. If you note any errors or omissions I claim two young daughters and an irritated wife as my excuses.
Looking through the list of draftees by the Bills over the past 20 years it was clear that there were a couple of great years 2001, and 2003 and well some not so great years. In all it is refreshing to see that 13 players drafted by the Bills have been Pro-Bowl worthy over the past decade.
Pro-Bowl Players drafted by the Bills
Ruben Brown - Pro-Bowls 2001, 2002, 2003. Released by the Bills after 7 years. Had 4 additional years in the league but was plagued by injuries. He had one additional resurgent Pro-Bowl year after leaving the Bills, but it is clear his career tailed off after the Bills as a whole.
Eric Moulds - Pro-Bowl 2003. Had an 8-year career with the franchise including his best years. Traded for a 5th rounder in 2006, and his career tailed off after that point.
Sam Cowart - Pro-Bowl in 2001. Spent 4 years on the Bills roster but was signed by the Jets after that point. Career tailed off after that with only 3 additional years. In retrospect not a big loss to the franchise.
Antoine Winfield - Pro-Bowls 2009, 2011. Franchise chose not to re-sign him and he was picked up by Minnesota. All-star career after his departure from Buffalo. Talent wise a big loss to the franchise.
Nate Clements - Pro-Bowl 2004. Spent 6 years with the Bills but left for the largest contract for a defensive player in NFL history (at the time). Remains in the league, and was recently signed by the Bengals. Has had an arguably less productive career since leaving the Bills, and has not returned to the Pro-Bowl. Talent loss is a toss up, but I will give the edge to the franchise on this one and say the prime of his career hit while he was a Bill.
Aaron Schobel - Pro-Bowls 2007, 2008. Spent entire career in Buffalo, despite some fear on the fans part that he was running off to Houston.
Travis Henry - Pro-Bowl 2003. Demanded to be traded after injury/replaced as starter. Traded for a 3rd rounder in 2006. Career tailed off after departing Buffalo. No real loss to the franchise.
Willis McGahee - Pro-Bowl 2008. Essentially demanded to be traded after going so far as to besmirch the great city of Buffalo. Traded for 3rd and 7th round picks in 2007, and a 3rd round pick in 2008. Had a productive career after Buffalo, most likely at the tail end of his career. Talent wise at least a minor loss to the franchise.
Terrence McGee - Pro-Bowls 2004, 2005. Currently on roster with a 5 year $27 million contract, set to earn $3.20 million in 2011. Most likely in the tail end of his career, but may have several years remaining of productivity.
**Jason Peters - Pro-Bowls 2008, 2009, 2011. Demanded to be traded after hold outs/demands/ and a general feeling that the franchise did not value his contributions/potential. Traded for a 1st rounder in 2009, a 4th rounder in 2009, and a 6th rounder in 2010. Prior to leaving the team he held a 5 year $15 million contract. Career potential after Buffalo, most likely in the high point of his career at this time. Overall a huge loss to the franchise that still impacts the team today. ** Special note - Peters was not drafted by the Bills but was first signed by the franchise after going undrafted.
Kyle Williams - Pro Bowl 2011. Currently on roster with contract extension from 2007, team is reportedly trying to extend his contract and give him a pay raise. Contract is currently for 4 years at $14.5 million, set to earn $1.25 million in 2011. High career potential, and the possibility exists that he will be locked up for majority of his career with Buffalo.
Marshawn Lynch - Pro Bowl 2009. Traded in 2010 essentially on his request after a crowded backfield/injury/off field issues. Traded for a 4th rounder in 2011 draft, and a conditional pick in 2012 draft. Left while still on rookie contract from 2007. He may still have several years of productivity left. Overall he appears to be a minor loss to the franchise given existing talent, but it is unclear at this point (even with his nice run in the 2010 playoff game against the Saints).
Jairus Byrd - Pro Bowl 2010. Currently on roster with his original rookie contract from 2009. Reportedly a 4 year, $4.15 million dollar contract, set to earn $480K in 2011. Career potential unknown.
Honorable Mention: Brian Moorman... Pro Bowls 2006, 2007. Originally undrafted and spent time with two other franchises before starting for the Bills, but has remained with the team through what is probably the prime of his career.
In retrospect of the 13 franchise drafted eventual Pro-Bowlers the Bills have retained 7 of those players through what I have determined to be the prime of their respective careers, and 2 additional players remain on the Bills who have career potential as of yet undetermined (Meatball, Byrd). One player has potential as of yet undetermined (Lynch), but was traded away from the franchise. Of the remaining 3 players (Winfield, McGahee, and Peters), they can all be seen as having been a loss of talent from the roster. While some of them may have been detrimental to the team’s morale it can be argued they were not retained due to an unwillingness of the franchise to pay top dollar for their service.
On a percentage basis of the 10 players who have clearly completed, hit or passed the prime of their careers and attended the Pro-Bowl the Bills have developed and retained 70% of those players through their respective primes, and been unsuccessful with the remaining 30%. I would venture to guess that is respectable when compared to other franchises.