ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 18: Brian Hartline #82 of the Miami Dolphins catches a pass during their NFL game as Aaron Williams #23 of the Buffalo Bills defends at Ralph Wilson Stadium on December 18, 2011 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
The Buffalo Bills currently only have six cornerbacks under contract for the 2012 season (we'll be reviewing a seventh about to hit unrestricted free agency), and have far more questions than answers at the position. In large, that's not good news, as the Bills have important decisions to make regarding three shaky veterans, and have placed a lot of faith on the plates of two green prospects.
There will be movement at this position, with new bodies and potentially even bigger personnel shakeups. For now, this is a position with talent, question marks, a shaky depth chart and some lack of direction.
Age: 31 (32 in December 2012)
Contract: UFA in 2014. Entering second year of a three-year, $15 million contract.
Of the three veteran cornerbacks the team employs that have been at the top of the depth chart for a while, Florence appears to be the safest with ease. He signed a three-year free agent deal to remain with the club last off-season, has the right size and physicality that the team is looking for, and is clearly the most durable of the bunch. Florence is still good for a few big plays per season - this is a man that graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in September, after all - but also took his lumps in the form of penalties and allowing big plays last season. He's going to get playing time, but would be best served not having to defend a team's top receiver down in and down out.
Age: 31 (32 in October 2012)
Contract: UFA in 2014. Owed $8.2M in base salary over final two years of his current deal.
When he was healthy in 2011, McGee was Buffalo's best corner. That's the problem, though - McGee was only healthy enough to appear in six games, and has missed more than half of the Bills' games (17 of 32) over the past two seasons. No longer the playmaker he was in his heyday, it's fair to assume that McGee's unreliable health could make him a cap casualty, given his high salaries and the young players in need of playing time. Still, there's one more veteran on this list whose status could keep McGee around for another year. Maybe.
Age: 21 (22 in April 2012)
Contract: UFA in 2015. Entering the second year of a four-year, $5.2M rookie contract.
Williams, too, is concerning in that he suffered two separate injuries (collarbone, knee) last season. He came back from both of them, but on a team with durability questions everywhere, it'd be nice if one of their youngest, most talented players nipped that problem in the bud. When he played, Williams showed the physical prowess and athletic chops to line up with most types of wide receivers, but also took his lumps, giving up more than his fair share of catches. For now, those bouts of inconsistency are acceptable. With improved health and more consistent play, Williams should emerge as a high-quality starting corner for the Bills.
Contract: Undisclosed. Under contract for the 2012 season.
One of the more pleasant surprises of the season, the seventh-round pick out of Richmond first made waves as a kick returner, where he averaged 28.7 yards per kick return - a full 10-yard improvement on Brad Smith's average. Then he became a nickel back, and while he gave some things up, he was also very competitive and made a few plays on the football. He'll be the top kick returner entering 2012, and he'll likely be given an opportunity to lock down - at minimum - the nickel job, as well.
Age: 26 (27 in September 2012)
Contract: UFA in 2013. Owed $1.32M in base salary in the final year of his rookie deal.
Things do not look particularly great for McKelvin, either. He began the year as a starter, and reached a low point when two rookies (Williams and Rogers) passed him on the depth chart, relegating him to occasional dime work. He redeemed himself slightly with some good special teams work, but was still a target for opposing offenses when forced back onto the field defensively later in the season. Buffalo's coaching staff has not been comfortable with McKelvin on the field for two years now, and even if he's back in 2012, it's tough to imagine him having a large role immediately.
Age: 28 (29 in November 2012)
Contract: UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT
Corner did not make the team when the Bills cut down to 53 players in September, and was only re-signed when McGee was injured on the first defensive snap of the regular season. By year's end, Corner was fighting to be active each week, and was solely a special teams player when he did get to suit up. He's not likely to be re-signed, unless the team makes a bold decision with someone higher up on this list.
Contract: Under contract for 2012 (reserve/future deal, January 2012).
Miller, who spent the season on the practice squad, was given a reserve/future deal and looks to have an inside track for a spot on the training camp roster. You'll see him next summer.
POSITIONAL OUTLOOK: In Florence, McGee and McKelvin, the Bills have a trio of veterans that will make it difficult to determine the direction of this position until there's movement with one or more of them. Florence should be back, but it shouldn't surprise anyone if McGee or McKelvin is released to make room for guys like Williams and Rogers to rise up the depth chart. In fact, it would only be mildly surprising if both were released, although McKelvin's contract is pretty reasonable to at least keep him around competing for a roster spot. Williams and Rogers have been fast-tracked for playing time, but both players are still green. The team has no true pecking order at this position, which works in their favor solely from a game-planning perspective. All of these players can be beaten, and there's no true No. 1 guy on the roster.
FREE AGENCY: Again, don't be surprised if McGee, McKelvin or both find themselves part of the unrestricted free agent pool come mid-March. It would be surprising if Florence was, but that's not out of the realm of possibility, either. The Bills will be looking for fresh blood at this position, but I wouldn't expect the team to target big-name players at this position, instead focusing their big-name efforts - if there are to be any - on other, slightly more critical positions.
2012 NFL DRAFT: This is where the Bills will likely focus most of their attention on player acquisition at cornerback. Last year, the team drafted Williams and Rogers, and both of those players have potential. Despite larger perceived needs elsewhere, Bills fans would be wise to accept the fact that cornerback is very much in play with the team's No. 10 overall pick. Multiple picks will likely be invested in this position, as the team needs more than just bodies here.