The goal of my plan is one thing: Building a dynasty. I want a team that becomes the next New England Patriots. They need to be division winners every year, Super Bowl contenders most of the time, and above all else win a Super Bowl. But doing so needs talent, a franchise QB, and a coach who can bring out the players' potential. Here's how I'd do it.
Chan Gailey has overstayed his welcome in Buffalo and it's time for a new coach. But who does Buddy Nix want to pick to lead his team steadily on in the rebuild phase? Who even WANTS to take the Buffalo job, even with a young team that can be developed for the playoffs? While Chip Kelly and Mike Zimmer are appealing names, I don't think Buffalo has the pull to get one of them, plus I get concerned about how a coordinator or college coach will transition to head coach duties in the NFL. And that's why, as GM of the Bills, I head north to the CFL and hire Marc Trestman, head coach of the Montreal Alouettes, as my new head coach. Trestman has decades of experience across NCAA, NFL, and CFL, has worked as an NFL offensive coordinator, and head coach elsewhere. He has an affinity for quarterbacks, helping players like Bernie Kosar, Rich Gannon, and Jake Plummer reach their potential.
I don't want to keep most coaches from this staff. Even Bruce DeHaven's special teams have been quite mediocre on the coverage units, and under his coaching Shawn Powell is showing signs of becoming Shank Powell. The only one I want to keep is Joe D'Alessandris, the offensive line coach.
Out: Chan Gailey, Curtis Modkins, Dave Wannstedt, Bruce DeHaven
In: Marc Trestman and his preferred coaching staff
Kept: Joe D'Alessandris as offensive line coach
The biggest priority for me is re-signing Buffalo's current free agents. There's a good core of players here, and I need them to be re-signed so they can keep developing together. Jairus Byrd and Andy Levitre are top priorities. I sign Jairus for 5 years, $40 million, a top safety salary, and sign Levitre to a 5 year, $35 million contract. While Levitre has been a rock, he is not a star player like Byrd, so I give him upper-echelon starter money. Also getting contracts: Leodis McKelvin earned a call back. He gets 3 years, $10 million. Kyle Moore, David Nelson, and Donald Jones are all signed to 2 year, $1.5 million contracts. If they play better, they can earn a raise in the future. Dorin Dickerson I re-sign at the veteran minimum of $630,000 for one year, and I tender Chad Rinehart with a 3rd round tender for $1.26 million for a year. I also sign Colin Brown to a 2 year, $1.2 million contract to act as my third string guard/center. If Brown hasn't recovered from his ACL injury, then the contract goes to David Snow instead.
In free agency, I go after 2 players to fill out the roster. Rashad Johnson is a backup FS from Arizona who I'm looking to have behind Jairus Byrd. I sign him to a 3 year, $5 million contract. To act as the bruising backup RB, I sign Mike Goodson from Oakland to a 4 year, $5 million contract. This lets me transition Fred Jackson to a role where he only needs 5-10 snaps per game.
If I average out the annual costs of the contracts, I end up paying $25.64 million. I'm going to roll over the approximately $7.4 million in cap space I have in 2012 towards next year's cap, which gives me a salary cap in 2013 of $128 million. After rookie signings and previously committed cash, I have $110 million committed to the cap, which would give me $18 million to make signings. So I need to make some room in the cap.
To do so, I make a few cuts. First, Terrence McGee. He's old and always injured. I don't even want him around with a restructured contract. Let's just cut our losses. Second, George Wilson. He's lost about 5 steps in the past year, and doesn't fit into my plans at safety anymore. Third, Brad Smith. He's a jack of all trades but a master of none, and isn't worth the money being given to him. Those three cuts free up $8.23 million in cap space, which makes my signing budget $26.23 million. After making my signings, I end up with $590,000 in cap space.
I can save a bit more money by restructuring some contracts. First up is Chris Kelsay. I have him cut his cap hit from $5 million to $2 million, which saves me 3. I also negotiate with Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is being transitioned to a backup role, and convince him to take only $8 million in salary with the same amount as before guaranteed, which saves me $2 million more. That lets me have $5.59 million in cap space heading into 2014.
Terrence McGee, George Wilson, Brad Smith (all cut). Tashard Choice, Tarvaris Jackson, Spencer Johnson, Ruvell Martin, Corey McIntyre, Shawn Merriman, Bryan Scott, Tyler Thigpen, David Snow, Mike Caussin (not re-signed).
Rashad Johnson, Rashad Jennings
Jairus Byrd, Andy Levitre, Leodis McKelvin, David Nelson, Donald Jones, Kyle Moore, Dorin Dickerson, Chad Rinehart, Colin Brown.
In my mock draft, I have an interesting scenario occurring: I think that the Jets are going to try to trade up, above Buffalo, to draft a quarterback (Mike Glennon). Philadelphia has a very high pick, but their biggest need is a right tackle, and their GM loves acquiring picks, so the Jets do their thing and give up a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd rounder to draft Glennon early.
Buffalo trades the 6th pick to Carolina for the 13th and 44th overall picks.
With the 13th pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Buffalo selects Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse.
After the way I've been beating the Nassib drum for a month, I figured my offseason plan had to include him. While I'd take Glennon over Nassib right now, I think Nassib is also a franchise QB who should be picked in the first round. At some point I'll write up a fanpost about why I think Nassib is so great, but he becomes the centerpiece of this draft and I want him starting from week 1.
There's one more trade I have Buffalo do before the first day is over. When Baltimore is up, I offer them my first second round pick (the 41st overall) and my third round pick (72 overall) for their 26th pick. This is a trade Ozzie Newsome has done many times, and if their Ray Lewis replacement isn't there, I think they take it.
With the 26th pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Buffalo selects Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Brigham Young.
I've heard some people talking Ansah up, and so I looked up his film. What I saw was a supreme athlete who still hasn't gotten technique down. But when you remember that this guy has only played football for a couple years, it's clear to me that he has the potential to become a monster end. I want this defense to be like the New York Giants - a defensive line that is like the apocalypse personified. Ansah will get us there.
With the 44th pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Buffalo selects Khaseem Greene, OLB, Rutgers.
Nick Barnett isn't getting any younger, and we need a linebacker who can cover people. Greene is an athletic former safety who converted to linebacker. He can step in as soon as Barnett isn't capable of holding up anymore. He might be the best 4-3 WLB in this year's class, but thanks to draft priorities the WLB is usually drafted in the late first round or early second round. Buffalo manages to snag him here.
With the 103rd pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Buffalo selects Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU.
It isn't interesting without a little controversy, and I shake things up by taking Mathieu, who was removed from his team after last season, then took a one year hiatus from football before declaring for the draft. Last year, Mathieu was a Heisman candidate, showing a real skill for playmaking. He's small though, so I have him fitting in as a slot cornerback only on this defense, where he can let his athleticism shine. I think the year off has done good things for Mathieu, and he's ready to focus on football again.
With the 134th pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Buffalo selects Kenneth Tate, S/LB, Maryland.
Here's my Bryan Scott replacement. Tate is more athletic than Scott, which should help on covering tight ends. He has run into injury issues in the past, which caused him to fall to the middle rounds, but as a situational linebacker he can be very helpful to the defense.
With the 169th pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Buffalo selects Philip Lutzenkirchen, TE, Auburn.
I spent 4 of my first 5 picks buffing up the defense, and now I want to get someone to help Ryan Nassib out. Lutz has been dealing with a serious hip injury, which included 3 bone spurs that he needed surgery for. But healthy, Lutz is a great red zone threat, who had 14 career touchdown catches at Auburn. He's an all-around type of tight end and a good leader, so hopefully he can develop into a 1b to Scott Chandler's 1a.
With the 234th pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Buffalo selects Alec Lemon, WR, Syracuse.
The compensatory picks are usually for picking project players or athletic freaks who you can store on the practice squad to develop. Unfortunately, it's REALLY hard to scout for those types of super-athletes unless you have an insider tip. So instead of naming the next Michael Jasper, I choose to select a player Ryan Nassib will be very familiar with. Lemon is athletically limited, but a great route runner who has a knack for getting open and "clutch" play. He'll be another fan favorite type, and his rapport with Nassib might help him find a spot on the roster.
Here's my depth chart for Buffalo, with rookies Italicized and free agents Bolded.
QB: Ryan Nassib, Ryan Fitzpatrick
WR1: Stevie Johnson, David Nelson, Marcus Easley
RB: C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Mike Goodson
FB: Dorin Dickerson
TE: Scott Chandler, Lee Smith, Philip Lutzenkirchen
WR2: Donald Jones, T.J. Graham, Alec Lemon
LT: Cordy Glenn, Chris Hairston
LG: Andy Levitre, Chad Rinehart
C: Eric Wood, Colin Brown
RG: Kraig Urbik, Sam Young
RT: Erik Pears, Zebrie Sanders
LE: Mario Williams, Chris Kelsay
NT: Marcell Dareus, Torell Troup
DT: Kyle Williams, Alex Carrington
RE: Mark Anderson, Ezekiel Ansah, Kyle Moore
SLB: Nigel Bradham, Kenny Tate, Arthur Moats
MLB: Kelvin Sheppard, Chris White
WLB: Nick Barnett, Khaseem Greene
CB1: Stephon Gilmore, Ron Brooks, Tyrann Mathieu
SS: Aaron Williams, Da'Norris Searcy
FS: Jairus Byrd, Rashad Johnson
CB2: Leodis McKelvin, Justin Rogers
There are a couple schematic gimmicks I did. First is at the fullback position, where Corey McIntyre is gone, replaced by Dorin Dickerson, who isn't a true fullback. I gave Dickerson the job because I think he can do an adequate job on special teams, is much younger, and provides a lot more scheme versatility on offense. Second is the offensive line, where 3 of my four backups are tackles. Tackle is where the talent on this roster is, so I want to keep them around to practice. I'm going to make Kraig Urbik the backup center again, and if someone is injured for more than a game, Colin Brown should be able to fill in more permanently. I'm more concerned with keeping the best linemen possible on the roster. The third fun change is that I moved Aaron Williams to strong safety. I'm more and more concerned with his straight line speed and I just don't know if he can hold up at cornerback anymore. I think the safety spot might benefit him more in the long run, so he can duel with Da'Norris Searcy for the starting job. As for cornerback, that leaves Leodis McKelvin starting - yikes! But he played well in relief of Williams this year, and Ron Brooks is outside depth who could be promoted midseason if necessary.
This team is now nearly set to begin making the playoffs immediately. The defense will have another year to come together, and a competent defensive coordinator plus new athletes should help that transition. Every one of the players I drafted for the defense is known as either a playmaker, a great athlete, or both. I want a defense that makes an impact. On the offense, the line is as deep as it'll ever get, and players like C.J. Spiller and T.J. Graham can reach fuller potential with Ryan Nassib starting and stretching the field vertically. This is a young core on the offense, and it will develop together into a weapon.
There are still a few holes on the roster. Stevie Johnson isn't a true #1 WR, and I worry about how effective he'll be if his new coach doesn't let him freelance his routes. The starting RT isn't ideal, but between Hairston, Young, and Sanders, we could probably find a future starter. There isn't a sure #2 CB starter, but we have a young group who can be rotated to find someone until we need to draft a guy. And the MLB and SLB corps are both on the weak side, but again, in a draft or two, we'll fix that and be winning game after game.