I'm sticking with stability. I know that's not popular right now with Bills fans. However, I've always thought the issues with the 2012 Bills had more to do with youth and inexperience than overall roster talent and coaching. So, I'm sticking with stability and continuity for the 2013 version of the Buffalo Bills, with acquiring the quarterback of the future as the primary goal of the off-season.
Chan Gailey stays. So does Dave Wannstedt. The team won't have continuity if either of those two leave. The players know the offense, and bringing a rookie quarterback into an established system is a good thing, as many players will be able to help him, as opposed to learning a new offense themselves. If Buffalo changes on defense, that'd represent three new defensive systems in three years. That's a recipe for continued bad play.
I do think Gailey needs an offensive coordinator. More specifically, with the goal of bringing on board a new quarterback, the new coordinator needs experience and a track record of success with the task. The two coaches I have targeted are Hue Jackson and Ken Whisenhunt, making the assumption that Whisenhunt is fired in Arizona.
Jackson was Baltimore's QB coach when Joe Flacco was drafted. His play over his first two seasons, while not spectacular, were extraordinarily solid for a rookie and 2nd year player, respectively. Jackson was the offensive coordinator and then head coach in Oakland. During his two years, Oakland has a middling passing game with Jason Campbell and Carson Palmer. But Jackson's offenses were top ten in the running game both years in most meaningful categories.
Whisenhunt was Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator for Ben Roethlisberger's first three seasons. The way Pittsburgh brought Roethlisberger into the league is nearly a model of how to accomplish the task without ruining the quarterback. Whisenhunt was the OC for Bill Cowher in 2005 when the Steelers won the Super Bowl.
Coaching in the NFL is all about connections. Jackson was Marty Schottenheimer's running backs coach in Washington. Whisenhunt played at Georgia Tech, worked for Bill Cowher, and knows Doug Whaley. Gailey coached at Georgia Tech and worked for Bill Cowher. Whisenhunt's track record and his connections to Buffalo are stronger, and he becomes the new offensive coordinator.
The first tenant of my off-season planning is to retain all players that fill meaningful roles on the team. Buffalo has $18 million for moves, assuming Nix rolls over 2012 money and minus the $4 million for rookies. So my first two, and most important two, moves are to re-sign Jairus Byrd and Andy Levitre. I'll use Eric Weddle and Chris Snee as the target rates for the two players, and that eats up $16 million of the $18 million available for the Bills.
Buffalo needs to open up some cap space in order to re-sign Leodis McKelvin, Eric Moore, David Nelson, Donald Jones, and Chad Rinehart. McKelvin should cost around $3M, Moore around $1.5M, Nelson and Jones about $1M each, and Rinehart about $2M. That's $8.5M in cap space, and $6.5M above what Buffalo had available. Cutting and restructuring time.
Buffalo has a lot of dead weight on their 2013 roster. Thomas Welch, Chris Scott, TJ Heath, Crezdon Butler, Keith Williams, and Jay Ross aren't making the 2013 team. Tank Carder is already off the team, and Marcus Easley is counted twice. That shrewdly shaves $4.3M off the team's rolls. I also anticipate Torrell Troup not being healthy enough to return, which brings the team to $4.9M off the cap.
Terrence McGee just can't stay healthy. I love his game, but his body can't handle the game anymore. He saves $2.1M. Brad Smith has been a waste of money, and re-signing McKelvin means he's not really needed for kick returns. Since Gailey throws out of the wildcat as much a Haley's Comet comes around, there's no reason that Fred Jackson can't run it. That's be a great way to get both Jackson and CJ Spiller on the field together, as well. Smith saves $2.75M.
Buffalo asks Chris Kelsay and George Wilson to restructure. Both are older, long-term Bills that haven't played up to their contracts. If they won't restructure, great - that saves Buffalo about $7.5M in 2013. If they do, and they should, I'd ask Kelsay to drop in half and Wilson to drop by $1M, saving a total of $3M.
That brings Buffalo to around $4.23M available heading into free agency with about 39 players under contract. That's not an ideal situation, but I'm also not intending to make big free agent splashes this off-season. I think it's best to let a team with younger players and recent big-name acquisitions settle and gel. So this total, with the $4M already allocated for the draft, is fine.
Free agency is about filling holes this off-season. Buffalo has some smaller holes to fill that need filling to enable the draft to remain focused. I see those positions as FB, reserve TE, reserve linebacker, 3rd string running back, and a third string QB.
My first signing is Delanie Walker from San Francisco. This is my priority free agent for one reason - he can play tight end and line up as a full back, and he plays special teams. Buffalo doesn't use the full back a lot, so dedicating a roster spot to the position alone is foolish. Walker can fill three spots, and will cost Buffalo about $1.3M based on his last contract with San Francisco.
My next signing is Brian Leonard from Cincinnati. Buffalo needs a third runner that can pass protect, and Leonard is a running back / fullback tweener that excels in the passing game both as a receiver and a pass blocker. He can also line up at fullback, giving Whisenhunt some versatility. And he's a capable short yardage runner. He'll cost $1M per season.
Buffalo fills a reserve linebacker spot with Gary Guyton from San Diego. Guyton was drafted by the Patriots, signed by the Cowboys this season and then cut before signing and starting for the Chargers. He's signed for two reasons: scheme versatility and special teams. Guyton is a big, fast player that has played weak inside linebacker in a 3-4 his entire career. He's good in coverage, and knows how to stack guards. He's an ideal to backup both the MLB and SLB spots, and he won't cost much. Buffalo can sign Guyton for about $750,000 per season.
This leaves the Bills about $1.5M for the third string QB. And the choices stink. Fortunately, all this player needs to do is run the scout offense. For that duty and for that price, my choices are Bruce Gradkowski, Josh McCown, Luke McCown, Kellen Clemens, and Tyler Thigpen. Tarvaris Jackson isn't coming back; would you? And whoever Buffalo signs needs needs to understand that they aren't playing.
Gradkowski is my choice, and fits the price, but I doubt he takes the offer. He's Andy Dalton's reserve in Cincinnati, and has ties to Jay Gruden. They're no reason for him to leave a better job for a lesser one. Both McCown's fit the price range, with Luke backing up Matt Ryan this past season. No reason for him to leave. Of the remaining three, Thigpen has continuity. But Clemens is far more talented. Buffalo signs Kellen Clemens from St. Louis for $1M per season.
Here's where the big off-season additions are made. My first three draft priorities are acquiring a QB of the future, a wave DE, and a tall and rangy WR. I also would like to add a linebacker, a CB, and a reserve DT. I'm only listing round, not pick in the round.
1.) Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State. I'm not getting cute with this pick. No trades to acquire picks, no playing the odds to see which QB falls into the later parts of the first round for a trade up. Glennon is my guy, and I'm taking him all the way. He's got the talent worthy of the pick, and he's also worthy of developing as the team's long-term starter. This is what teams that want to win Super Bowls do.
2.) Cornellius Carradine, DE, Florida State. I toyed with the idea of trading up for Ezekiel Ansah, the DE from BYU. Two reasons stopped me from making that move. First, Buffalo can reasonably trade up with their 2nd and 3rd round picks to around 22-23 in the first round. I think Ansah will be long gone by then. Second, I need the picks to fill my roster.
I also wanted Jackson Jeffcoat in the second round, but I don't think he's going to declare. If Jackson's available, he's my pick, but I think he's going to listen to dad and stay put.
Carradine is somewhat of a Nix-esque picks, and somewhat not. He doesn't have a huge college track record, and played two years in JUCO. But he's a first round talent coming off the right side, but won't be a first rounder due to a torn ACL. So Nix is getting a first round talent in the second round, which is right up his alley. Alternate pick: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas.
3.) Aaron Mellette, WR, Elon. Here's your throw-back small school Bills find. Mellette is tall with long arms, runs well, and gets open all over the field. He runs a full route tree, can run past most corners, and is tall enough to win jump balls. He didn't fare well against North Carolina this season, but neither did anyone else on Elon. He's got talent, though. I think he'll run in the 4.5s based on watching him vs. Appalachian State last season, and that's enough to get even with the corner running deep. With his height and wingspan - that's open. Alternate pick: Tavarres King, WR, Georgia.
4,) Kwame Geathers, DT, Georgia. I like Torrell Troup. I really do. And I feel for him, being injured as much as he has been. I am not counting on him returning healthy, so Nix takes Geathers. Buffalo's DTs play different styles. Kyle Williams plays a penetration game over the guard, and Marcell Dareus plays over the center most often. Alex Carrington has come on recently and is worthy to be Williams' back-up. Buffalo needs a big DT that can spell Dareus. Geathers is huge and backed up nose tackle Johnathan Jenkins at Georgia very well. He knows the role, can fill the role, and can also help on short yardage and goal line situations.
5.) Kenny Tate, OLB/SS, Maryland. If you watched Maryland, you noticed Tate all over the field. He's a younger version of Bryan Scott. He covers slot receivers, tight ends in space, and can also line up in the box and play the run. He's very instinctive and seems to be always around the ball. He's Scott's replacement.
6.) Brandon McGee, CB, Miami (Fla). Buffalo needs outside cornerback depth. Stephon Gilmore is a keeper. The jury is still out on Aaron Williams and Justin Rogers. Ron Brooks looked comfortable outside, but might be a better fit in the slot. Enter McGee. He's started for Al Golden for two years despite the team's dedicated youth movement. He's fast enough to stay with receivers and has decent size for the position. He'll be in the coming East-West Shrine Game if you want to learn some about him.
2013 Buffalo Bills
SE: TJ Graham / Marcus Easley
LT: Cordy Glenn
LG: Andy Levitre / Chad Rinehart
RG: Kraig Urbik
SL: Stevie Johnson / David Nelson
FL: Donald Jones / Aaron Mellette
QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick / Mike Glennon / Kellen Clemens
RB: CJ Spiller / Fred Jackson / Brian Leonard
LE: Mario Williams / Chris Kelsay
NT: Marcell Dareus / Kwame Geathers
DT: Kyle Williams / Alex Carrington
MLB: Kelvin Sheppard / Gary Guyton / Chris White
WLB: Nick Barnett / Kenny Tate
LCB: Aaron Williams / Justin Rogers / Ron Brooks
SS: Da'Norris Searcy / George Wilson
FS: Jairus Byrd / Mana Silva
RCB: Stephon Gilmore / Leodis McKelvin / Brandon McGee
Special Teams (3)
K: Rian Lindell
P: Shawn Powell
LS: Garrison Sanborn
Rational Behind the Roster
Buffalo's offense gets big additions in Whisenhunt and Glennon. Whisenhunt is versatile. He ran a power run game in Pittsburgh, and ran a vertical offense in Arizona with Kurt Warner. He'll adjust the offense, and make the best of what's available. Plus, the offensive line in a team strength. Spiller, Jackson, Johnson, and Chandler are a good core group of skill players. And his reserves are young, versatile, or both. The additions of Leonard and Walker lets Whisenhunt go power when he needs to. That allows him to do a lot with the players he has.
Adding Glennon was the other key to the off-season. The kid has all the talent you need to play QB in the NFL. Fitzpatrick allows him to develop at his own speed, and Gailey won't have to throw him to the wolves. And if it comes to that, Whisenhunt got Roethlisberger through his first three seasons, and knows exactly how the bring along a young QB. And when he finally plays, Glennon can open up the offense. He can make throws that Fitzpatrick can't, he's far more accurate, and plays well under pressure.
The defensive improvement plan centers around stopping passing games. The linebackers are still admittedly weak. The defensive line is deep, and there are five ends on the roster, plus Moats, to throw at QBs. There are six corners on the roster, and five are young with potential to get better. And Tate is a sub-package linebacker. That's a lot of growth potential for the passing defense.
I went with a DE over linebacker or cornerback with this in mind. Wannstedt's defense needs wave rushers to constantly apply pressure. Kelsay and Anderson are getting older, and Moore is still unproven. Carradine adds another rusher to throw at the QB - that's how the Giants do it with their front four. A better pass rush covers for weaker areas.
Overall, I went for continuity, with some backup plans. The roster looks a lot similar to the 2012 roster, except many young players have another year to progress. In my plan, young players getting better makes up the majority of the difference. Additionally, the team now has succession plans at GM (Buddy Nix to Doug Whaley), quarterback (Fitzpatrick to Glennon) and potentially at head coach (Gailey to Whisenhunt). It's continuity with hedges.