For this BROP, I’m going to do what A) I think is going to happen in the case of coaching, etc. and B) what I would think is an effective way to get out of the 2013 off-season with a Buffalo Bills team ready to compete game-in and game-out. Since I’m assuming there will be a coaching change, playoffs may not happen; however, I would assume this squad under new management and with a few more pieces could contend for at least into December with somewhere around 7-9 wins overall.
For me, the stability will remain on the Front Office side. By keeping Buddy Nix and his people intact, their plan will now stay "on-track" with the assistance of fresher minds on the coaching side. To that end, Chan Gailey will be fired and replace with Mike Zimmer, Defensive Coordinator of the Bengals. I chose him over some of the other options because of the fact that he’s worked with all kinds of players, coaches and owners. His one issue has been that he’s too honest in interviews and frankly in Buffalo the Head Coach needs to be a straight shooter.
Also, since he’s been on the tour and has been in the league so long, he has a lot of connections and knows exactly who he can get to come with him as offensive coordinator. I would assume he’d bring for the purposes of this posting his DB coach to be his Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator. Don’t panic – Hue Jackson is a fine offensive mind and has already in the past worked with young QBs, tutoring Joe Flacco his first two years in the league.
On defense Zimmer is aggressive, knows how to fit personnel into 3-4 or 4-3, though he prefers the 4-3/46 model and as a Bengals coach has spent a long time being his own area scout for defensive players. Guys like Michael Johnson and Geno Atkins are Bengals because he looked at film and jumped on the table for them on draft day. Someone like that is a great get for the Buffalo Bills.
If Coach Zimmer doesn’t like the guys on roster on the back end, they can always be cut in camp. Right now, getting to 90 on the roster that are capable of playing and are vetted by Nix/Whaley are more important. So, three men are called into the office to re-structure their contracts, with only one leaving truly happy, with a fourth (Stevie) on standby should we need another 2 million in cap space:
Mario Williams – His six-year contract can only be pro-rated five years thanks to the new CBA. That means right now that sixth year has no pro-rated bonus money on it. I will change that. I convert his 2013 salary (guaranteed anyway) into a bonus (roster) that gets amortized into years two through six. That saves 4.528 million on this year’s cap and Mario gets to buy another Maserati.
Ryan Fitzpatrick – He knows quite well that he won’t be making what his contract says he will. I offer him 2.5 million and lowering his bonus (roster) from the amended contract or the door. He takes the 2.5 million birds in the hand and leaves relieved. At least until 2014. The Bills get 4 million back in cap space between the salary cut and the lowered bonus. Ryan also knows from his time on the Bengals Hue will give him a shot if he legitimately beats out the rookie, so why not stay?
George Wilson – I would like to keep George as a backup and as such he needs to take a haircut. Again, another man that realizes his worth is best here, so he takes 2.375 haircut.
On the cuts side, I let Terrence McGee (injuries) and Chris Kelsay (neck injury) go and Kirk Morrison’s salary from ‘13 was removed when he was cut the first time (1.45 mil). I keep Brad Smith because I believe [new coach] will be able to use him more like the Jets did as a weapon and less like the toy he has been with the Bills.
Total Money Saved: 18.628 million
Add in the 8 million or so left on the 2012 Salary Cap and the current projected space (107/121 million) for 2013 and that should bring the total space for re-signings/FA/draft to 40.628 million. Take 4 million out for rookies and that leaves an operating cap budget of 36.628 million.
Andy Levitre signs a 6 year, 48 million dollar deal with 32 or so million guaranteed. The deal should average 8 million a year. He wants to stay, he’s one of the top guards in the NFL and doesn’t need to be the highest to have his ego stroked, so it’s a win win for both sides.
Jairus Byrd is a tough nut to crack. I think he may not want to return and as such the Bills would have to blow him away with an offer. I do just that, getting him to sign to a 6 year, 50 million dollar deal with 32 or so again guaranteed. He’s now the highest-paid safety in the NFL (8.3 mil/year) and is worth every penny. He realizes that if he doesn’t sign that, he’d be franchised, so why not take the money and security that comes with it?
With those two done, I can now re-sign my other players with the knowledge I have 20.328 million to play with between them and FA acquisitions.
Kyle Moore is signed to a 4 year, 11 million dollar deal. Safe for both sides and he gets more change than he thought. (-2.75m)
Chad Rinehart is signed to a 3 year, 5.25 million dollar deal. A raise from his tender, and can sweeten it with a decent signing bonus. (-1.75m)
Leodis McKelvin is signed to a 2 year, 4 million dollar deal. See if he can improve under new staff at CB and his ST prowess should remain outstanding. (-2.0m)
Bryan Scott I bring back for league minimum, (-940k for 10+ year vets). If he doesn’t make it out of camp no biggie.
RFA wise, I tender Donald Jones at the right of first refusal (-1.323m this year due to CBA-mandated 5% bump) and David Nelson at the 2nd round level (-2.023m). Since Dorin Dickerson is an ERFA, I keep him and see if he can bring something more to table with new staff.(-540k)
All other FA (Choice, Jackson, Johnson, Martin, Mcintyre, Merriman, Silva and Thigpen) are thanked and wished good luck in their future endeavors. This should also have the Bills at or around 70 players if I did my math right.
Total Space Remaining: 9.002 million for Free Agency
Free Agent Acquisitions
When I began this exercise, I had done so with the mindset of three things for FA:
1. If possible, acquiring a top notch wideout to pair with Stevie,
2. Finding a wave end to pair with Moore for run downs if possible and,
3. Finding a linebacker for either depth or starting purposes.
Right off the bat, looking at my budget, number 1 is out of the question. The only target I would want to go after is Dwayne Bowe, and to do so would be deleterious to the cap, as well as the fact he wants to be a "star". Coach Zimmer might not see it that way, especially with CJ back there as the number one back/offensive weapon. I will, however, bring in Derek Hagan for depth at vet minimum and competition in camp. (-715k)
For number 2, I see a few options, but since I don’t think it’d be smart to put another 6 million a year into the defensive end pool by way of getting a Michael Bennett or Michael Johnson, I throw 2 year, 3 million dollar deal to Lawrence Jackson of Detroit. A draftee of the Seahawks, he’s good on run downs and a solid wave player. He hasn’t hit it big in Detroit, like Bennett and Johnson have done this year in Tampa Bay and Cincinnati respectively, so that should be a palatable "prove it" set up. I also think Zimmer can get a ton out of him ala a few of his wave players in Cincinnati. (-1.5 million)
I also sign Pat Sims from Cincinnati as a wave player at DT and insurance against Troup not recovering in time to start the season. I’d give him 3 years, 7.5 million. (-2.5)
For number 3, I will most likely look toward the draft, as there’s no one other than Philip Wheeler I would like in the free agent pool, and there may be June 1 cuts I can’t forsee in this ala Barnett. Since Mike Zimmer was my choice of coach, I could see them offer a one year vet minimum, maybe a little more to Manny Lawson to be Sam linebacker as well.
After doing what I could in FA, I’m now as ready as I can be for the draft. With 4.415 spent in FA, I have a little left over for any cuts that may come up, as well as re-signing perhaps a player or two during the season (Wood for instance).
2013 NFL Draft
Round 1 – Mike Glennon, QB, NC State: The Bills now have their QB of the future and perhaps present if he beats out Fitzpatrick. A new coach most likely would start him, so let’s assume that’s the case. I like his arm and I think the talent around at NC State was sub-optimal. Re-uniting with his favorite deep threat, TJ Graham is a plus. Finally, being developed by Hue Jackson will a Godsend for someone compared to Joe Flacco.
Round 2 – Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee: After being outperformed by Patterson this year he slips a bit, but Hunter fits Buddy’s "open when he’s not" mantra and his size is a boon to the WR corp.
Round 3 – Chris Gragg, H-Back/FB/TE, Arkansas: The more you can do, the more you can do in this offense. Gragg essentially replaces McIntyre, challenges Dickerson and can be power back in short yardage situations. Also a decent option on draws with both backs out wide/in slot.
Round 4 - Kenny Tate, OLB, Maryland: He’d be in competition with Scott for Nickel backer and can really provide depth at S and OLB. In Big Nickel defense, he could be the guy closer to the line, letting Byrd and Searcy roam deep.
Round 5 – Darius Slay, CB/S Mississippi State: Big boy corner (6’1) that can develop as an outside guy or, should Williams get pushed back to safety to compete with Searcy, can be a guy in the mix as dime corner year one.
Round 6 - Collin Klein, QB, K-State: This one isn’t necessarily for the Bills so much as an investment for 2015. With 2 solid years of development on his motion, as well as no pressure to be the starter in that period, I think "Optimus" Klein can develop well enough to warrant a 3rd round pick from a QB-needy team in the future. Worst case, he becomes de-facto Wildcat and you cut Brad Smith in 14 and get 3.5 million for that year’s cap.
Projected 2013 Depth Chart: Parenthesis denotes bubble player(s)
QB: Glennon, Fitzpatrick, Klein
RB: Spiller, Jackson
TE: Chandler, Smith (Dickerson)
SE: Hunter, Nelson, Jones, (Easley, Hagan)
FL: Johnson, Graham, B. Smith
OT: Glenn, Hairston, Young, Sanders (Pears)
OG: Levitre, Urbik, Rinehart
C: Wood, Brown (Snow)
LE: Williams, Jackson
RE: Anderson, Moore
NT: Dareus, Sims (Troup)
3T: Williams, Carrington
LB: Barnett, Sheppard, Bradham, Tate, (White, Scott)
LCB: Gilmore, Slay, (Rogers)
RCB: Williams, McKelvin, Brooks
SS: Searcy, Wilson
Specialists: Lindell, Powell, Sanborn
With the changes made here, I think the waves are stronger on defense, the youth has time to develop and with Zimmer will be far more aggressive and organized overall. That alone will give them a fighting chance against the rest of the AFC East, as well as the Bills’ 2013 schedule (AFC North, NFC South). On offense, Buddy finally gets his wideout, as well as a solid base for a 12 or 11 (1 back / 2 or 1 TE) offense that will allow CJ to flourish and the rookie to hit manageable, open targets.
Since I went with a defensive Head Coach, it would be imperative upon Zimmer to assign that Assistant Head Coach moniker to Jackson, to prevent him from leaving for anything except a head coaching job. I’d also make sure there were a few guys on the offensive side (QB Coach most likely) that can be suitable replacements when/if Hue got another shot at being Head Coach. Conversely, I wouldn’t be averse to have this scenario reversed – Hue as Head Coach and Zimmer as assistant Head Coach/Defense. However, I don’t think Zimmer would leave Marvin Lewis for that, while I would think Jackson would leave his assistant to the DB/ST coaches jobs to go back to offense.
Looking forward to chatting with you all about my plan!