Recently a lot of discussion has come up about how injury prone the Bills seemed to be this year, and how it hurt our chances at a playoff spot. While the huge amount of injured players (especially a third of our starters) was a big reason for this team's failure to make the playoffs, I think part of the reason for our high number of players on injured reserve is actually a unique approach to building the team that our coach and GM have employed since their first season: Using the injured reserve list in addition to the waiver wire and other roster rules to acquire new players. Because injured reserve allows a team to keep hold of a player's contract while adding a new one to the roster, it can be used to stockpile prospects rather than reserving a spot on the bench for a player who might not recover for a month or more. As we've seen with Fred Jackson and some other players over the last two years, Chan Gailey is not averse to IRing a player with a fairly significant injury if he's expected to miss a large part of the season.
Let's start by looking at the transactions made when the Bills were in Chan Gailey's first season (2010), and see what kind of players we lost and gained.
- 9/5/2010: Released DB Dominique Harris - 9/5/2010: Claimed OG Kraig Urbik
- 9/27/2010: Released QB Trent Edwards - 9/28/2010: Signed QB Levi Brown
- 10/1/2010: Released TE Rob Myers from Practice Squad - 10/1/2010: Added OT Mansfield Wrotto to Practice Squad
- 10/4/2010: Waived OT Jamon Meredith - 10/4/2010 Promoted OT Mansfield Wrotto to the active roster
- 10/18/2010: Released DE Ra'Shon Harris - 10/18/2010 Added OG Chad Rinehart to Practice Squad
- 11/3/2010: Placed OT Cornell Green on injured reserve - 11/3/2010: Claimed OLB Shawne Merriman off waivers
From the start we knew that Gailey would be actively adjusting his roster to bring up better players. Grabbing a 3rd round draft pick who was only in his second season was a great start to the year, when he picked up Kraig Urbik the day after final cuts. Urbik is now a solid starting guard and backup center on the offensive line.
When Trent Edwards proved him wrong by failing miserably at quarterbacking, Gailey took little time to release him and promote Ryan Fitzpatrick. He also brought back their draft pick Levi Brown to the active roster. (Though Brown wouldn't pan out ultimately)
Another chain of transactions we see involved Mansfield Wrotto. While he ultimately was only in the team's plan for the 2010 season, it does show an example of the team finding a player through the practice squad who had a similar floor to someone on the roster (and an arguably higher ceiling) - releasing one and adding the second. Wrotto spent much of the season working as a RT during the Turnstile Tackles games.
We can also see where our #1 offensive line backup came from. By releasing Ra'Shon Harris (who I honestly cannot even remember at all, let alone find on the Bills transaction listings), they picked up a discarded 3rd round draft pick with a year of Practice Squad eligibility left. Chad Rinehart has ended up becoming a plug-in starter at either Guard spot and an outstanding backup.
The last big transaction from the first half of the season was the placing of Cornell Green on injured reserve and the claiming of Shawne Merriman off waivers. This was a very interesting transaction for both parts. First, Green's injury had been reported to not need surgery and not be a season ender, so the injured reserve approach seemed surprising to some. Second, no one expected Buffalo to go after a player so boom-or-bust, so famous, as Lights Out. This represented a major risk on Buddy's part, but showed that Buffalo was going to try any tactic they could to get talented players.
During a busy rest of November, 4 more players would go on Injured Reserve, including Shawne Merriman, Roscoe Parrish, and Andra Davis. Cornell Green was also released. To replace those players, the Bills did a lot of practice squad shuffling, and brought in some young players to get some practice time:
- 11/10/2010 Promoted WR Paul Hubbard to the active roster
- 11/19/2010 Promoted FB Jehuu Caulcrick to the active roster
- 11/27/2010 Promoted WR Naaman Roosevelt to the active roster
- 11/27/2010 Promoted LB Thomas Williams to the active roster
Heading into December, the injuries continued for Buffalo. Knowing that they were fighting for draft position and the future at that point in the season, I'm sure it didn't take much for Chan to IR any player who had a semi-serious injury. Some very interesting acquisitions came in as a result of the December IR-fest (highlights below):
- 12/2/2010 Placed DE Dwan Edwards on injured reserve - 12/2/2010 Signed TE Mike Caussin
- 12/3/2010 Placed LB Reggie Torbor on injured reserve - 12/3/2010 Awarded TE Scott Chandler off waivers
- 12/6/2010 Placed LB Antonio Coleman on injured reserve - 12/6/2010 Awarded LB Pierre Woods off waivers
- 12/7/2010 Placed OG Kraig Urbik on injured reserve - 12/7/2010 Promoted OG Chad Rinehart to the active roster
- 12/11/2010 Waived LB Thomas Williams - 12/11/2010 Signed DT Kellen Heard
- 12/14/2010 Placed WR Lee Evans on injured reserve - 12/14/2010 Signed OG Colin Brown
- 12/14/2010 Placed TE Shawn Nelson on non-football injury reserve - 12/14/2010 Signed OT Erik Pears
At the end of the first season, the roster was hugely different from the one Gailey had inherited when he was hired. Though they had placed 13 (by my count) players on injured reserve, the Bills had managed to collect the following players for their future roster:
- Kraig Urbik
- Chad Rinehart
- Shawne Merriman
- Mike Caussin
- Scott Chandler
- Kellen Heard
- Colin Brown
- Erik Pears
That makes 4 starters (3 solid starters, one always-injured with potential to be good), 1 excellent backup, and 3 young backups. As we'll see when I profile the 2011 season, this approach continued to a smaller extent in the following year. I'll also try and profile a few prospects the Bills might target in the upcoming 2012 season, based on the approach that the Bills front office took since Nix was hired.