The offseason can be said to officially begin after the coach and head coach have delivered their postseason reports, and field questions about the strengths and weaknesses of their team over the course of the season just completed, and what needs to get done in order to improve going forward.
It is not often in the history of a sports franchise that one could carry out a scientific survey of fans and produce results in which the fans are close to 100 percent satisfied with the decisions made by management during the offseason. but the straw polls that have been carried out by various media outlets and at rumblings have shown extremely high levels of support for what has happened these past few months. Indeed, in the history of the Buffalo Bills, one would be hard pressed to imagine an offseason that unfolded in a more spectacular and positive fashion as the offseason of 2012. Below, I discuss what the offseason means for the Bills as a team and an organization, and what fans can expect to experience over the course of the upcoming regular season.
The most important press conference for the Bills was Buddy Nix's, since he is without question the man with the most power in the Bills' organization after Ralph Wilson, and has made it clear through his actions and statements that the Bills were not being held back in spending by their owner, but had limited their spending on salaries over the previous two years by Nix himself, who insisted that he had to persuade Ralph Wilson not to spend too much on certain players, rather than the reverse.
When Nix made this statement during the middle of the 2011 season during a radio interview, many media sources and most likely. even more fans, were decidedly skeptical of Nix's claim. But during the 2012 off season, Nix put all skeptic and doubters to shame, with the delivery of the greatest outpouring of off season contract signings in the history of the franchise, and the largest contract ever signed by a defensive player in free agency.
Lost in all of the thrill of the off season signings has been the solidification of the core coaching staff, with the replacement of George Edwards with Super Bowl winning defensive coordinator Dave Wannestadt, already Gailey's assistant head coach, as well as the addition of Daveid Lee as QB coach, who has a long history of wildcat work, including with the Miami Dolphins, who first reintroduced the concept to the league a handful of years ago, and is considered a superior trainer of QB fundamentals.
The only strong criticism of the Bills off season has centered around the failure to sign a quality deep threat receiver through free agency, and the decision to select TJ Graham as their speed receiver in the 3rd round, after the other three options at that position were already taken off the board, according to Chix's post draft press conferences.
Minor criticism has surfaced around the decision to sign Vince Young, overwhelmed by positive support for the decision among fans and even the regular media skeptics and doubters. Indeed, the Bills off season has been viewed so positively within the Western New York area that there are rumors flying around town that Jerry Sullivan thinks he might enjoy attending Bills games this season. More shocking has been a series of positve columns on the Bills from the Buffalo News itself, which seems quite capable of responding to the obvious change in OBD, as reflected in its decision to devote a fulltime blogger, the veteran reporter Tim Graham, to the team.
Behind the off season extravanganza in OBD spending on new free agent contracts and contract extensions for the likes of fan favorite and locker room leader Fred Jackson, a growing chorus concerned about the Bills' request for a $200 million subsidy for stadium upgrades in order to extend its lease (due to end in 2013) has struggled to create a firestorm of criticism in light of these off season moves towards NFL relevancy and deepening dreams of playoff games at The Ralph in the not-to-distant future.
While there is an extensive literature in sports sociology and economics on the pros and cons of a major league franchise on the area economy and society, there is no question that Super Mario's press conference upon signing his $100 million six year contract to play defensive end for the Bills deserves to be ranked as one of the greatest free advertisements for the Buffalo area culture and community ever spontaneously delivered in the history of free agent signings. Super Mario made it clear he was literally embraced by the fans upon his arrival, felt the warmth and class of the OBD organization, and was excited to learn about the region's natural and cultural riches, normally dismissed or ignored by the national media.
When Super Mario's signing was followed by the signing of another pass rushing specialist defensive end, Mark Andersen, Bills' fans went from thinking anything is possible to knowing anything is possible with this new management team in charge.
In sum, the Bills had a perfect off season even before the draft took place, and then the draft being considered very good to excellent was neither surprising nor reason to change one's opinions of the Bills all that much. Nix had managed to raise expectations so much during the preceding few months that the draft was both an expected success and anticlimactic. Oh, how the times have changed.
Of course, a perfect off season has to have some topping on the cake, and without doubt, OBD has now demonstrated it understands how to deliver both to the fans and the media. Vince Young was signed as another free agent to compete for the backup QB position, shortly after Fred Jackson received his well deserved contract extension.
The season is now less than four months away, and off season workouts have officially begun. Only one draft choice remains to be signed, TJ Graham, who no doubt will be delivering his signature to paper in short order.
What is left of course is most important: the real football season. It is time to fulfill the promises of the perfect off season. Now the hard work begins of preparing to win football games, playoff berths, divisional titles, conference titles, and of course, the ultimate prize, the Super Bowl.
It is important to remember that Chix have made it clear they are here to win the Super Bowl. If fans and the media have doubted their sincerity previously, it is much harder to doubt them now.
We are entering the third year of the Chix regime, and it has already been an amazing ride.
I remain optimistic that this is the year to return to the playoffs and challenge for the conference championship. It will not be easy getting past New England, the Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers, to name only the three most obvious. But professional sports is all about breakthrough seasons for players and teams, and the table has been set for this year to be the year when the Bills finally circle the wagons and remind us of why there is no place one would rather be than watching the Bills at The Ralph in the freezing cold of a January playoff game for the right to finally get over the hump and win the grand prize.
If we do not make it all the way this year, at least we now know it is not for lack of money or effort on the part of the Bills organization. And that, in itself, is cause for grand celebration. The Bills have closed the gap, at least on paper, between themselves and the elite teams in the NFL. We will learn soon enough whether the Bills are a special enough team to truly say the good times have arrived, once again.