While I was away this past weekend, the Buffalo Bills made a somewhat surprising, yet still fairly reasonable decision to release veteran cornerback Drayton Florence less than a year after giving him a three-year, $15 million contract. Having selected four cornerbacks in the past two drafts, the team's decision to gravitate toward full-on youth movement wasn't a complete shock.
It's also a gamble, but really only in one sense: oft-injured veteran Terrence McGee now sticks out like a sore thumb at this position.
The Bills re-structured McGee's contract earlier this off-season - it's essentially a two-year, $4 million contract - so money is no longer a concern here. Health is an issue, however; McGee has missed 22 games over the last three seasons, and a Buffalo News story that ran the same day Florence was released quoted McGee as saying he's "nowhere near" where he needs to be health-wise following patella tendon surgery.
The health issue makes McGee a stand-out at the position, as does his age: McGee will turn 32 in October, and is nearly five years the senior of the team's next-oldest cornerback, fifth-year pro Leodis McKelvin (who will turn 27 in September). Meanwhile, the team's two high-round investments at cornerback - Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams - are the two youngest players on the roster (at least as far as we can tell at the moment). Williams just turned 22, while Gilmore will turn 22 later this year. (Both players were junior entrants in their respective draft classes.) One or both should emerge as a starter this season. No other Bills cornerback, aside from McGee and McKelvin, is currently above the age of 24.
GM Buddy Nix, however, has spent time this off-season plainly stating that McGee is "as good as any of them" when he's healthy - so clearly, in the rare instances that McGee has been fully functional over the last two seasons (he's missed 17 games and played in 15), the team has liked what it's seen. But based on his missing more than 50 percent of the team's games while Nix has been here, it's impossible to think of McGee as a reliable option at cornerback.
Between the four draft picks (Gilmore, Williams, Ron Brooks and Justin Rogers), the Bills have a nice mix of outside and inside cover talent that, for now, serves as the future of the position. But they also need a present, and for now, McGee is a big part of that picture. (We'll have to wait and see if the same holds true for McKelvin, who barely saw playing time in an injury-riddled secondary at the close of the 2011 season). If McGee can't stay healthy, future will become present at corner for Buffalo - and that's a scary proposition for a team purportedly making a playoff push.