Hello fellow rumblers. Now that the offseason – the most exciting time to be a Bills fan for the last 13 years – is finally upon us, I’d like to share my thoughts on what personnel moves I think Nix and Co. should make in the lead up to the 2013 season.
I’d like to start out by saying that I think Doug Marrone was a good hire. It took me a little while to get on board with the idea, especially since I was really hoping for Lovie and didn’t know much about Marrone, but I’ve since decided that it was the right move. I think this organization, and more specifically the players on this team, need a man of Marrone’s character.
Based on my research over the last month, Marrone seems to be a bit of a disciplinarian, who is honest with his players and doesn’t play favorites. He expects that each and every player on the roster will consistently give their full effort, and if they don’t, will likely be riding the pine or cut. I think this team needs some motivation in the form of tough love, and I think that’s what they’re about to get.
I also like that he’s played in the league and is under 60. I think those two attributes alone are going to help players relate to him in a way they never could with Chan.
Lastly, I’m impressed with his ability to turn around a program. Though you can’t see the full impact just by looking at the win-loss column, the plain fact of the matter is that the program was a joke when he got there and four short years later he’s leaving behind a respectable program with two bowl wins. He successfully changed a losing culture into a winning one in a relatively short period of time. He knew what he was getting into there, and he knows what he’s getting into here. He’s not afraid of a challenge. I dig that.
I also like the way he filled out his staff. I won’t ramble on about how much I like Pettine, because I think that opinion is pretty universally held by the rumblings faithful. Instead, I’ll focus my attention on Hackett. Our new OC has taken quite a bit of flack on this site for being young and inexperienced. But up- and-comers are, by definition, inexperienced. Otherwise they wouldn’t be "up-and-comers" they’d be proven veterans. If you want to obtain what you project to be a truly talented individual before anyone else gets to him, you need to take a risk based on potential. It’s a high risk, high reward situation, but if you make the right call the reward is substantial.
I also think that the risk of Hackett is mitigated by the fact that Marrone, who has coached in this league and has worked with him before, thinks he’s capable of success. This is not a guess based on far off observations, this is a calculated risk based on extreme familiarity. And for a fan base starved for a winning season RIGHT NOW, I don’t think you can overstate just how important their familiarity with one another and the system will be.
I’m not too inclined to pass judgment on Danny Crossman. I really believe that special teams success is based on the philosophies of the head coach. If Marrone give special teams some priority in terms of the players he’ll allow to play on that unit, then they’ll likely be average to above average. If he doesn’t, well then they may just suck. Bobby April is a great example, great with the Bills, horrid with the Eagles. I also think special teams are becoming less and less important as the league is continuously trying to make them less of a factor with rule changes. We may even see kick-offs removed at some point, which I think would be a mistake, but is an eventuality nonetheless. Long story short, I’ll wait to see how they do before passing judgment.
On to the offseason player moves.
Below is a list of players I’d like to see cut, along with the money the team would save in parenthesis:
Ryan Fitzpatrick ($500,000)
Chris Kelsay ($5 million)
Terrence McGee ($4.6 million)
Brad Smith ($3.75 million)
George Wilson ($3.6 million)
Rian Lindell (3 million)
Kelsay and McGee are past their respective primes and are vastly overpaid for what their contribution potential is in 2013. I like Brad Smith as a jack-of-all-trades player, but not for 3.75 million. I’m a big George Wilson fan, but he’s on the decline and I’m ready to see Searcy take on a bigger role. I also think there’s a good possibility that they move Aaron Williams to safety. Especially since I’ve read in a few places that the Jets D, and therefore Pettine’s D, often uses 3 safety’s in nickel situations instead of an extra cornerback.
The Fitzpatrick experiment needs to end. Again, I’m a fan of Fitzy. He gave me something I hadn’t had for a while with this team, hope. But he is not the one who will take us to the promised land. He’s got the head for it, but unfortunately not the physical talent. I watched him miss on far too many intermediate and deep throws to the outside last year to ever believe in his ability to succeed in this league. Thanks for the memories Fitz, good luck to you wherever you may land. The fact that cutting him before the league year keeps us from having to pay him anything in 2014 makes this an absolute no-brainer for me.
This, combined with the 15 million the team already has, brings our cap space total to roughly $35 million. I hadn’t planned to cut Barnett, but since the real GM of the Bills did just that today, that brings the total up to $38.5 million. That allows us to do some work in free agency, beginning with our own players.
Free Agent Targets
When I started looking at free agency, I had a well-defined list of players I wanted to sign. But once I really started to try to crunch the numbers, I realized there was no possible way I was going to get everyone I wanted. So I started creating different free-agent scenarios. I then moved forward with the one that had the combination of players that I was most comfortable with. Below is a list of the scenarios, with accompanying rationales. They ordered from most to least attractive, with the first one being the one I used to complete the 53 man roster. I included the cap hit in parenthesis next to each player’s name. The number is my best guess based on the current contracts of players I considered equivalent. These cap numbers are totally open to debate, because they are really just my best guess based on some cursory research. I also left roughly $4-5 million in every scenario for the purpose of signing the rookies (not sure that’s enough, but I think I’m close).
Jairus Byrd ($7.5 million)
Alex Smith – Via trade ($7.5 million)
Andy Levitre ($6.5 million)
Leodis McKelvin ($3 million)
Danario Alexander ($3 million)
Matt Moore (2.5 million)
Kyle Moore ($2.5 million)
David Nelson ($1 million)
Yes, scenario 1 includes Alex Smith. I think I like Smith a lot more than other Bills fans on this fine site. I’ve watched a lot of Smith over the years and I think he’s a bright guy who has all the physical tools. He had a rough start to his career, but he also had five different offensive coordinators in his first five years in the league. Stability is essential to the development of a young quarterback, and the lack thereof can completely ruin even the most talented of prospects. Given those circumstances, I’m impressed with Smith’s mental toughness. He endured a pretty awful first five years and still had the mental fortitude to emerge as one of the better QB’s in the league in 2011 and 2012. Most would have given up and withered into obscurity with irreparably broken psyches. Smith not only survived, but I’d even go so far as to say he’s flourished.
Oh, and the comparisons to Fitz drive me a little crazy. As I said earlier, I’m a big Fitz fan; he’s made these last few years bearable to watch. But Fitz can’t hit the broad side of a barn on anything over 20 yards. He’s a one-dimensional quarterback and defensive coordinators figured him out after the 5-2 stretch that started off the 2011 season. Unfortunately for us, that’s the same time he got his contract extension.
I’ve seen Smith detractors point out that his stats are similar to Fitz’s. But I think stats can often be made to support any story you’d like, if you take the ones you want and display them in a way that best supports a given argument. The only stat that really matters is wins and losses. In the last 4 years, Fitz is 20-33 while Smith is 27-17-1. Smith is a far better athlete and a much more accurate QB on down the field throws, at least from what I’ve seen in watching the games. I’m not declaring that Smith is an elite QB, or even that he’s guaranteed to turn around our franchise. But I find it hard to listen to arguments that Fitz and Smith are essentially the same QB.
I would gladly give up a conditional 2014 third round pick, that could turn into a second rounder if – and here’s the conditional part – Smith plays at least 13 games and the Bills make the playoffs.
Here is a list of third round picks from the last 5 drafts:
•No 3rd rd. pick in 2009
I’d give up any one of those players for a QB who has proven over the course of two seasons that he can win in this league. As Bills fans we’ve learned the hard way how important the quarterback position is and I think obtaining one with Smith’s potential is well worth a third round draft pick. Now, if Smith plays 13 games and we make the playoffs, it becomes a second. But honestly, after a 13-year playoff drought, if we make the post-season I’ll be so ecstatic I won’t even be thinking about the loss of a second round pick. I’ll be too busy basking in the glory of a possible super bowl run (hey, all you gotta do is get in, then it’s anybody’s game). This move also gives us the flexibility to wait until the second round to take a QB, allowing us to go BPA in round 1.
One other acquisition I’d like to point out in this scenario is the signing of Danario Alexander. He looked pretty damn good in San Diego last year and, from what I saw, he fits Nix’s description of the WR that can go up and get the ball even when he’s covered. I know it’s a small sample size, but I think he compliments Stevie very well. I’d be pretty excited to see what we could do in 4 WR sets with Stevie and Nelson in the slot and Alexander and Graham on the outside.
The best thing about this scenario, we get to keep our own homegrown talent by retaining Byrd and Levitre. That’s right, two of our favorite Buffalo Bills will be back, showing the rest of the team that if you work hard and perform on the field, you’ll be rewarded. Having said that, I seriously thought about letting Levitre walk. I think that’s a hell of a lot to pay for a guard and we could retain Rinehart, who is at least a serviceable option, for less than half of that. Which leads me to scenario 2.
Dwayne Bowe ($12 million)
Jairus Byrd ($7.5 million)
Matt Flynn – Via trade ($5 million)
Chase Daniel ($2.5 million)
Mike DeVito ($2.5 million)
Chad Rinehart ($2 million)
Jim Leonhard ($1.5 million)
David Nelson ($1 million)
In scenario number 2, we have a repeat of the 2012 off-season by landing one of the most sought after free agents on the market. Dwayne Bowe is a prototypical WR and exactly the kind of player Nix covets. He’s talented, young and he’s produced on the field – even with subpar play at the QB position. He’s also going to be very expensive, which limits the other moves the team can make in free agency. Therefore, we can’t resign Levitre. With Byrd and Bowe locked-up, signing Levitre starts to seem like a luxury. I resign Rinehart instead and still roll along with a pretty talented O-line overall.
This scenario, like scenario 1, involves a trade. Matt Flynn is an intriguing proposition. He is young, has looked remarkable when he’s played –though it’s a small sample size – and has a very cap friendly contract. I’d be willing to give up a conditional fourth rounder for Flynn, with the same basic parameters as the Smith trade mentioned in scenario 1. If we make the playoffs and Flynn plays at least 13 games it becomes a fourth round pick. Again, I’d easily trade that pick for a QB that takes us to the playoffs.
Additionally, I’ve signed Chase Daniel to compete with Flynn for the starting job. Like Flynn, Chase has had the experience of sitting behind a super bowl winning, top-five quarterback. I’d like to see what he’s learned. This scenario again gives us the opportunity to pick BPA in round 1 and QB in round two or later. Flynn, Chase and the rookie go into camp on even footing. May the best man win.
Two smaller signings are DeVito and Leonhard. Two lunch pail type players who know Pettine’s system, are affordable, will contribute, and can be coaches on the field.
Dwayne Bowe ($12 million)
Jairus Byrd ($7.5 million)
Andy Levitre ($6.5 million)
Leodis McKelvin ($3 million)
Tarvaris Jackson ($2.5 million)
Chase Daniel (2.5 million)
Scenario 3 is more for conversation than anything else. It just shows how going after three big free agent signees makes it hard to fill depth in other areas.
One last note on free agency. I didn’t include Bart Scott, Calvin Pace or Eric Smith in my thinking because they are not yet free agents and won’t be until/unless the Jets cut them. If they are cut, I’d have interest in Smith, and particularly Pace, but definitely not Scott. However, Pace would likely cost us somewhere around $6million and Smith would probably be about $3million. So if I added either one, other sacrifices would need to be made.
2013 NFL Draft
I won’t pretend to be well versed enough in college football to start projecting prospects to the Bills with the 8th pick, or any pick thereafter for that matter. What I will say is that I hope they stay true to their board and go BPA. I don’t want to reach for a QB, just because we’ve been deprived of anything resembling a real one for the last decade plus. Since this draft seems to be laden with defensive talent at the top, I like the idea of either taking the best DE/OLB or Milliner, if he’s still available.
The idea of Gilmore and Milliner for the foreseeable future makes me giddy, especially given what Pettine did with the Revis/Cromartie duo in NY. This would also allow us to move Aaron Williams to Safety, which would likely be a better fit and would allow him to continue to be an impact player, since Pettine’s system often uses three safeties on the field at once.
Whatever happens in the draft, as long as we come out with a blue chip player in round 1 and a talented QB who possesses high upside, I’ll be happy. I trust Nix and co. in their ability to evaluate talent and I trust that the new coaching staff knows what type of players fit their system best. I just want them to stop ignoring the QB position in the draft. We should take one almost every year, even when we don’t need one. It’s a QB driven league, and we need to start stocking up
2013 53 Man Roster
With all of my off-season moves completed, here is what the 2013 Buffalo Bills 53 man roster looks like. Positions filled by drafted and undrafted rookies are in red font (these spots could also be filled by other fringe players – cheap street free agents or players plucked off of other practice squads).
QB: Smith, Moore, Rookie
RB: Spiller, Jackson, Rookie
WR: Johnson, Alexander, Graham, Nelson, Easley, Rookie
T: Glenn, Pears, Hairston, Sanders/Young
G: Levitre, Urbik, C. Brown
C: Wood, D. Snow
TE: Chandler, Smith, Rookie
DE/OLB: Williams, Anderson, Moore, Moats, Rookie, Rookie
ILB: Bradham, Sheppard, Rookie, Rookie
DT: Williams, Dareus, Carrington, Troup, Rookie
CB: Gilmore, Williams, McKelvin, Brooks, Rodgers, Rookie
S: Byrd, Searcy, Silva, Rookie
My own observation is that the LB position needs work. But frankly, after going through this exercise, I realized that no matter what I did, one positional group was going to end up being weak. Hopefully Pettine and his two LB assistants can coach up the players we have and Nix can add to that by finding talented players in this year’s draft.
Well, that’s my far too long-winded plan for the off-season. Have at it in the comments section below.