Now that Buffalo's season has once again lurched to an unsatisfying conclusion people have taken to the traditional offseason free agent window shopping and mock drafting with a relish. Here is a look at some of the available free agents for you to consider in relation to overall offseason moves that you'd make as GM: re-signings, taggings, free agents, drafts, contract restructurings. I looked at Tight Ends, Wide Receivers, Cornerbacks, Tackles and Guards-the main areas of need for the Bills.
It looks as though there are only a quartet of tight ends who finished the season in the top 40 in terms of statistics. One of them, Scott Chandler, is already a Bill which gives the team an inside track towards re-signing him. But should Whaley bring Chandler back? He's known as a fairly reliable receiving target and decent blocker, the quintessential jack of all trades and master of none.
Jimmy Graham 26 6'7"/265# (1): 1215 yards, 16 TD
Scott Chandler 28 6'7"/260# (13): 655 yards, 2 TD
Brandon Pettigrew 28 6'5"/265# (21): 416 yards, 2 TD
Jermichael Finley 27 6'5"/247# (38): 300 yards, 3 TD
As you can see, all of the available TE free agents who are top 40 are between 26 and 28 years old. They are all between 6'5" and 6'7" and all but Finley are in the 260# range. You want Graham. I want Graham. So do all of the fans of all of the other teams in the league. I suspect that everyone outside of New Orleans is going o be disappointed. He's such an integral part of their offense that they'll find a way to keep him, most likely by slapping him with the franchise tag....even if they have to pay the WR tag instead of the TE price. The Lions have 16 free agents, including some lesser known but important pieces of their team. None of those players look like franchise tag candidates so the team may well tag Pettigrew, one of Stafford's many weapons. Jermichael Finley was a hot commodity not very long ago but it's hard to see shelling out free agent cash to a guy who didn't make much of an impact in 2013. Unless Buffalo is going to go hard after a TE in the draft re-signing Chandler looks like the best available option.
There were 7 WRs in the top 40 in terms of stats who are also free agents. I included Johnson because he just missed the top 40 and as a way of comparison with the available WRs.
Julian Edelman 27 5'10"/198# (4): 1056 yards, 6 TD
Eric Decker 26 6'3"/214# (11): 1288 yards, 11 TD
Anquan Boldin 33 6'1"/220# (13): 1179 yards, 7 TD
Emmanuel Sanders 26 5'11"/180# (28): 740 yards 6 TD
Golden Tate 25 5'10"/202# (33): 898 yards, 5 TD
James Jones 29 6'1"/208# (36): 817 yards, 3 TD
Hakeem Nicks 25 6'1"/208# (39): 896 yards, 0 TD
Stevie Johnson 27 6'2"/207# (42): 597 yards, 3 TD
Julian Edelman doesn't seem to be the sort of WR that the Bills have been lacking since the departure of Eric Moulds. Also, his numbers are likely to drop off sharply in another offensive system...and that's only if New England lets him go. It's easy to see Edelman taking less to stay in Foxboro, particularly on a one or two year deal as that would set him up for a huge stat fueled payday when he's 28 or 29. Boldin is 33 so I doubt he'd be a Whaley target. Buffalo has a pair of Sanders/Tate type targets in Goodwin and Graham. If the Bills don't want to expend a draft pick on a WR, Jones and/or Nicks may be of interest as each outproduced Johnson in spite of passing game woes on their respective teams. Decker stands out to me. Sure, his numbers are inflated due to Manning's ridiculous aerial assault but he's a much bigger WR than I had thought just looking at him on the field. With the money that Denver has tied up in players like Manning, Welker, DRC and Miller the team may not be able to keep him from leaving on a free agent deal. Decker, like Edelman, could take less money for one or two years in order to pump up his stats and score an enormous free agent deal in 2015 or 2016.
Cornerbacks aren't as easy to rank statistically as offensive skill players. I've put together a list of 10 possible free agent CB targets along with their ages and measurements. Don't pay too much attention to the order of the list.
Alterraun Verner 25 5'10"/187#
Aqib Talib 27 6'1"/205#
Dominique Rogers-Cromartie 27 6'2"/193#
Captain Munnerlyn 25 5'8"/195#
Sam Shields 26 5'11"/184#
Brent Grimes 30 5'10"/190#
Walter Thurmond 26 5'11"/190#
Vontae Davis 25 5'11"/204
Brandon Browner 29 6'4"/221#
Charles Tillman 32 6'2"/198#
Captain Munnerlyn has been a name that I've seen mentioned by several on Rumblings as a possible free agent target. No thanks. I want the Bills to pursue CBs who can battle with the ever bigger WRs and Munnerlyn isn't much taller than I am. Tillman is the oldest on the list at 32 and my guess is that will keep him from being a Whaley target. Denver may push hard to re-sign DRC and the Patriots have to be happy enough with Talib's performance and behavior to want to bring him back. Vontae Davis cost the Colts a 2nd round pick so it's a safe bet that they've got a plan for keeping him. That leaves Browner and a quartet of 5'10"-5'11" players: Verner, Shields, Grimes, Thurmond. Thurmond is a young player who has been part of a very good secondary but that could have something to do with the defense (a lot of cover 3) the Seahawks employ. Shields has been on good teams and tested in the playoffs by some of the best WRs in the game. I don't know enough about Verner or Grimes. Browner is in an interesting position. He's on suspension for a missed/failed drug test but he's suing the league because he wasn't an NFL employee (he was in the CFL) at the time of the test. I see the league folding like the French army before the lawsuit gets too far along in order to keep alive the illusion that the NFL can require non-employees to submit to random drug testing as a condition of possible future employment. My guess is an 8 game suspension with a wink-nod behind the scenes agreement that it will be reduced to 4 games by the Commissioner. He's a huge cornerback, more than capable of physically handling big WRs.
There are three OTs and three OGs who stood out to me when I was looking at the list of free agents. As with CBs, there isn't a handy way of ranking players based on statistics. Don't put any stock in how I've got them listed.
Roger Saffold 26
Joe Asamoah 26
Geoff Schwarts 27
The Ravens spent lavishly on Flacco and may not have the room to match a deal offered to Monroe. He was a trade this year and unless the Ravens were interested in a one year rental you'd have to figure that Ozzie Newsom has a plan for keeping Monroe one way or another. The Chiefs might not feel that way about Branden Albert and the Rams may be ready to move on from Roger Saffold, particularly given that their position in the draft will allow them to get a top shelf OT prospect on the cheap. The Chiefs have a pair of guards that might interest the Bills and the team may well let one or the other walk. Wharton at 33 might be older than Whaley is looking for as the Bills aren't contending for the Super Bowl in 2014.
Of the free agents covered in this my attention is drawn to Denver and Kansas City. Can the Broncos re-sign both DRC and Eric Decker? If not, which one is likely to be considered their priority? My guess would be DRC gets re-signed while the Broncos gamble that Decker will sign at a discount based on Manning's ability to turn pedestrian WRs into Pro Bowlers should Decker depart. The Chiefs seem likely to lose one of their guards and possibly Albert. Brandon Browner's situation bears careful monitoring.
My personal take is that the Bills should re-sign Chandler as there aren't other TE options likely to be available that have produced as well as he has. Signing Chandler wouldn't preclude taking a TE in the draft. Decker could be a target if the Bills don't want to go after Mike Evans in the draft; I'd pass on Nicks or Jones as the team already has Johnson. Raiding KC for one of their guards seems a good way for Buffalo to shore up the woeful LG position. Albert might command LT money, too much for Buffalo to pay a RT so Saffold would be my fallback option. I'd look into signing Browner to a contract regardless of the suspension.
Since I'm the resident curmudgeon I'll suggest that Decker will choose to stay with Manning for less than he can get from teams with unsettled QB situations and that Albert won't sign on to be a RT. That would leave the Bills with either Schwartz or Asamoah at LG, possibly Saffold, a re-signed Chandler, no help at WR in free agency, and a CB who might be suspended all season.
How would you set up your draft?