End of Season Review
There’s two things that stand head and shoulders above everything else when it comes to winning in the NFL. Your quarterback’s play compared to that of your opponent, and turnover ratio. If you want to do some more reading on why I think that, you can go here:
If you take the Bills vs Opponents QB play and Bills vs Opponent Turnover ratio for 2013, we came out even, which would suggest the Bills should have been closer to an 8-8 team, or the average (untimely turnovers during the Falcons and Chiefs games anyone?). Some of you are probably scratching your head thinking "How did Manuel, Lewis and Tuel player better than the opposing QBs?" The average Bills QB Rating on the year was 75 (well below the 5 year average across all teams during the regular season, 84.33938). The average opponent QB rating was 74.9. So Pettine’s D did incredible.
So what’s my strategy to get us into the playoff this year and end the drought?
Focus on turnovers with a vengeance. We already know the Bills aren’t investing another 1st Round pick into the QB spot this year, and I agree. They need to put EJ in a good situation by fixing the OLine and maybe give him another weapon or two on offense. If he still fails to impress then, then we can start evaluating Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, or whoever else emerges at QB in 2014. Everyone likes to talk up how the Bills defense was second in interceptions in 2013. But we were only +3 turnovers on the year.
The Seahawks led the league with +20 in the regular season. Besides winning the SB, thanks to a landslide of turnovers, guess what they did?
Turnover Thursdays, they spent an entire practice each week focusing on turnovers.
Read the First part about Bears versus Texans, at the time of writing, the Bears were 7-1 in the 2012 season with 21 Forced Fumbles on the year (2.625 FF a GAME). From the article, they had a Turnover drill every practice. They ended the year with +20 turnovers, missing the playoffs at 10-6. Lovie Smith was fired as a result and said he wanted to come to Buffalo. I’m going to be honest, at the time I had really hoped he was the pick for HC, or Chip Kelly was the pick for HC and Lovie Smith would have settled for a DC position. I hadn’t heard of Doug Marrone and was completely surprised by his hiring. I’m hoping for good things, but if he fails to make the playoffs and Lovie Smith turns Tampa Bay around, I’m not going to be very happy (Chip Kelly has already taken Philly to the playoffs, but I think that has more to do with the talent on the roster not being a good representation of their 2012 record when they supposedly quit on Andy Reid).
Some of you might be saying, well that addresses the Turnover part, but not the QB play part. Oh, but it does. If you’re intercepting the other QB, his rating goes down. More importantly, if EJ Manuel and Thad Lewis are participating in turnover drills, they’ll start throwing less interceptions. If the linebackers and secondary is busy trying to punch the ball out in practice, the receivers, RBs and TEs are going to be ready for it on game day.
Turnover Differential Leaders, +9 or more, in the last 5 years:
2010 New England (14-2) - 28
2011 SF (13-3) - 28
2012 New England (12-4) - 25
2011 Green Bay (15-1) - 24
2009 Green Bay (11-5) - 24
2013 Seattle (13-3) - 20 (SB Winner)
2012 Chicago (10-6) - 20 (missed playoffs)
2013 Kansas City (11-5) - 18
2011 New England (13-3) - 17
2010 Pittsburgh (12-4) - 17
2012 Washington (10-6) - 17
2009 Philly (11-5) - 15
2010 Atlanta (13-3) - 14
2012 NY Giants (9-7) - 14 (missed playoffs)
2013 Indianapolis (11-5) - 13
2012 Atlanta (13-3) - 13
2012 Seattle (11-5) - 13
2012 Houston (12-4) - 12
2013 SF (12-4) - 12
2013 Philly (10-6) - 12
2009 New Orleans (13-3) - 11 (SB Winner)
2013 Carolina (12-4) - 11
2011 Detroit (10-6) - 11
2010 Green Bay (10-6) - 10 (SB Winner)
2009 Baltimore (9-7) - 10
2013 Tampy Bay (4-12) - 10 (only team on this list with a losing record)
2013 New England (12-4) - 9
2012 SF (11-4-1) - 9
2010 NY Jets (11-5) - 9
2012 Baltimore (10-6) - 9 (SB Winner)
2010 Philly (10-6) - 9
2010 Tampa Bay (10-6) - 9 (missed playoffs)
2010 Kansas City (10-6) - 9
2009 SF (8-8) - 9 (missed playoffs)
Front Office and Coaching Staff
With the emphasis on turnovers in mind we’re looking for Coaches who should be familiar with running Turnover drills to our already fairly full Coaching Staff.
I’ve decided on the following prospects to investigate:
Rocky Seto, Seahawks Defensive Passing Game Coordinator, ties to Paul Hackett, Nate Hackett's father, has previously declined a job from the Bills as a secondary coach and his wife is a native of Seattle.
Marquand Manuel Seahawks Defensive Assistant
Kris Richard Seahawks Defensive Backs Coach
Gill Byrd, father of Jairus, unfortunately he's recently become the Bucs Cornerback Coach to work with Lovie Smith again
Greg Schiano probably ran turnover drills:
Tony Oden Secondary Coach for the Bucs under Schiano, currently without a job
Tarvaris Robinson, secondary coach for the Florida Gators, in 2012 the Defensive Coordinator was Dan Quinn, now the DC of the Seahawks: http://espn.go.com/colleges/florida/football/story/_/id/8793831/florida-gators-turnaround-turnover-margin, hopefully he's looking to jump to an NFL job.
Rocky Seto and Lovie Smith are the top choices. Lovie Smith is obviously unavailable as he’s taken over for Greg Schiano. We offer Rocky his same position with the Bills. Fresh off a Super Bowl win, the fact that his wife is from Seattle and the fact that he’s turned down a job with us before doesn’t bode well for us. We end up picking up Tony Oden to fill two roles that by themselves would be less than his previous role a Defensive Assistant Coach (to help with Turnover drills) and Defensive Quality Control coach and give it a more important sounding title. Possibly even something like Senior Defensive Assistant. We also pick up Travaris Robinson to be a Defensive Backs assistant coach.
What about Crossman? As acting GM I begrudgingly am keeping him around for a little while longer. But I am actively looking for other ST coaches the minute things go South.
Cap Room: $~25,667,000
Cap Room: ~$31,525,000
Jairus Byrd 5 year deal, at 9 million a year. You can’t stress the importance of taking the ball away from the opponent and then not resign a Pro Bowl player who’s projecting to be top 10 or maybe even top 5 on the All Time Interception list.
Carpenter, 2 year deal, 900,000 a year. Kicker’s don’t get big money, and using the Franchise Tag on him isn’t a good call.
Frank Summers $495,000 1 year
Leaves Buffalo with ~$21,460,000 in cap room.
Keep roughly 3.5 million on hand for the Rookie class (be conservative), leaving the Bills with roughly $18 million to work with for UFA.
This is the site I’m using to look up contract information:
And this one to look up Special Teams snap counts:
Team needs as I see them after resigning our players:
Fix the OLine
Depth at Cornerback
A big, tall, WR.
A TE in the mold Rob Gronkowski, just without the injury problems.
A RB who can pound the ball and can learn from Fred Jackson before he’s gone.
ILB Akeem Jordan, 27 years old, 6’1" 230 pounds. Part of a solid Kansas City Linebacking unit and defense. His 67 tackles in 2013 were better than Moats. Additionally he had 2 Forced Fumbles. The Chiefs were second in the league to Seattle last year with +18 turnovers, chances are Andy Reid had them focusing on turnovers. Having players already familiar with how to force turnovers means everyone else learns that much quicker in practice. 294 Special Team snaps means we’ve got a solid contributor. While he didn’t have any sacks, he was solid against the run and would let Kiko slide over to Weakside LB.
His last contract saw him making $735,000 on a one year deal. We’re offering him a 2 year deal at $1.1 million a year. That’s a 50% pay increase.
$16.9 million left.
I would love to also bring in Vincent Rey, he’s a Restricted Free Agent who made $630,000 in 2013. Since he was an UDFA, the Bills would lose no draft picks by picking him up. We could probably offer him in the $800,00 to $900,000 range, but chances are the Bengals will either lock him up before he hits Free Agency or match any reasonable offer on him. If the Bengals don’t lock him up we make an offer either way to at least force the Bengals to match us.
Another player I’m incredibly intrigued by is Perry Riley. It appears however that his agent thinks he’s worth $7 million a year. I’m not sold on that. I realize his agent’s saying $7 million to try and get $4 million, but I find it unlikely the Redskins let him go since they have big issues at LB and he knows all their playcalls, he’s also a solid Special Teams contributor:
I also don’t think OBD wants to pay $4 million a year for LB who doesn’t Rush the passer much.
Brandon Spikes is also in the same boat, but the Patriots will definitely let him test the market: http://fansided.com/2014/02/09/nfl-rumors-new-england-patriots-will-re-sign-brandon-spikes/#!xBTm3
I think Spikes is likely to get $5 million a year.
Donald Butler will either get a long term deal with SD or he’s getting tagged, he’s their number 1 priority this off season:
OG Jon Asamoah, 25 years old, 6’4" 305 pounds, was benched in Kansas City through no fault of his own, the other guy was just better. His rookie contract saw him averaging $886,280 a year on a rookie contract. We offer him a 4 year deal at $1.5 million a year (a 50%-ish pay increase). This is more than Legursky was making.
$15.4 million left.
RT Zach Strief, 31 years old, 6’7" 320 pounds, is a solid tackle and a Captain on the Saints. Icing on the cake? Marrone has worked with him before and would be able to trust him to a great locker room presence and help the younger players develop the way Marrone wants them to. His last contract saw him making just under $2 million a year. We’re offering a 3 year deal at $3.3 million a year (More than 50% pay increase). This is in line with what Pears was making. We’re looking for someone solid who we can plug in and not have to worry about.
$12.1 million left.
These two are getting pencilled in as starters at LG and RT respectively. We’re also bringing in a backup plan in FA.
Jack of all trades OL Eben Britton, 26 years old, 6’6" 308 pounds.
His last salary saw him making $715,000 a year on a 1 year deal. We’re offering him a 2 year deal at $1.1 million a year (a 50%-ish pay increase). He can play Guard, Tackle, and blocking specialist TE. The plan is to have him compete with Zach for the RT spot in training camp and give us confidence that Zach is what we think he is, if Eben doesn’t start at RT, he’s the next man up on every spot on the line except Center.
$11 million left.
There’s the distinct possibility that Zach Strief is retained by the Saints, our number 1 fallback plan is RT Austin Howard, 26 years old, 6’6" 333 pounds. He has a lot of upside and is a huge guy. In 2012 he didn’t do well in pass protection and excelled at run blocking. In 2013 he didn’t do as well at run block but his pass protection game got better. Marrone and company should be able to coach him up some, and he should be hitting that part of his career where he’s putting it all together. Additionally, we’d be weakening the Jets and possibly able to get some information out of him. His last salary saw him averaging just over 2 million a year. Close to the same deal Strief would get, but not quite as good due to the question marks with his consistency (2.5 ish million is a 25% pay increase).
CB Charles Tillman. I know what you’re thinking. "What the hell? Dude’s old." He’s 33, but he should have enough left in the tank for another season or two, especially considering we’re not going to be asking him to play anywhere near 100% of the snaps. More importantly, who better to come in and give input on how turnover drills should be done than the master of Forced Fumbles himself. There’s been some quotes about him guaranteeing he’s retiring a bear. I take that mean he’s going to sign a one day contract with the if he needs to take a pay day somewhere else for 2~3 years. We’re offering him a 2 year deal, at $5 million a year with an option to extend a third year. This is a pay decrease, but I don’t think he’s going to find another GM willing to pay him the big bucks after what happened with Ed Reed last year. I’m actually most interested in paying him the money to bring him in and have him do everything he can to help make sure we’re running turnover drills the way we should be, and be a veteran voice in the locker room and DB room. The fact that I think he still has something left in the tank to contribute on game days in a limited role is icing on the cake. In an ideal world, Tillman actually retires early, and comes to Buffalo as an assistant DB coach, so we don’t have to pay the money, but that’s not happening. He still thinks he can play, I still think he can play and I’m giving him his last big paycheck to come to Buffalo. Also, during turnover drills he’s going to be asked to make a video showing and explaining all the technique work involved in forcing fumbles. Documentation of process is a good thing. Then you keep it around even after he retires. Also, with gunning for the playoffs, we’re also trying to get to the Super Bowl in 2015 or 2016.
$6 million left.
CB Zack Bowman, 29 years old, 6’1" 193 pounds, ran a 4.39 second 40 yard dash at the 2008 combine. Charles Tillman’s back up. In 2013, he played 149 Special Teams snaps, had 3 Ints, a TD, and 8 passes defensed, the Bears signed Jennings long term. He’s had some injury concerns in the past, but we’re not asking him to play a starting position. He’s gonna be on rotation, be the next man up in case Gilmore, McKevlin or Tillman goes down, and be a core Special Teams player. He’s shown he’s more than capable of exactly that in Chicago. His last contract saw him making $780,000 a year. We’re offering him 4 years at $1.5 million a year (roughly double).
$4.5 million left.
RB James Starks. Former UB grad. Would be a solid 3rd RB, or at the very least someone to compete in camp with a Rookie. If he does well, we can put the rookie on the practice squad. His rookie contract saw him making roughly $500,000 a year, and with the devaluation of the RB position, we’ll offer him a 3 year, $750,000 a year deal (50% pay increase). If he doesn’t work out, not a big deal. Business is business, some guys are going to get cut and we’ll have some free cap space when the season actually starts.
$3.75 million left.
DE Everson Griffen - His rookie contract saw him making under $600,000 a year. He’s been consistently putting up 6-ish sack seasons and probably wants a chance to start instead of being Jared Allen’s back up. We’re putting him opposite Mario Williams. We’re offering a 4 year deal at $2.75 million a year.
$1 million left.
DT/DE Clinton McDonald - Last contract $630,000 a year. We’ll offer him $1 million a year after his 5.5 sack season to lure him away from the Seahawks (who have cap problems). For all we know Stefan Charles or some other practice squader ends up beating him out, or he ends up with a juicer deal. Not a big deal.
Keep in mind we still have $3.5-ish million for our Rookie Draft class. It takes about $6 million to sign them all, but they'll knock guys like Jajuan Harley (who doesn't even have a wikipedia page) off the roster, thus the other $2.5 million is coming from salaries of players getting cut.
After my shopping spree, let’s re-assess before heading to the draft:
Special Teams contributors
One more OLine player for depth.
One more Cornerback for depth as a long term possibility
One more LB for depth
One more DE maybe
A big, tall, WR.
A TE in the mold Rob Gronkowski, just without the injury problems.
A RB who can pound the ball and can learn from Fred Jackson before he’s gone.
1st round pick at #9.
WR Mike Evans
I would love to be able to trade up for Clowney. Everyone clamoring that he takes some plays off, people say the same thing about Mario. I don’t see why having 2 players of Mario’s caliber on the team would ever be a bad thing. Unfortunately though, we’d probably need to trade up to #2. Last time a team did that, the Rams picks up the Redskins #6 pick, a 2nd rounder, and 2 more first rounders. We can’t afford to give up 2015 and 2016 first round pick to trade up from #9 because in the event that EJ ends up regressing, we need one of those picks to get a new Franchise QB in 2015 or 2016.
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins or TE Troy Niklas. My first choice is ASJ. The problem here is neither did as much as we would have liked to see at the combine so we’re waiting for pro days to happen. If the draft is today, I’m going with my gut and picking ASJ.
3rd round Pick
OG Trai Turner (I’m putting a lot of trust in my scout DanRoc’s judgement here)
4th Round Pick
LB Telvin Smith (Special Teams contributor)
5th Round Pick
RB Andre Williams
6th Round Pick
DE Brent Urban
7th Round Pick
CB Chris Davis (Special Teams contributor)
Post Draft Moves
Here's some guys I'd like as UDFAs. Quantity is key. It's hard to tell who's got quality unless you bring in a big amount of UDFAs. We had a big UDFA class last year, we'll try and do it again this year.
RB Tyler Gaffney (assuming he’s not picked, hard to get a read on where he’ll be picked if he does)
WR L'Damien Washington
WR Marcus Lucas
OG Zach Fulton
FB Gator Hoskins
FB Chris Coyle
P Patrick O’Donnell (really any punters)
TE Ted Bosler
TE Justin Jones
TE Colt Lyerla (we’re not wasting a draft pick here in case he turns out to be the worst thing ever, but we will let him know we’re interested in letting him prove himself if he wants to come to Buffalo)
Front office changes:
Brought in 2 coaches to help with turnover drills. Hopefully Tony Oden is good at analyzing tape and can come up with some tendencies in opponent's passing games for our DBs to take advantage of.
Re-signed Chandler, Byrd, Carpenter and Summers.
Akeem Jordan, Jon Asamoah, Zach Strief, Eben Britton, Charles Tillman, Zack Bowman, James Starks, Everson Griffen, Clinton McDonald.
Add Mike Evans, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Trai Turner, Telvin Smith, Andre Williams, Brent Urban, Chris Davis
Bring in as many UDFAs as possible.
Depth chart heading into camp (more or less):
|QB||EJ Manuel||Thad Lewis||Dennis Dixon||Jeff Tuel|
|RB||CJ Spiller||Fred Jackson||Andre Williams||James Starks|
|TE||Austin Sefarian-Jenkins||Scott Chandler||Tony Moeaki||Chris Gragg|
|WR1||Mike Evans||Stevie Johnson||TJ Graham|
|LT||Cordy Glenn||Chris Hairston|
|LG||Jon Asamoah||Trai Turner|
|RG||Kraig Urbik||JJ 'Unga|
|RT||Zach Strief||Eben Britton|
|WR2||Robert Woods||Marquise Goodwin||Marcus Easley|
|DE1||Mario Williams||Brent Urban|
|DT1||Kyle Williams||Clinton McDonald||Stefan Charles|
|DT2||Marcell Dareus||Alan Branch|
|DE2||Everson Griffen||Corbin Bryant|
|WLB||Kiko Alonso||Nigel Bradham||Telvin Smith||Kourtnei Brown|
|MLB||Akeem Jordan||(Kiko, Nigel, Telvin)|
|SLB||Manny Lawson||Jerry Hughes||Ty Powell|
|CB1||Stephon Gilmore||Charles Tillman||Ron Brooks|
|SS||Aaron Williams||Da'Norris Searcy||Jonathan Meeks|
|FS||Jairus Byrd||Duke Williams|
|CB2||Leodis McKelvin||Zack Bowman||Nickell Robey||Chris Davis|
|K||Dan Carpenter||Dustin Hopkins|
|P||Brian Moorman||Pat O'Donnell|
On offense, we appear to have fixed the OLine. On top of looking for JJ Unga to show what he's got we brought in quality vets, most of whom are entering their prime. The only one just past it (Strief) is a solid leader who will ensure the young guys know what it takes to keep their QB clean and thus win games. We also gave EJ two monster receiving options in the passing game, and 2 Running backs to duke it out for that 3rd RB spot.
On defense, we paid the man. We also added depth where we needed it, brought in a vet CB with lots of turnover experience to help teach our players how to get the ball out, and addressed an area of concern at DE. I know there's a lot of Carrington fans here. I just haven't seen enough from him suggesting he has what it takes to rush the passer. Everson Griffen has proven he can do it as a back up, I want to give him a shot to be a legitimate starter opposite Mario. LB depth is potentially an issue, with only 2 true MLBs on the team and one is starting at WLB. If the worst happens and both go down, we'll ask our non MLBs to man up.
The special teams core was built up. We picked up 2 CBs with Special Teams experience (one rookie and under appreciated vet), 2 LBs with Special Teams experience (one rookie and one under appreciated vet)
I've built this team to win this year and try and take us to the Super Bowl next year. If EJ stinks it up, we're trading up to #1 and getting a real Franchise QB in the 2015 draft, because this roster is too good to lose 7 games otherwise.