Like a lot of people, seeing Byrd sign with another team still leaves something of a sour taste in my mouth. Even knowing that the likelihood of him returning was slim, there was still a little hope that he had priced himself out of the market and that the teams that were in the market for his position had already made commitments elsewhere. Alas, here we are on the first day of free agency, down a Pro Bowl player and having to move forward hoping that an adequate replacement is either somewhere in the draft, or currently on this roster.
As it's Doug Whaleys first year as the "official" GM, I don't fault him. I also don't place blame on the Browns for stealing our DC, or even for the "old guard" in the front office that have come under fire in recent weeks, even though all of those seem to be suitable whipping boys. They made what they thought to be a fair offer, and Byrd simply said no. I think the blame lies with a decade of missed playoffs, the fact that noone can definitively say that this team is trending up or down, and that in the minds of those in the NFL we're still branded as "Losers".
For the longest time ,Seattle was arguably the weakest team in the worst division in football. Over a series of years, they improved their roster - not via "big splash" FA moves, but through great drafting and solid coaching. In fact, some of their biggest FA moves were players that, in the big picture, played minor roles (Zach Miller, Sidney Rice, Matt Flynn). Now, they have players like Michael Bennett turning down bigger paydays to continue playing for a team he just won it all with. That flies in the face of conventional wisdom regarding FA, which says, "If you make the check bigger, they will come".
Every player in football wants to win. Losses are upsetting to even the most highly paid athletes (ask Brady & Manning). So if the Buffalo Bills can't prove to anyone that we can provide them with something more than an extra zero or two in their checks, how can we expect players to want to be here unless we grossly overpay them?
That needs to be the mission for 2014. Even if we don't reach the playoffs, we have to be able to look back at the end of the season and feel better about where we are than we did the January before. Reach that elusive winning season. Keep your defense in the leagues top 15 in scoring, and get your offense out of its basement. Make smart draft decisions to better employ the power run game you want to commit to. Let the players know that you're building something special, not just repackaging the same old mediocrity. Because unlike us fans, most players aren't going to buy into that.
Call it a cliche, but winning is the cure-all for a lot. Whaley and Marrone and the players certainly know this now, if they didn't already. 2014 is going to be another chance for them to show they're able to take a step down the right path. With some other big names coming up for contracts in '15 and '16, the results will dictate whether or not we're sitting here having this same conversation next March.