For this week's Buffalo Bills mailbag posting, we took once again to Twitter (@BuffRumblings) to solicit questions about the Bills and their post-free agency outlook. I chose four acceptable, thought-provoking questions for this post, but a fifth, courtesy of Joe Pinzone from Buffalo Wins, is the real centerpiece of this article, and is inarguably the most important question ever asked about the Bills.
Endure the first four questions if you want to talk football, but for the really important, hard-hitting opinions, you'll want to focus on the fifth question. Onward!
@BuffRumblings can chris hairston challenge pears for a RT start this year?— Louis Galbo (@CrazyyLou) March 17, 2014
The short answer to this question is yes. The longer answer: if he's healthy, and if the Bills find it in themselves to trust the availability of a player that struggled with lower leg injuries even before missing a season with a non-football related illness, then yes, he's capable of competing for playing time. We already know that he's able to provide a consistent level of production in the league. It's just going to take a bit of a leap of faith on his employer's part to make him a big part of their plans moving forward.
@BuffRumblings How does FS shake out now. Searcy has never looked impressive.— Adam Ritter (@theadamritter) March 17, 2014
Da'Norris Searcy could very well be in the running for a starting job, but it's also easy to see the Bills trying someone else out deep so that Searcy can continue to play his particular niche: it's the old Bryan Scott, linebacker-safety hybrid role, and Searcy played it quite well in 2013.
The Bills don't have a safety on the roster with the range to fill the role vacated by departed free agent Jairus Byrd. They're going to have a hard time drafting a replacement with that skill set. Unless they draft a player early that can be penciled in ahead of prospects like Duke Williams and Johnathan Meeks, that spot looks like it'll be left up to a competition. What can more easily be surmised is that the Bills won't spend nearly as much time in single-high safety looks next season.
@BuffRumblings What's the role we can expect for Nigel Bradham and Manny Lawson?— Izaca (@Izaca_rio) March 17, 2014
Bradham's role is fairly straightforward: he'll be the direct understudy to Kiko Alonso at weak-side linebacker, providing athletic depth and special teams utility to a linebacker corps that suddenly has more than just warm bodies to work with. Bradham fits much more snugly into a traditional 4-3 than he did in a hybrid scheme like Mike Pettine's, where his role was reduced to that of a specialist for most of the season.
Lawson was described on Friday by GM Doug Whaley as a "hybrid" player that would split time between outside linebacker and defensive end. My personal opinion on the matter is that Lawson is a victim of the team's scheme change; he has a home in that hybrid defense, and doesn't have one in a 4-3. His fate feels similar to Mark Anderson's from a year ago; he was a 4-3 guy that didn't really fit into the hybrid plans. That's not to say Lawson will be released - he's a far more useful player than Anderson ever was - but his role will likely diminish significantly.
@BuffRumblings Is there any downside to Fitz re-joining the Bills as a veteran backup?— Aaron Gettings (@aarong33) March 17, 2014
There are more downsides to that idea for Ryan Fitzpatrick than there are for the Bills. For one, Fitzpatrick wouldn't even be handed the backup job; he'd have to compete with Thad Lewis for it, and I'm not sure he's a shoo-in to win that one. He'd have a much worse chance at starting in Buffalo than he did in Tennessee, even with EJ Manuel's well-documented rookie season injury issues. I get that it's fun to think about, but this seems like a far-fetched idea at best. Fitzpatrick will have better options, and the Bills don't really need to pour millions of dollars into the position at this point.
Congratulations, reader. You have now made it to the most important question ever asked about the Buffalo Bills. Buckle up.
@BuffRumblings Who would be the Ninja Turtles on the Bills?— Dictator (@BuffaloWins) March 17, 2014
Confession (and I'm certain I am not alone here): I grew up on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. TMNT was the No. 1 entertainment fixture in my life for a solid five years. In terms of youthful nostalgia, TMNT is it. Naturally, I took this question incredibly seriously, and put a good amount of thought into my selections. Here's what I came up with.
Fred Jackson is Leonardo
Leonardo is not explicitly the leader of the Turtles - that's Splinter, obviously - but among the quartet itself, he is the go-to guy. He's the example for his brothers, the calming influence for the group, and the turtle most focused on unity. Right now, Fred Jackson is the embodiment of that on the Bills' roster, even though Jackson is not the master-class athlete that Leonardo is.
Additionally, Leonardo wields two ninjato as his weapons. The ninjato is a controversial sword that is seen prominently in pop culture and referenced frequently, but with little historical fact to back its existence. It features a shorter, straighter blade than most swords. All of that reminds me of Jackson's running style; it's more to-the-point than more talented runners, but it gets the job done with a high degree of efficiency - and there is no historical evidence that a back of his athletic chops should have produced at this high a level for so long.
Aaron Williams is Donatello
This one, by far, was the most difficult to come up with. Donatello is the genius of the group, the turtle that builds the team's gadgets and spouts technobabble. Mike Pettine would have been a fantastic fit. Same for Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Williams seems like an odd choice - he's probably a better fit for Michelangelo, or even Raphael - but hear me out. Nothing about his on-field performance or his personality screams "genius," but he did make the move from cornerback to safety with flying colors, so his intelligence is clearly top-notch. More to the point: Donatello is known for his versatility in the field, able to make fixes to machinery on the fly to aid in battle, and Williams is clearly capable of that, flipping between corner and safety at a moment's notice last season to account for injuries. Donatello is the Swiss Army knife that holds the Turtles together; the same can be said of Williams and Buffalo's secondary.
Plus, Donatello is often thought of as the No. 2, the right-hand man to Leonardo. Williams and Jackson are good friends off the field.
Stevie Johnson is Raphael
Leonardo and Raphael are known to butt heads in the TMNT universe; where Leonardo is calm, cool and collected, Raphael is hot-headed and emotional, and Leonardo often has to work to keep Raphael in line and working with the group. They have a good relationship that gets tenuous at times, particularly in the heat of battle. Jackson, an offensive captain, can often be seen talking Johnson down during Bills games.
But Raphael is also a total badass, just as adept as Leonardo in battle situations when he's focused and in sync with the group. That cannot possibly better describe Johnson. Plus: Raphael uses twin sai as his weapon of choice; these are highly useful weapons that can be wielded in different ways, and which are used not just for offensive maneuvers like jabbing and stabbing, but also to parry and for defensive maneuvers like blocks. If there's a better weapon to describe Johnson's unique route-running, I'd love to hear it.
Marcell Dareus is Michelangelo
Michelangelo is a party dude. The Bills have a few fun-loving personalities on their team - and actually, Marquise Goodwin and his touchdown celebrations might take the cake (or the pizza, as the case may be) there - but Marcell Dareus is very fun-loving, and my choice as the Bills' version of Michelangelo.
Dareus has the same "kid brother" vibe that Michelangelo has amongst the turtles; he's the supremely talented yet sometimes distracted protege that wows one minute, then does something youthful to counteract it. Dareus was suspended twice at the end of the 2013 season, reportedly due to being late to meetings; if any turtle is going to pull that off, it's Mikey - and the fact that even the most cantankerous of Bills fans have stopped referencing it speaks to the power of the endearing side of Dareus' character.
Who would you choose as the Bills versions of the Ninja Turtles?