I'm going to take a shot at this with the idea that we're in year 2 of rebuilding. Overall, I think we're in decent shape. Year 1 (2013) was cleaning house and evaluation. We had close to half of the 2012 roster replaced, we tried out 10 QB's, and there was a revolving door to the PS and the bottom of the roster. I personally was surprised that we won 6 games! I don't think it's wise to mortgage the future to break the playoff drought (I think we'll make it anyway). 2014 should be a year to start fine tuning the team, and building for a long run. We should make sure we're in a good position in 2015, both financially and personnel wise, to bring in a few key players to take us to the next level.
We learned a lot last season.
On defense, Rogers couldn't cut it at CB, and we need more help at LB. On the other hand, McKelvin was a pleasant surprise at CB, A Williams is a good Safety, Kiko is a stud, Hughes revived his carreer, and Robey is a heck of a player (too bad he's little, because you can't develop height).
On offense, Legursky and Pears are not the answer for the O-line, TE is a weakness, our receiving corps is a work in progress, and Tuel is not ready for prime time. There were some possitives though. Woods looks like a good one, Flash showed a lot of potential, and Lewis could be a decent back up. EJ is still a question mark, but he definitely earned the chance to prove himself in year 2. I think he'll be up to the challenge.
Special Teams were bad, especially in coverage. We need talented depth that push the starters and contribute on ST. We can't just put the weak, rotating, bottom of the roster out there and hope for the best. Also IMO, we shouldn't be burning out and risking key starters on ST. McKelvin's play went down a bit late in the season. We need a punt returner to spare him.
What I don't know is the level of talent of our developmental players. It's possible that Marrone has some projects that are ready to step up, and that would obviously change some off-season plans.
Carpenter (Strength & Conditioning) must go. Technology has passed him by. Plus the Dougs and Russ must prove that they are in charge.
I'm not going after any FA's until after June 1 ("when the dust settles", "value FA's"), and I will allow most UFA's to leave. This will also ensure that the Bills get comp picks next year.
I'm going to be very agressive in working out draft trades. We have many needs at deep and non-glamorous positions, and we need quality depth and ST (one and the same)
I'm going to be proactive in trying to extend our young core, and rewarding loyal players. I want to build a team that will be together for a while. I also want our guys to know that the organization will take care of quality team players.
Jairus Byrd - He's already gone
Dan Carpenter - Re-sign if Hopkins is not healing well and he's not asking for silly money.
Scott Chandler - I like Chandler, but it's time to move on
Arthur Moats - You've had your chance...good-bye
Alex Carrington - Ask Parker to give you a ride out of town
Thomas Welch - Didn't show me anything...good-bye
Jim Leonhard - I'm not a fan...good-bye
Mike Caussin - We're moving on
Frank Summers - Re-sign him. He should be cheap, and he showed that he can contribute.
I figure we should be in line for a 3rd or 4th for Byrd, and a 5th, 6th, and 7th for 3 of the others. I'm not against re-signing most of these guys if the price is right. Hopefully they come back to compete for a job against potential replacements, and the best man wins.
Kolb: + $3.1M
Pears: + $2.9M
Possible other cuts may come depending on the Draft, the PS/Futures, and any late FA signings. Three players come to mind that could provide about $3M if needed: Maoeki, Legursky, and Dixon.
$25.67M cap space including carry over from 2013
+$6M from cuts
-$3M to sign rookies
$28.67M to work with
Pre-draft trade that you're not going to like: Stevie Johnson to the Raiders for #36. We'll also ask for a 5th or a conditional pick next year, but we'll settle for #36. This trade makes sense for several reasons. 1) this is a deep draft class, not to mention we just found out we need a safety 2) It won't cost anything against the cap, but it will save the Bills $8.5M real dollars. 3) The Raiders have big needs at QB and WR. A pre-draft trade would mean that they can focus on QB in the 1st. 3) They have a lot of cap space. If they don't spend it on players, they will spend it on fines.
If Mack and Watkins are gone when we pick at #9, trade down. I'm thinking we trade #9 for the Ravens #17 and #48. This trade might work. Baltimore has a lot of FA's to sign. They won't be able to sign them all. There should be excellent players available for them to replace a major loss.
We trade our new #36 to SF for #55 and #77. SF has a solid team with extra picks (most probably won't make the team), and they would love to move up to the front of the 2nd round to pick an instant contributor.
We now have a mid first, 3 early to mid seconds, and 2 early thirds.
#17 - Calvin Pryor (If Mike Evans falls to #17, we take him there, and we take BPA - Kyle Fuller?, Deone Bucannon, and Troy Niklas with the second round picks)
#41 - Jordan Matthews
#48 - Troy Niklas (possibly ASJ)
#55 - EJ Gaines
#73 - Gabe Jackson
#77 - Juwaun James (if Hairston, Legursky, or one of our OL developmental players is ready to step into LG or RT, then we take the other position at #73, and Charles Sims, RB, WVU, or Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson here, or BPA if somebody highly rated happens to fall)
The rest of the exact pick numbers will be decided by the number of comp picks per round.
4th - Jordan Tripp
5th - Jeff Janis
6th - Chris Davis
7th - Branden Oliver
UDFA's - Alex Neutz, EJ Dunston, DT, UCF, Eddie Lackey, LB/ST, Baylor, Corey Brown, WR/KR, Ohio ST.
It's critical that we get either Pryor or Bucannon to compete at Safety. I think Woods and Goodwin will continue to improve (I hope TJ has a breakout year), but we still need some quality WR's to push for #1. Matthews will be a steady professional, and Janis should push TJ and Flash. We'll get our TE to replace Chandler, and a starter on the OL. Gaines or Fuller will provide quality depth that can challenge for a starting job. Tripp will surprise people. Davis provides depth at CB as well as a return man (Janis is also a return man). BO is a sentimental pick that might do well hiding behind a big OL. Eddie Lackey is an undersized LB that is an animal. He should provide depth at LB and contribute on ST.
So we end up with bodies at all the critical positions, and at least a few will start right away. If nothing else, our ST should be vastly improved.
Aaron Williams - 5 years, $32M ($12M SB). This might seem like overpaying, but he's all we have left, and it might turn out to be a good deal for us. I was off by a year!
Marcell Dareus - 5 years, $40M ($15M SB). He's been paid pretty well as the #3 pick, and 1) his first 2 years weren't that impressive, 2) he needs to grow up. This is a starting point. If he continues to improve all around, we could look at sweetening the pot a bit at the back end.
Garrison Sanborn - 2 years, $3M ($1M SB) This is about not having to worry about LS in the Buffalo winds, and rewarding a loyal player.
Freddie - 2 years, $10M ($3M SB) He might not be worth it on the field by the end of this contract. We're paying for character, and we want younger players to see we're loyal to those who are loyal to us.
CJ - 3 years $18M ($8M SB), plus incentives worth an additional $1-2M/year for years 2 and 3. I think this is fair for an electric, but not a 30+ carry/game RB.
Jerry Hughes - Wait and see if he fits into Schwartz's system.
This will cost just under $8M against the cap this year, so we will have money to sign any value FA's, and extend Hughes or whoever excels in year 2 of the rebuilding process (another $6-8M).
These signings would put us at about $107M in cap obligations for 2015 (plus any other extensions/FA's). We should also have something close to the same amount of carry over money going into 2015 as we had this year, but we'll have very little dead money. Assuming a few signings and a similar salary cap next year, we'll be sitting at about $30M in cap space without cuts or restructuring. This is crucial as I believe the Bills will make the playoffs this year (or at least still be in the running at Christmas), but 2015 should be the year to make a run in the playoffs. Having the money to bring in a key player or two to get us there is essential.