1983 - More Major Changes
8-8 record, second-tied of five in AFC East, seventh-tied of 14 in AFC, 13th-tied of 28 in NFL
After failing to agree to a new contract with owner Ralph Wilson, Chuck Knox left Buffalo to coach Seattle after the 1982 season. Kay Stephenson was named to replace the winningest coach in Bills history. To add to the changes in Buffalo, guard Reggie McKenzie, the longtime Bills offensive linemen, was traded to Knox's Seahawks and running back Joe Cribbs announced that 1983 would probably be his last season with the Bills and that he was going to sign a future services contract with the USFL. Following the 1979 draft, number one overall pick Tom Cousineau refused to play for the Buffalo Bills, opting to go to the CFL instead. When he attempted to rejoin the NFL prior to the 1982 season, Buffalo matched the offer sheet from Houston, blocking Cousineau's first choice. After finally agreeing to terms with Cousineau, the Bills traded him to the Cleveland Browns for a first round pick in the 1983 draft (14th overall). Armed with two first round picks, the Bills would select tight end Tony Hunter from Notre Dame with the 12th overall pick and select quarterback Jim Kelly with the pick acquired from the Browns to replace an aging Joe Ferguson. Hunter would play only two years for the Bills and four total before leaving the league. Like Cousineau, Kelly opted to play for a rival football league, joining the USFL instead. In the second round, Buffalo took West Virginia linebacker Darryl Talley.
Buffalo started the year strong going 3-1 and 5-2 before ultimately fading down the stretch to finish 8-8. The offense was not very good and was shut out twice and held to 14 points or less in half their games. The offense finished 23rd of 28 teams in points, 25th in yards, 18th in passing yards, and 24th in rushing yards despite Joe Cribbs 1131 rushing yards. The defense, a stallwarth of Chuck Knox coached teams, also fell hard coming in 18th in points allowed and passing yards allowed and 24th in total yards allowed and rushing yards allowed. The 33-year-old Joe Ferguson barely missed out on his this 3000-yard season, throwing for 2995 yards and a career-high 26 touchdowns.
Some bright notes were present, however. In a foreshadowing of the rest of his career, Dan Marino made his first start for the Dolphins in a week 6 home game against the Bills in what was Buffalo's first win in the Orange Bowl since 1966. Joe Cribbs and Fred Smerlas were both named to the Pro Bowl. Following the 1983 season, longtime Buffalo Bill player and executive Stew Barber was fired as General Manager. Terry Bledsoe was named as his replacement. The Bills had lost two high draft picks in five years to rival leagues and been unable to re-sign their most successful recent coach.