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Safety Help Options for the Bills

Note: This analysis was done prior to the re-signing of Bryan Scott.  Some think that Scott solidifed the safety situation, others believe that the position still needs to be addressed. If the team is serious about moving Donte Whitner to free safety, Scott may not be a viable option to replace Whitner as a starter on the strong side.  For that replacement the Bills might have to look outside the organization.  What follow below is a list of the remaining safeties on the unrestricted and the restricted free agent markets:

The Unrestricted Free Agents:

  • Deke Cooper (CAR): The 30 year old Cooper has the build to play SS (6-2, 210 pounds), but has spent the majority of his season as a FS.  Cooper had a decent year for the Panthers in '07, compiling 59 tackles, 4 pass defenses, and 3 interceptions.  He has played for 3 teams in his career and has had injury problems (shoulder being the most recent).  He would provide decent experience, but really is only a stopgate option for a team that does not need a stopgate at that position.  I would rather go with Whitner/Simpson as the SS/FS starting duo.
  • Chris Crocker (ATL): The 5'11", 193 pound safety has had some success in the NFL and was able to grab three picks and 55 tackles in '07 for the Falcons.  He has been a starter in the NFL for the past three seasons, his best coming in '05 with Cleveland when he recorded 82 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 INTs.  Although he is a natural strong safety, he played FS with the Falcons.  His size would be a concern in Buffalo, but he is known as a big hitter and a strong run defender.  Unfortunately, he is also known for giving up the big play and his deep coverage skills are his liability.  Crocker, 28, met with the Titans on Monday (3/17) and already has an offer on the table from Houston.  He also has visited the Steelers.
  • Nick Ferguson (DEN):  Ferguson, 33, would provide experience, but would not be the long term answer Buffalo is looking for.  The 5-11, 201 pound safety lost his starting job to Hamza Abdullah earlier in the season prior to going on injured reserve with a knee injury.  
  • Jim Leonhard (BUF): Obviously the Bills know him well and he may very well end up back with Buffalo, but the fact that Buffalo decided not to offer him even a low tender says that he may not be in a Bills uniform next season.
  • The rest:  The rest of the unrestricted free agent safeties either have little experience or are career back-ups.  Some are both.  Either way, none of them are worth extended conversations about.  Here is the list:  Idress Bashir (DET-29 years old), Mike Doss, Pierson Prioleau (do you believe that he has spent 10 years in the league now?!), Donnie Nickey, Gerome Saff, Matt Ware, Oliver Celestin.
The restricted free agents which are out of the Bills price range:
  • O.J. Atogwe (STL):  first round tender
  • James Butler (NYJ):  second round tender
  • C.C. Brown (HOU):  second round tender
  • Brandon McGowan (CHI):  second round tender
  • Gerald Sensabaugh (JAC):  second round tender
The legitimate options in the restricted free agent market:
  • Hamza Abdullah (DEN):  Abullah is 24 years old and a former 7th round draft pick out of Washington State.  He received the lowest possible tender from Denver, meaning that the Bills could get him for a 7th round pick as compensation.  He has good size (6-2, 216 pounds) and has played both safety positions for Denver.   Abullah only saw limited action in his first two seasons in Denver, but had a somewhat surprising year in 2007 after taking over for Nick Ferguson in the second half of the season.  Abullah played in 11 games for the Broncos, starting 8 of them.  He recorded 48 tackles (39 solo) and 2 forced fumbles.  With the signing of Marlon McCree and Marquand Manuel, Abullah is expected to compete with Manuel for the starting free safety spot in Denver.
  • Matt Giordano (IND):  fourth round tender.  5-11, 192 pounds.  The 25 year old is the Colts third safety.  In 2007 he played in 12 games and started 4.  Had two interceptions, one in which he returned for a TD.
  • Vincent Fuller (TEN):  The 6-1, 190 Safety is only 25 years old, however, he hasn¡¦t done much except contribute to special teams in his three year career.  He appeared in all 16 games for the Titans in 06 and '07, but predominantly on special teams.  He did have two interceptions this past season, both returned for TDs.  His size would really make him better fit as a free safety, thus not making him a good fit for Buffalo.
Personally, I only see two realistic options in the group.  Abdullah is young and has the potential to get better.  He has good size and valuable starting experience.  I think he would be worth signing to an offer sheet, and with only a 7th round compensation, Buffalo would not have to give up too much to get him.  Even if he doesn¡¦t work out as a starter, he would be an excellent number 3 safety behind Whitner and Simpson.  The only other guy that is a real possibility is Crocker.  He is an unrestricted free agent, so he would not require compensation.  At least three teams have recently shown interest in Crocker, however, and he may not be around long enough for the Bills to take a crack at him.  In the end, with the re-signing of Scott, the team might have made the decision not to move Whitner to free safety, instead opting to go with what they have.  Who knows, if Simpson can continue to build on his promising rookie season, that may not be such a bad thing.