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Identifying the core of the Buffalo Bills' roster

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Welcome, Buffalo Bills fans, to yet another "coping with disastrous football" post. The Bills, as I'm sure you're aware, lost 41-17 on the road to the Tennessee Titans yesterday; the loss puts the Bills at 3-6 under Dick Jauron for the first time since 2006, Jauron's first season in Buffalo. The players have been awful, the coaching staff is officially in "play out the string" territory, and that broad, sweeping change that fans have called for since December of 2008 is probably coming after seven weeks are up.

As brutal as it may be to watch the Bills during that two-month stretch, there's still plenty we can learn. The front office and the coaching staff will probably have new faces come next February. (Read that as me being hopeful on the former, and realistic on the latter.) But in all likelihood, many of the faces you currently see on game days will still be donning red, white and blue in 2010 and beyond.

This post is the first of a three-part series in which we'll attempt to segment the Bills' roster up to accurately pinpoint where change is not only most-needed, but most likely. Up first for discussion: those Bills players who are likely to be in Buffalo far longer than many of their teammates. After the jump, you'll find three groups of these players, as well as your task for the comments section. Here's hoping you find the discussion therapeutic.

Criteria
In order to qualify for this first group of players, one must have a contract that has at least three years remaining on it at the start of the 2010 season; in other words, all of these players are locked up in Buffalo through either 2013 or 2014. That qualifies 19 players for this list, but we'll only discuss 17. Sorry, fans of Nic Harris and Ellis Lankster, but your guys are fringe prospects and all too easy to release at any point, particularly under the employ of a new decision-making hierarchy.

The unknown status of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the possible free agency rules changes has little to no effect on this list. All veterans that have been in the league for a number of years remain unchanged, while the young players on the list (four years or less of experience) will only see the status of their free agency change (from unrestricted to restricted), likely increasing their time in Buffalo, in most cases.

We've split these 17 players into three groups: the veteran core, the youth core, and the vets whose roles would be dependent on how a new decision-making hierarchy attempted to address the team's bigger issues.

The veteran core (7 players)
These are players whose contracts meet the above criteria and who are veterans, either age-wise or experience-wise, with established reputations across the league. They are all players that have significant roles with the team, as well, and would likely hold onto significant roles, at least initially, in a regime change. These players will likely be the heart and soul of Bills football for the next few years.

  • Fred Jackson, RB - Signed through 2013. Cheap, versatile player who leaves everything on the field and makes plays.
  • Lee Evans, WR - Signed through 2013. Is proving this season that he can make big plays when he has help.
  • Aaron Schobel, DE - Signed through 2014. On the down side of his career, but can still produce, and is very consistent.
  • Marcus Stroud, DT - Signed through 2013. Again, on the down side, but still a more-than-capable starter in a 4-3.
  • Kawika Mitchell, LB - Signed through 2013. If he can start at LB on a Super Bowl champion, he can do it in Buffalo, too.
  • Terrence McGee, CB - Signed through 2014. Has enjoyed a consistent, successful career at a premium position.
  • Brian Moorman, P - Signed through 2013. Still an excellent punter and a fantastic teammate/community member.

The youth core (6 players)
These players meet the above criteria contract-wise, but carry far less established professional resumes. These six players' development - or lack thereof - will have a critical effect on how a new regime will address future iterations of the Buffalo Bills, but for now, their status as Bills players worth building around remains intact.

  • Shawn Nelson, TE - Signed through 2013. Great physical talent in need of playing time. Minor injuries are concerning.
  • Andy Levitre, OG - Signed through 2013. Versatile, plays the game the right way. Inconsistent, makes too many errors.
  • Eric Wood, C - Signed through 2014. Listed as a center because that's where he belongs. Also inconsistent.
  • Aaron Maybin, DE - Signed through 2014. Like the pick or not, his potential still remains through the roof. Needs PT.
  • Leodis McKelvin, CB - Signed through 2013. Elite talent at premium position, but has had two disappointing seasons.
  • Jairus Byrd, S - Signed through 2013. Ceiling may be somewhat limited, but has proven he's an elite ball hawk.

Veterans awaiting roles (4 players)
Again, these players meet contractual criteria and should be in Buffalo for the foreseeable future. These players might not be guaranteed much in the way of starting positions or playing time, however, under a new regime.

  • Brad Butler, OT - Signed through 2013. Has been dependable as a starter, but is a major risk for injury every season.
  • Geoff Hangartner, G/C - Signed through 2013. Disappointing as a center, but hard to ignore versatility and experience.
  • Kyle Williams, DT - Signed through 2013. Again, dependable, but new staff might view him as only rotation-worthy.
  • Spencer Johnson, DT - Signed through 2013. See Williams. Probably sees PT, but DT might be an upgrade area.

Your task
That's it. 17 players who are probably going to be Bills for a while, split into three pretty-easy-to-define areas in terms of how new regimes will view them. Your task for the comments section: split all 17 of these names into starters and non-starters. That's it. Only list a name as a starter if you think they could start for a playoff-caliber football team. My guess is that, at least for this part of the series, opinions will be pretty universal. Have at it, folks.