Birk, 44 others make preliminary targets list (SI.com)
With the NFL's free agent signing period set to begin in less than two weeks' time, each NFL franchise is going through similar preparations for the league's annual spending spree. Luckily for us, the Buffalo Bills have been vaguely specific about their process - currently in progress - of addressing their roster holes. In a recent article from Chris Brown (the team journalist, not the allegedly violent R&B artist), several members of the Bills' pro personnel department lent some insight into the team's strategy in determining the best course of action for fixing their team.
In the days leading up to the start of free agency, I'll be running through each step of this process in an effort to put together my own, personal game plan which, if things go swimmingly, will be infinitely worse than the Bills' own plan. Part one of that plan is complete, as we've dealt with the team's own free agents.. This is an opportunity to outline just how difficult strengthening your team via free agency really is, and it's also an opportunity for the rest of you fine, intelligent folks to string together your own game plans as well. Next up in the process? Our preliminary free agent list.
From the horse's mouth
Once VP of Pro Personnel John Guy and his staff - in collaboration with Buffalo's decision-makers - have ironed out their plan regarding team free agents (see link above), the next step in the process is described thusly...
"We'll identify the three or four positions on either side of the ball that we're going to focus on. From there you go to the list. So if linebacker is a position of need, we'll go to the free agent list and kind of narrow that down... and then we'll identify primary targets."
Needs, full free agent list, target free agent list. Got it. We identified four needs on both sides of the ball in our first evaluation step, but just for the sake of clarity, we'll re-iterate those here. Prioritized needs for offense and defense are defined below.
Offense: TE, C, QB, FB
Defense: DE, SLB, DT, S
With more than 300 free agents in the NFL this year, putting together a full list can be painstaking work. But hey - we're running the Buffalo Bills right now. Of course we have a full free agent list. It's broken down by position and by free agent status; anyone can view the full list of free agents here. This list will remain up-to-date throughout the entire NFL off-season.
The real meat to this step in the pre-free-agency evaluation is scouring the free agent list for guys worth further investigation. Since I'm the John Guy in this scenario and y'all are Ralph Wilson's vaunted "inner circle", I've taken the liberty. Listed here are 45 free agents that I've identified as talent-worthy and scheme-worthy fits for the Buffalo Bills. This list is dynamic as well, meaning it's constantly updated. For example, Cardinals LB Karlos Dansby was on the list until late Monday evening, getting scratched only because Arizona is about to slap him with the franchise tag.
Each name on the list is accompanied by strengths, weaknesses and grades as distributed by Scouts, Inc. (Hey, who are we kidding - I'm only pretending to be John Guy, and my scouting staff consists of every imaginary friend I chilled with through age six.) Scouts, Inc.'s grading rubric is here; that rubric helps define the type of role we can expect each player to assume in Buffalo, but most of the names on this list have a bit of growth potential as well.
Names on this list are mostly centralized around the eight needs defined above, obviously. But other positions are included as well, and I'll rationalize those for you now.
RB: Marshawn Lynch just got arrested, in case you haven't heard. The case I've been making for a #3 running back is now really a case for a #2A. It's not mandatory that we sign a running back, but it's certainly wise to keep our options open.
WR: We've got five guys sticking around for next year at wideout, but if we can find a good fit in terms of a possession receiver that can play on the outside, that type of player is worth pursuing.
TE: No, there aren't any tight ends on this list, and that's mostly because this year's crop of free agent tight ends are a bunch of duffers.
OT: We'll negotiate with Jason Peters, but it's nice to have a couple of targets as insurance should we be forced to move the big fella.
CB: I've already made clear my plan to let Jabari Greer bolt as a free agent. I'm looking to bring in a veteran that can push Buffalo's sub-package corners, Ashton Youboty and Reggie Corner, and really round out Buffalo's depth in the defensive backfield.
Note: the recent Lynch arrest has no effect on my off-season plans in terms of strategically filling needs. The only effects seen as a result of the arrest are some extra names at the RB position on my targets list.
So there it is - step two, our preliminary targets list, is complete. Feel free to peruse it and offer feedback, but just remember that I'm John Guy, here. I'm stubborn as a mule, so it'll take a lot of convincing for me to alter the list. But it can be done!
In another installment of "From the Horse's Mouth", here's what's next for the Bills' free agency plans...
"Once they highlight a particular player or a group of players there's a meeting with coach Jauron and the coordinators and our top executives will be there and decisions will be made on which direction we want to go."
Let's go ahead and do that now, folks. It probably won't be surprising, but list your top targets anyways. I'll take everything into consideration - you are the "inner circle", after all - and I'll hit you up later this week with our trimmed down secondary targets list, which we'll use to begin strategizing our free agency plan. Take it away, members of the inner circle!