C Brown will be hot free agent commodity (View Images)
Update, 1:15PM EDT: The Seahawks have just applied the franchise tag to LB Leroy Hill. I've added another Tier 2 free agent to keep the list at a baker's dozen. End Update
Over the past few days, we have begun an abbreviated version of what the Buffalo Bills (and the rest of the NFL, incidentally) have been concentrating on for several months - developing a strategy for free agency. We singled out which Bills free agents we're looking to re-sign. We identified nearly four dozen free agents to consider; that list is available here.
Naturally, next up on the list is identifying top-priority free agent targets that the Bills would be smart to pursue.
That's what we'll do now. Before we get to the names, however, I've got some explaining to do on the process involved with these decisions.
Dividing targets into tiers
The easiest way (for me, at least) to develop a free agent strategy is to divide up my targets list into four tiers of players. If you happen to notice on the targets list, each free agent listed has a tier number associated with him. Here's a brief explanation of what each term means in terms of the strategy we're developing.
Tier 1 targets: These guys are the cream of the crop (at least in terms of talents the Bills are likely to pursue). They're more than just hole-pluggers; they're guys that fill needs, but do it in a way that turns a weakness into a strength.
Tier 2 targets: I consider this group the "contingency plan" group. This group is bigger for a couple of reasons; the first being that they aren't quite as attractive, for a multitude of reasons, and the second being that these are players that Buffalo should target depending on what they get out of Tier 1.
Tier 3 targets: This is essentially a group of alternatives to the Tier 2 players. The purpose of this group is to have a contingency plan to the strategies we develop with the first two tiers. More on this momentariliy.
Tier 4 targets: Call these the "desperation" targets. We'd only go after these players if we strike out badly at a position of need.
Two tiers, thirteen players
I've got thirteen names here of free agents that all fall into the Tier 1 or Tier 2 category. From this list, we can begin to develop strategies for pursuing free agents.
Tier 1 Targets
Browns SS Sean Jones: I made my case for Jones being Buffalo's top priority yesterday. That's really all you need to know.
Ravens C Jason Brown: There are going to be a lot of teams after Brown, and Miami might be his most aggressive suitor. Brown has a ton of experience, is young, and has handled 3-4 nose tackles throughout his entire career. He'd be ideal in Buffalo.
Vikings C Matt Birk: Experienced, versatile pivot who will be equally pursued via free agency as Brown.
Tier 2 Targets
Panthers C Geoff Hangartner: The kind of under-the-radar free agent Buffalo likes. Has starting experience at both center and guard, and plays the game with a great attitude. A solid consolation prize should Brown and Birk sign elsewhere.
Falcons OLB Michael Boley: Would be an outstanding addition if and only if the Bills are planning on being more aggressive defensively this season. Won't excel in a read-and-react scheme.
Dolphins OLB Channing Crowder: Has great size, physicality and range. Not a playmaker, but a sure-fire starter in Buffalo at the strong side.
Giants WR Amani Toomer: Wily veteran simply knows how to get open. Can work the middle of the field, a trait that Trent Edwards would exploit frequently.
Jaguars C Brad Meester: Veteran pivot that has struggled with injuries the past couple of seasons, but is a sound technician.
Cardinals FB Terrelle Smith: Bruiser that loves contact. Durability is a concern, but he's exactly the type of fullback that power rushing teams love to have.
Eagles FS Sean Considine: Plays aggressively and has made some big plays in his time. Can play special teams as well.
Titans FS Vincent Fuller: A ballhawk of a safety that needs an opportunity to start to realize his full potential.
Patriots FB Heath Evans: Versatile, "do it all" fullback that comes with a winning pedigree.
Bears QB Rex Grossman: Has ties to Dick Jauron. The most technically sound backup-level quarterback on the market. Has proven that he can help a team win games, but needs to improve his decision-making. As good a backup as you can find.
Obviously, both of these tiers of targets contain players at need positions as well as players that would help Buffalo in some other capacity. The idea here is to take one (or two if you're feeling lucky) targets out of Tier 1, and supplement the plan with targets from Tiers 2 and 3 (and Tier 4 if your plan is a bad one).
My plan would involve signing Jones as our top priority. I'd then target Hangartner and Meester as starting center candidates (and yes, folks, I'd probably look to supplement either of those picks with a rookie backup as well). OLB can be addressed with either Crowder (I prefer him to Boley) or a Tier 3 linebacker such as Morlon Greenwood. I'd bring in Terrelle Smith as my fullback in a heartbeat, as his playing attitude personifies exactly what I want my offense to become. Players like Toomer and Considine, while good players, would only be targets if I can't fill needs with Tier 2 guys.
Of course, you can also target a center or Hill in Tier 1 and supplement with different Tier 2 targets. See where I'm going with this? Feel free to strategize with me this morning, folks. Who is your top target? How do you develop a strategy surrounding your top target? Let's get brainstorming, folks!