LB Crowell may return to Buffalo (buffalobills.com)
In September of 2008, the Buffalo Bills made some waves by placing linebacker Angelo Crowell on Injured Reserve. The surprising (and, in the case of most Bills fans, frustrating) move ended Crowell's 2008 season before it began despite the fact that Crowell had practiced the day prior to the move. The situation escalated a bit when it was revealed that Buffalo's coaching staff - which, to the dismay of the overwhelming majority of the fan base, remains intact five months later - didn't regard Crowell highly, and likely didn't see him as part of the franchise's long-term plans.
Back in December, Crowell made it known that he was open to re-signing with the Bills. The statement was considered a surprise given the strange circumstances surrounding Crowell's landing on IR in the first place; in reality, it was more indicative of Crowell's depressed market value than anything else. By making the statement, Crowell re-established himself as a viable option in the eyes of the fans. He may be growing more viable in the eyes of the franchise, as well.
Now, with the NFL's free agent signing period set to begin in under a week, Buffalo is still in need of a starting-caliber outside linebacker for the strong-side spot that Crowell was set to man last season. With the linebacker talent diminishing via free agency and very few options available via the draft, Crowell's name is quickly re-surfacing as a viable option in Buffalo.
Franchised 'backers limit options
Many fans, most definitely including yours truly, expected Buffalo to address their linebacker position via free agency, just as they did a calendar year ago when they brought in current weak-side starter Kawika Mitchell. Logic dictated that the team would allow Crowell to walk, sign a replacement and move on as they had moved on back in September.
Then two top linebacker targets, Seattle's Leroy Hill and Arizona's Karlos Dansby, were slapped with the franchise tag by their respective clubs. Those two moves severely depleted the depth available at outside linebacker in free agency. That doesn't mean that the position is completely devoid of talent, mind you; under-the-radar talents like Miami's Channing Crowder and recently released Houston LB Morlon Greenwood would sufficiently fill the void on the outside in Buffalo.
But the notion that the Bills will sign a linebacker is now anything but the slam-dunk it was once believed to be. With the market for Crowell's services expected to be low, re-signing Crowell - once considered a certain castoff - now makes a degree of sense.
Paul Posluszny and the draft
There is a portion of this fan base that believes it possible for the Bills to slide Paul Posluszny outside, considering Poz played on the edges during his illustrious career at Penn State. I'll never say never, but I will say that the team making a position switch with Poz is highly unlikely. Just as the Bills signed Mitchell specifically to play the weak side, the team drafted Poz specifically to play the middle spot. He made some strides last season in the middle, and if we're being brutally honest, Poz may lack the athletic chops to play outside in Buffalo's current defensive scheme (though his skills fit well schematically at his current locale).
For those of you looking at the draft as a spot to potentially fill this void, it's unlikely. Beyond the consensus top linebacker, Wake Forest's Aaron Curry (who seems likely to end up being a Top 5 selection in April), there are major question marks surrounding nearly every other outside linebacker prospect this season. It's very possible that Buffalo could target a linebacker this year; a well-kept secret is that current Patriots LB Jerod Mayo actually topped Buffalo's draft board last season. But no linebacker prospect is worth the eleventh selection outside of Curry, and with so many other needs to address, it's unlikely Buffalo will reach to fill this void.
Crowell the Contingency Plan
I'll go out on a limb here and maintain my stance that, if the Bills have it their way, Crowell won't be back. The fact that he's going to hit the open market, despite his lowered market and low degree of negotiating leverage, is indicative of Crowell being a contingency plan for the Bills. They're still going to entertain other options outside of Crowell for the strong-side spot. But to call a Crowell return "unlikely" - as I've done in the past - is becoming less wise every day.
The simple fact of the matter is that there aren't a lot of viable routes for the Bills to take regarding this linebacker spot. There are only a handful of names that would make more sense than re-signing Crowell, and it's entirely possible that the Bills ignore those names to address more pressing needs. If it comes to that, the Bills are still in a good position. You can do much worse than having Angelo Crowell as a contingency plan.