LB Keiaho one of many free agent visitors (Colts.com)
A week ago today when the NFL's 2009 free agent signing period opened, the Buffalo Bills went out and immediately filled their top two needs by grabbing new starting center Geoff Hangartner as well as new backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Phase One of Buffalo's plans continued with their heavy courtship of both WR Laveranues Coles and CB Jabari Greer. The team missed on both players, though the team rectified the depth lost at cornerback with the acquisition of Drayton Florence.
That part of the strategy is over. Phase two is now in full effect, as the Bills have hosted eight free agents that remain unsigned and will reportedly host at least two more that we know of. That's ten names in and out of the doors at One Bills Drive without a signing; that activity may re-define the word "cautious". Hopefully, at some point, the Bills will feel comfortable enough with one of these players to continue filling out their roster. In the meantime, however, the players passing through the facilities may be indicative of an exciting draft strategy on Buffalo's part.
Targeting peripheral needs
Yesterday, we spoke briefly about Buffalo's needs before yet another rash of visitors consumed our attention. As that list was a community effort, and this is an opinion piece, I'll be modifying the list a bit to fit my tastes. Regardless of whether you agree with the positions I believe the Bills need to address, it's clear which areas the Bills are focusing on.
Running Back (visitors: K. Jones, D. Foster)
Wide Receiver (visitors: J. Galloway, K. Washington)
Offensive Guard (K. Simmons)
Reserve Guard/Center x2
Linebacker (visitors: C. June, F. Keiaho, M. Peterson, J. Winborn, P. Thomas)
That's a minimum of nine additional players needed according to this list. The Bills have entertained players at four of those positions - running back, receiver, offensive guard and linebacker.
Take a look at the positions that haven't received (much) attention yet. Tight End. Offensive line depth. Defensive End. A big run-stuffing defensive tackle. At first blush, it appears that the Bills are procrastinating their trench work until the month of April.
Drafting in "win now" mode
Let's imagine a scenario in which the Bills sign two more players. That's not asking much. Considering there are five names at linebacker, a new starter at SAM seems more than likely at this point. Considering the lack of depth available at wide receiver and the fact that three running backs (including Fred Taylor) have visited the team, you have to believe that a third running back is ideally filled with a veteran as well. If a third veteran is added, it'll be at wide receiver; if a receiver isn't added, it's likely the Bills will pursue their investments in their young wideouts rather than address the position again in the draft.
That means that with seven picks in the draft, the Bills could spend anywhere from three to six of those picks on offensive and defensive linemen. There is obviously no guarantee that any rookie will have an impact immediately, and no position is "easy" or "simple" in the NFL, but if the Bills have to hedge their bets on getting a deep and instant-impact rookie class, they're putting their money on linemen. That might be the smartest thing they can do.
I love the strategy. For years, and in particular during the Tom Donahoe era, the franchise has been set back by flashy picks (Willis McGahee, Roscoe Parrish) and poor decisions along their lines (Mike Williams, Derrick Dockery, John McCargo, letting Pat Williams walk). If we're right about this, and the Bills plan on investing several picks in their lines, it's the best possible scenario not just for getting impact out of their rookie class, but for the future of the franchise. It's drafting to win immediately and to win over the long term. Yes, other positions (tight end, fullback, safety, reserve linebacker) might be addressed. But the lines appear to be the focus for April - and I, for one, could not be more thrilled about it.