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Signing first-rounders should be Bills' top priority

The current decision-making regime of the Buffalo Bills has been in office for going on four seasons now.  Sure, there have been a few changes made here and there, but ultimately, it's the same group - instead of former GM Marv Levy and Senior VP of Football Operations Jim Overdorf dealing with contract signings, it's now Overdorf along with COO/GM Russ Brandon.

During those four years, the Bills have made six players first-round draft picks.  Of the four that are currently under contract (all still on their rookie deals), at least three of them were unsigned when the Bills opened training camp each year.  Considering the vital importance of the team's two first-rounders this year, DE Aaron Maybin and OG Eric Wood, it is inadvisable for that trend to continue.

2006: McCargo makes it (we think), but Whitner doesn't
Forgive us, but information on 2006 Bills training camp is scarce, even for the all-powerful Google.  We therefore cannot comfortably claim that the five-year, $8.6 million deal DT John McCargo signed on July 28, 2006 occurred after the Bills started training camp.  In fact, we'd be inclined to do just the opposite; McCargo signed on a Friday, and the Bills typically begin training camp on the final Saturday of July.  So we think that McCargo is the only Bills first-round pick brought in by the current regime to be in camp on time.  If anyone remembers differently, let us know about it.

No. 8 overall pick Donte Whitner, however, didn't make it.  He signed a five-year, $29 million deal with $13.5 million guaranteed on August 5, over a full week after McCargo inked.  Unlike McCargo, who spent most of his rookie season injured, Whitner was a big contributor in his rookie season, playing in all 16 games and starting the final 15.

2007: Marshawn misses day one
2007 Bills first-round pick Marshawn Lynch inked his five-year, $18.9 million deal with $10.3 million guaranteed in the wee hours of the morning on Friday, July 27, 2007 - after missing the first day (two practices) of Bills training camp, which began on Thursday that year.  This was a minor hiccup in an otherwise smooth rookie season for Lynch, who wasted no time emerging as Buffalo's most consistent offensive threat his inaugural season.

2008: McKelvin MIA for four practices
We didn't see a signing of first-round CB Leodis McKelvin last year until Saturday, July 26, when McKelvin signed his five-year, $19.4 million deal with $12.6 million guaranteed.  By that time, the Bills had already had two days of two-a-days, and when you're coming out of Troy, you need all the practice reps you can get.  McKelvin, too, would contribute rather heavily in his rookie season, though he did not see significant time defensively until injuries severely depleted depth at cornerback.

Maybin and Wood are next
Only one of these four players - Lynch - was drafted to come in and start immediately.  Yes, it would have been nice if all four had started - and three of them did (McCargo might have, too, were it not for that peskily awesome Kyle Williams) - but the need for Lynch to contribute immediately was dire.  Granted, as a running back, he had what is widely considered the easiest positional transition from college to the pros.  Whatever the reasons, he made it work - but the Bills at least showed the awareness of how desperately they needed him in camp by signing him quickly.

Times were different in 2006 - it was head coach Dick Jauron's first season in Buffalo, expectations were ultra-low, and it's fair to point out that Whitner is the highest-ever draft selection from the current regime that needed to be signed.  The higher the player is selected, the more difficult it is to come to terms.  As for McKelvin, the Bills already had starting corners; while I'm sure they'd have liked to have had Leo for as many practices as possible, there wasn't an overbearing urgency to get something done.

The same can't be said of this year's first-rounders, Maybin and Wood.  Maybin is being counted on to put some punch back into Buffalo's incredibly lackluster pass rush despite concerns with his functional playing strength and his experience (one big season in college).  Wood is a key figure on one of the most massive offensive line overhauls in franchise history.  If you're picking one player that needs - and I cannot emphasize that word enough - as much practice as possible, literally, it's Maybin.  Wood might be second on that list.  Buffalo has done a good job limiting the "holdouts" to as little practice time as possible the last three years, but this time around, it'd be nice to buck the trend - even if the team does have an extra pre-season game this season.