The NFL's free agent signing period is only barely into its third day, but considering the way some fans are reacting, the Buffalo Bills are already in June, didn't sign anyone in free agency and passed on all their draft picks. It's hard to watch other teams sign all the big names while your team is relatively inactive. As many teams have shown, however, making giant splashes in free agency isn't the way to rebuild a football team.
For comparison, let's look at the 2008 free agent off-season in which Bill Parcells transformed the 1-15 Dolphins into AFC East Champions. A couple up-front notes: first, Parcells' job was as hard or harder than Buddy Nix's job. When Parcells opened the cupboard to check for proven talent, he had Joey Porter, Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Vernon Carey, Samson Satele, Vonnie Holliday, Channing Crowder, Will Allen, and Yeremiah Bell. Greg Camarillo, Ted Ginn and Jason Allen were promising, but yet to be proven.
By comparison, Buffalo has Lee Evans, Andy Levitre, Eric Wood, Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, Aaron Schobel, Kyle Williams, Marcus Stroud, Paul Posluszny, Kawika Mitchell, Jairus Byrd, Donte Whitner and Terrence McGee; James Hardy, Demetrius Bell, Shawn Nelson, Aaron Maybin and Leodis McKelvin are promising but unproven.
Second, Parcells interviewed/contacted Leslie Frazier, Rex Ryan, Romeo Crennel, Tony Sparano, Todd Bowles, Maurice Carthon, Todd Haley and Gregg Williams about the head coaching job. Sparano wasn't exactly the popular choice with the sports world, but he became the Dolphins' head coach. (Bowles also joined the Dolphins as an assistant.)
Jeff Ireland was hired as the General Manager. Ireland had previously been a scout with the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs.
The Dolphins transformed from a hybrid defense that featured predominantly 4-3 looks, to a full-time 3-4 defense.
The 2008 free agent class was much deeper and younger (excluding players that had the franchise tag): Derek Anderson (coming off a great season with Cleveland), Michael Turner, Tony Richardson, Bernard Berrian, Bryant Johnson, Devery Henderson, Alan Faneca, Flozell Adams, Travelle Wharton, Max Starks, Jared Allen, Albert Haynesworth, Kawika Mitchell, Brandon Chillar, Asante Samuel, and Drayton Florence. For the full list: 2008 Free Agents
Parcells released, waived or cut over twenty players prior to the draft, including Zach Thomas, Trent Green, Marty Booker and L.J. Shelton.
Parcells signed QB Matt Baker, OT Trey Darilek, LB Junior Glymph, CB Joey Thomas, WR David Kircus, TE Sean Ryan, WR Ernest Wilford, LB Charlie Anderson, QB Josh McCown, OG Justin Smiley, DT Randy Starks, LB Reggie Torbor, FB Boomer Grigsby, S Keith Davis, K Dave Rayner, CB Nathan Jones, WR Tab Perry, S Chris Crocker, S Will Billingsly, and G Steve McKinney.
Grigsby, Wilford, Smiley, Ryan, Starks, Anderson, Torbor, Crocker, and Jones made the final roster. Anderson and Smiley were the only starters, and are still starters. Torbor and Starks remain with the team as reserves. Wilford was a bust.
Parcells traded away Jason Taylor.
Parcells traded for Akin Ayodele, Anthony Fasano, and Jason Feguson. All made the final roster and started. Only Fasano is still a starter.
Chad Pennington was added after the draft.
Free agency added two long-term starters and two depth players for the Dolphins.
Trades added three starters.
While we aren't focusing on the draft, the Dolphins added three starters in the 2008 draft (Jake Long, Kendall Lankford, and Phillip Merling).
The Dolphins added Pennington after the draft.
Parcells didn't leverage free agency for big names. Smiley, Anderson, Torbor, and Starks were all signed a couple days into free agency, not at opening day.
Parcells used trades to fill key needs at NT, TE, and Mike ILB. All three players were acquired from Parcells' former team, Dallas.
Clearly, Miami's rise had little to do with free agency. The four free agent players that contributed to the 2008 Dolphins were not headliners. They were need fill free agents at market value (sound familiar?). Miami got more starters out of trades (3) and the draft (3) than free agency (2).
What this means for Buffalo
Just because media outlets haven't reported much activity doesn't mean the team hasn't been busy. Remember, the Chan Gailey hiring was a surprise; the team has shown it's good at keeping intentions and future activity under wraps.
As Brian, other media personnel, and Buddy Nix himself said, Buffalo would build through the draft, not free agency. We, the collective Bills fans, should not be shocked or dismayed at the current level at activity. Free agency isn't the way to re-build, and patience is probably the best virtue to have for a fan during this off-season. Miami is a perfect example to learn from.