Back on March 31, Buffalo Bills GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey spoke in front of the team's premium and club season ticket holders in a Breakfast With The Bills event. That event will be immortalized in the history of the Nix/Gailey regime for the quip that Nix fired regarding his ultimate goal of building a consistent winner.
"Talk's cheap, we all know that," Nix said. "It's like I've always said - 'don't tell me about the labor pains, just show me the baby.'"
For weeks, that quote has been used as a battle cry of sorts for Bills fans getting amped up for the 2010 NFL Draft. It was, unfortunately, the wrong quote to be paying attention to. If you listened carefully, it was a Gailey quote that gave away not only the team's base philosophy, but precisely how the Bills planned on approaching draft weekend, as well.
"We've got some good players," Gailey said. "We've got some good young players. Now they're young, and they need some work, and Buddy and our personnel department are going to do a great job of getting us players and stacking players on players, but we've got the nucleus to be a good football team. As was stated earlier, we've just gotta go in the same direction."
"We got nine picks. We need to hit on all nine," Nix added, "and that's hard to do sometimes. But we've got holes to fill, we've got good players, we've got some good players. But we need more depth, and we will use every avenue to fill those holes."
Stacking players on players. Needing more depth. This was the safe, conservative approach that Nix, Gailey and the Bills organization took to draft weekend. It may ultimately come back to bite them where the sun don't shine.
Electing to forego the selection of a potential franchise quarterback, the Bills instead focused on stacking players on players and building depth. Just take a look at the amount of competition, rotation and depth they've added across the roster with those nine selections.
RB C.J. Spiller: Enters a crowded backfield rotation already featuring Fred Jackson and the temporarily-untradeable Marshawn Lynch. One or more of these guys isn't going to see much action.
NT Torell Troup: Nix basically confirmed that Troup would split reps at nose tackle with Kyle Williams. The team drafted a part-timer with their second-round pick. (Are they good enough yet to do that?)
DE Alex Carrington: A depth and rotational player that will play behind starters Dwan Edwards and Marcus Stroud. Will see competition for snaps from Spencer Johnson and maybe even John McCargo.
WR Marcus Easley: Big-time talent, but incredibly inexperienced and unpolished. Will compete for snaps alongside Steve Johnson, James Hardy and Chad Jackson. Lee Evans is the only Bills receiver guaranteed significant playing time next year.
OT Ed Wang: Project-type player that ultimately probably will not factor into what appears to be a two-man race for the starting left tackle job between Demetrius Bell and Jamon Meredith.
ILB Arthur Moats: A college defensive end, Buffalo is curiously moving him to ILB, rather than OLB, where his pass rush skills might be an asset. Looks to be a depth/special teams type that won't seriously compete for playing time behind Andra Davis, Paul Posluszny and Kawika Mitchell right away.
OLB Danny Batten: This time, they're keeping the small-school end at outside linebacker, where he belongs. Batten, like Moats, is a depth player with special teams potential that probably won't see much playing time behind Aaron Schobel (if he plays), Chris Kelsay and probably even Aaron Maybin and Chris Ellis.
QB Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm.: Is the fourth man in a four-man race for the team's starting quarterback job, a battle royale already featuring
OG Kyle Calloway: A depth player that has a shot to be a backup to both Andy Levitre and Eric Wood at the team's two guard spots, but who is extremely limited athletically.
Nix and Gailey accomplished their mission. They stacked players on players and added depth to their roster over the weekend, and they'll continue to do so as more undrafted free agent signings roll in. Gailey has what every coach wants to have - players competing for playing time at virtually every position on the roster. He'll view that as a good thing, as he'll be able to let the players play and put his best options onto the field.
Here's the problem: the Bills stacked players on players and added depth, but their safe, conservative approach to draft weekend didn't make much of an attempt to answer the team's longest-standing questions. If the strategy raised your eyebrows, take solace in the fact that you're not alone: I'm told by multiple reliable sources that it's raised the eyebrows of various members of the Bills organization as well. Nix and Gailey may love their draft haul, but not everyone is on board philosophically at One Bills Drive.
Buffalo has the single worst quarterback situation in the league, and it's not close. That fact alone will prevent the Bills from approaching even respectability in 2010; understand now, folks, that this team is probably going to be terrible next year. Not only do we have an open competition with candidates that spark something less than enthusiasm, but we lack long-term direction at the position, as well. As I said over draft weekend, this franchise will continue to spin its wheels as long as there's no long-term solution at QB, and I'm sorry, Levi Brown isn't that guy. Expect a lot of burned rubber with very little progress from the team this year - and if they get competent quarterback play, it'll be due to a miraculous coaching job from Gailey, and not a reflection of their long-term talent at the position.
The second-most important position offensively, left tackle, will be a competition between Bell and Meredith, and if he's lucky, Wang. Again - uninspiring competition, absolutely zilch in the way of direction and long-term solution.
See the pattern? The team lacks both of those (admittedly hard-to-come-by) qualities at the most important defensive position, as well - pass rusher. Maybin had better have a fantastic sophomore season, because there isn't anyone that's going to be pushing for his job - if he even has it - and if Schobel retires, Maybin's the crux of the pass rush.
We're talking about the three most critical positional groups on a football field, folks. Buffalo has answers at none of them. But hey - they've got competition at those positions, so we must be alright.
I realize it's ridiculous to be critical of a draft class when the guys haven't even traveled to Buffalo yet, much less practiced or played. I'll step off the soap box once this article is typed up and put my Cloak of Objectivity back on to carefully monitor the progress of Nix's first draft class. I'm rooting for these guys; they're Buffalo Bills now. But I can't exit draft weekend without making a prediction: this draft class will cost one of Nix and Gailey his job within three calendar years.
I'll gladly eat my words if I'm wrong about that prediction, so bookmark this article now and shove it back in my face in January of 2013 if both of these guys are still around. I, too, hope I'm wrong.
Y'all know me. I'm not one to criticize the organization often. Maybe I'm wrong, and maybe Nix and Gailey are right in saying that there aren't any franchise-caliber quarterbacks coming out of this class. Maybe time will prove them right in passing on solid offensive linemen and solid pass rushers to take an all-everything speed demon running back. But I hold out no hope that the team's decision to let young, incredibly unproven and possibly bad football players duke it out for playing time at the game's most critical positions will yield desired results for this team, regardless of the success of their top overall draft pick. That's not progress. It's a far, far bigger gamble than reaching a little for a guy you may not be completely in love with on draft day.