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How Willing Are Bills To Build Around Injury Risks?

As was reported Monday evening, free agent safety Bob Sanders will reportedly visit with the Buffalo Bills today about a future employment opportunity. Sanders, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, two-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All Pro, would replace free agent Donte Whitner, a player most people assume has priced himself out of returning to Buffalo.

This will be the third time we've repeated this stat, because it's just so bizarre: Sanders' biggest concern is his injury history, as he has appeared in just nine games over the past three seasons.

Buffalo has already shown a willingness to invest in players with shaky injury histories, having given out a two-year contract with about $6.8 million in base salaries, $3.3 million in scheduled bonuses, $3 million guaranteed and $4 million in incentives to linebacker Shawne Merriman.

Merriman - who, let's remember, has direct ties to Bills GM Buddy Nix - is penciled in as a starter at outside linebacker heading into the 2011 season. Sanders, in a hypothetical signing situation with the Bills, would start at strong safety. On a team that has perennial injury problems, the idea of starting these two specific players seems not only unbelievable, but kind of terrifying.

I'm coming back to the statistic: out of a possible 96 games that these two players could have played in over the past three years, they have managed to appear in a combined 27. That means that Merriman and Sanders - once two of the best defenders at any position in the NFL - have, together, appeared in 28% of their games since the close of the 2007 season.

Obviously, if you can get a healthy Merriman and a healthy Sanders onto the football field at the same time, you do it. But the odds of that happening for more than a handful of games might be longer than the Bills' chances of ending their 11-year playoff drought next season.

There is undoubtedly value to having guys like Merriman and Sanders around. Merriman is widely credited for being a positive influence in the locker room in his brief stint with the team last year; that speaks to Arthur Moats' progress specifically. Sanders, too, is an experienced player, has a championship ring, and would bring a great deal of leadership to a Bills defense that, quite honestly, doesn't have a lot of it. But if it's experience we're looking for, perhaps the focus should be Whitner, who believe it or not has appeared in 21 more regular season games throughout his career than has Sanders. That's ridiculous.

Sanders has had ankle, knee, shoulder and bicep injuries since the 2007 season. His style of play doesn't lend himself to staying healthy as he enters his thirties, and on Buffalo's league-worst run defense, there's little doubt that he'd be spending a lot of quality time near the line of scrimmage in run support. If Buffalo's interest grows as they meet with Sanders - who has already met with Jacksonville, and should have the opportunity to make several more visits - price will be a major factor.

Merriman's presence should be a factor, too. There are only so many boom-or-bust investments you can make at one time in this league.