The Buffalo Bills have had an exciting and productive off-season. They re-signed the vast majority of their impending free agents, made Mario Williams one of two prize free agent additions, and had what was, by most accounts, a solid 2012 NFL Draft weekend.
One of the many questions posed most frequently to me is how the team's off-season has adjusted expectations. The Bills may very well be off-season champions, but we're still talking about a team that has gone a combined 10-22 in the last two seasons, and that has picked in the Top 10 for three straight years.
My response, of course, has consistently been that expectations have changed dramatically. But is that really true? While the specifics (like the big-name signings and the gobs of money being thrown around) are decidedly different, we may have been down this road before.
I like to use the monthly approval rating polls that we run here for GM Buddy Nix (and to a lesser extent this time of year, head coach Chan Gailey) to gauge fan sentiment. Back in 2010, after the Bills had signed three free agents (Cornell Green, Dwan Edwards and Andra Davis) and made C.J. Spiller their surprise first-round pick, Nix pulled a 76 percent approval rating in these parts. (That seems a bit high now, right?)
By the time we got to September of that year - right before the meaningful games were to be played - Nix had a 77 percent approval rating. Bills fans were clearly riding the same wavelength all summer, and expectations didn't change much between the draft and the start of the season - likely indicating that expectations were low to begin with.
After the 2011 NFL Draft, in which the team added three potential defensive starters in Marcell Dareus, Aaron Williams and Kelvin Sheppard, Nix pulled in a 92 percent approval rating - not the highest of his tenure, by any means, but when nine-of-ten Bills fans approve of something or someone, expectations are decidedly on the rise. Flash forward to September of last year: the lockout had ended, free agency had ensued, and the Bills had struggled during the pre-season. Nix had a 66 percent approval rating just two days prior to the start of the regular season.
That, obviously, is a very steep drop, with more than a quarter of the (voting) fan base moving out of approval territory based almost entirely on a few exhibition games. That speaks to one thing, in my mind: expectations had risen dramatically in May, and fans were already jumping ship after seeing the team struggle, regardless of where and when they were doing said struggling.
Expectations have very clearly rebounded this spring, with Nix's approval rating up to 96 percent after the 2012 NFL Draft. The nature of the team's acquisitions (and player retentions) this year have undoubtedly added extra torque to those expectations, which makes us wonder: what will things be like come September?
The beauty of expectation is that it inversely affects patience. In 2010, fans understood that the team was re-building, and thus were remarkably consistent in their expectations. Last season, expectations rose, and then took a nosedive once the team hit the (practice) field. Now, May expectations are as high as they've been in years, and possibly higher than for any franchise that's missed the playoffs in as many consecutive years as the Bills (save for this year's Los Angeles Clippers, perhaps). Once the team re-convenes in an official capacity, the expectations will likely either continue to add torque if the team shows well in pre-season action, or fall off a cliff if they don't. Strap yourselves in, folks - expectations bring bumpy rides.