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Buffalo Bills mailbag: Wide 9, team needs, Erik Pears in focus

In this week's Buffalo Bills mailbag post, we discuss team needs, the future of Erik Pears, the appeal of Brandon Spikes as a free agent, and the potential deployment of the Wide 9 in Buffalo.

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

This week's Buffalo Bills mailbag post was purposely delayed a day, from its usual Tuesday slot to today, to account for the hangover we all felt (perhaps literally, in some cases) after Seattle's blowout win over Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII. Thanks to the dozens of readers that submitted questions this week; please keep that up, as we're starting to get some very interesting questions rolling into the inbox at

Here is this week's quartet of queries.

If you were to single out this team's needs and rank them one to four, what would you say they are?

In a post from last month, I talked about my best practices for following the draft. One of the loosely-defined "rules" that I abide by, particularly before we get to the month of April, is to keep an open mind about everything - and in order to do that, I need to avoid ranking needs or players for the foreseeable future.

Right now, I'm studying the Detroit Lions' defense from the 2012 and 2011 seasons, trying to identify tendencies and mold it, purely theoretically, to what the Bills have from a talent standpoint. Essentially, that means we're trying to figure out what Buffalo's defense will look like when it's flavored or seasoned by Jim Schwartz. It'll probably be a good idea to spend a healthy amount of time studying the Bills' passing offense to identify shortcomings and ways to address them.

For now, I'm perfectly content accepting that the Bills have positional needs in all the areas that y'all are talking about every day here in our comment sections, and leaving them all on an even playing field. If they're needs, then they should be addressed in some fashion, and a priority list of the nature suggested here may not be the most prudent way to do it - especially for free agency.

Thanks to 'PaullyP4Prez' for the question! (Perhaps it's time for a Kiko-themed username?)

If the Bills end up drafting an offensive tackle in Round 1, would they consider moving Erik Pears inside to the guard position?

That may be a fairly big "if," considering the team's track record of drafting offensive linemen under the current regime. They're okay at left tackle, and as tempting as some of these blue-chip tackle prospects are this year, the Bills may not see enough value in addressing the position that early, especially since the tackle class has some depth to it.

But to play along: if the Bills did take a tackle that early, Erik Pears would probably be released. 6'8", 316-pound athletes don't play inside at guard very often, and when they do, they're typically special athletes. Pears is not a special athlete. He's also going to count $3.45 million against the cap next season, a number entirely too high for a backup lineman. The team could also ask him to restructure his deal - they could certainly do worse than Pears in their search for a third tackle - but that might not be easy to pull off.

Thanks to reader Joe for submitting this question!

Brandon Spikes seems like exactly what our defense needs. What are your thoughts?

The sentiment is easy to understand, because Spikes has established himself as a very good run-stuffing middle linebacker in his first four years in the league. Obviously, that is something that the Bills could use. Add in the connection between Spikes and new Bills defensive line coach Pepper Johnson, who was Spikes' position coach last year, and you reach the conclusion that this guy's name isn't going to disappear from conversations any time soon.

Arguments are easier to make against the Bills pursuing Spikes, however. For one, he's going to require a fairly hefty salary on the open market as an appealing, productive 26-year-old free agent. The downside to that is that the Bills would be paying a guy quite a bit of money that would be completely useless to them on passing downs. There is a financial sweet spot for signing what essentially amounts to a part-time player in this league, and Spikes will likely exceed that.

There's also this small matter: Spikes is a punk, and may not fit the locker room dynamic that Doug Marrone is trying to create. That's not to say his history disqualifies him from being on Buffalo's list, of course; it's just something to keep in mind.

Thanks to Eric from Syracuse for sending this question in!

I've read that Jim Schwartz employed the Wide 9 mainly to stop Peyton Manning with Indy. He's on record saying that he'll use multiple schemes, but of the Bills' 2014 opponents, which do you see warranting the Wide 9?

To ignore the spirit of your question for a moment, let's first clarify something: the Wide 9 is not a scheme, it's just an alignment. Schwartz became synonymous with the Wide 9 for the exact reason you stated, but as he mentioned in his introductory press conference, that's just sort of a thing that happens when media gets involved. Someday, NFL defenses will be first defined by whether it's a one-gap or two-gap system, and we'll all be happier. Mike Pettine's defense mixed one- and two-gap principles within one defense - much like Seattle's does - and the defense Schwartz runs will do that, as well - though perhaps not as frequently.

As a reply to the question, the simple answer is that Schwartz will fall back into his preferred pass rush alignment frequently against teams that can effectively spread the field and throw the football. You'll see it every week in obvious pass situations, and you'll see it more when they play teams quarterbacked by Tom Brady (twice), Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, the aforementioned Mr. Manning and Matthew Stafford next season.

Thanks to 'Z-Bills' for sending in this question! If you'd like to see something discussed in next week's Bills mailbag, send your question in to