1. Strategy Summary
My strategy breaks up into long term and short term strategies:
Long Term Strategy
My long term plan is obviously building a Super Bowl contender and I'll need a QB to do that. I'm fairly sure that EJ Manuel is not that QB. Is there a surefire option I can obtain this year without ripping apart my roster/destroying my ability to restock my roster? Looking at the free agents/draft options this year, my answer is no. I will likely have to draft that QB, so I'm building for a Super Bowl run at the earliest in 2017. I need to make sure I have crucial pieces tied up and make sure that my future QB will have the support needed from the skill position players and his O-line.
Short Term Strategy
This is still a win now league and while I build towards a 2017 SB appearance, I can't squander the talent I have. I have a playoff caliber roster with minor upgrades. My strengths are my defense and special teams, so I need to improve the running game and find a veteran QB who has a solid track record when the chips are down.
2. Front Office/Coaching Staff
I was going to be contrary here and hire someone a little more out of the box (like Dave Toub, ST Coordinator of the Chiefs) just to be contrary, but I'm going with Rex and the staff he's brought in. Ryan has been successful even without a high quality QB and his philosophy matches up with what we need right now. I think he can get both get us to the playoffs this year and also to the Super Bowl once I find the right QB.
3. Bills Personnel
1. DE Jerry Hughes - 5 years/$55 million ($25 million guaranteed)
Defense is going to have to carry this team, and Ryan has made it clear that the O and D lines are most important. Hughes is only 26 and entering his prime. I'm front loading this contract slightly, with a fully guaranteed $12 million this year and the remaining guarantee spread out amongst the remaining four years.
2. WR Marcus Easley - 2 years/$4 million ($3 million guaranteed)
No reason to create a big hole in a very good special teams unit.
3. WR Chris Hogan - 1 year/$585k
Another no brainer. He's been productive as a third receiver and is inexpensive.
4. DT Marcell Dareus - 7 years/$112 million ($55 million guaranteed)
This has to happen. I think he's going to want something comparable with McCoy and Watt, both of which are hovering around $16 million per season. I'm leery about guaranteeing that much to any player, but he's worth it. His hit this year will $12 million, so $4 million shaved off of the cap.
5. DT/E Corbin Bryant - 1 year/$585k
Bryant was serviceable last year and is reasonable depth. Better to have competition there during the preseason.
6. WR Marcus Thigpen - 1 year/$1 million
I liked what I saw out of Thigpen last year as a returner and buy another year.
I've spent $20.17 million so I have $9.83 million left from my original $31 million before cuts.
1. OG Kraig Urbik (+ $3 million)
2. OG Chris Williams (+ $2.475 million)
3. LB Keith Rivers (+ $1.7 million)
I don't think any of these really need to be explained. I'm just happy to have the cap space back. I'm back to about $17 million.
There are a few players I probably need to explain my rationale on:
1. RB CJ Spiller
I love Spiller and I'll miss that home run threat, but I truly believe that he's going to ask for much more than he's worth in this offense. Sure, I may be eating my words when he signs with the Jets and breaks off a spectacular 80 yard run against us,
2. S DaNorris Searcy
Searcy is a solid player, but again, he's going to get more money than I am willing to pay him. We've got a bunch of young players behind him and a lot of solid free agency options.
3. LB Brandon Spikes
Spikes is a limited player at a position that we have good depth at. Its as simple as that. He'll get a good opportunity elsewhere.
4. KOS Jordan Gay
Feels weird to justify not tendering a kickoff specialist, but I don't see that Ryan used one in any of his past stops, and frankly I'd rather have an extra O or D lineman available.
4. NFL Personnel
Hey, hey free agency.
1. OG Richie Incognito - 1 year/$1.1 million ($900k guaranteed)
We'll give him a chance.
2. OG/OT Jah Reid - 3 years/$4.5 million ($1.5million guaranteed)
Reid has only seven starts in his NFL career but its not his fault that he's been behind two of the best guards in the NFL. He's played well when he has played, and he's got the size that Roman is looking for. Also can play some RT for us in a pinch.
3. S Dawan Landry - 2 years/$4 million ($3 million guaranteed)
Ryan is going to want a guy on the back end of his defense he trusts. Landry is on the wrong side of 30, but had a good year last year despite the team struggles. Landry had the third best year of all free agent safeties, per PFF. The hope is that Duke Williams takes the next step this year, but we'll be covered if he doesn't.
4. FB Henry Hynoski - 2 years/$3 million ($1 million guaranteed)
First- is there a more fullback name than Henry Hynoski? Second- Hynoski played very well last year. I think he'd be perfect for this offense.
5. DE/T Kenrick Ellis - 3 years/$4.5 million (1.5 million guaranteed)
We now Ryan will want to bring in guys he's familiar with. Ellis can play both positions along the line, was solid last year and should be cheap.
6. QB Mark Sanchez - 2 years/$11 million ($3 million guaranteed)
And now, my most controversial signing. I dismissed immediately the idea of trading for a QB. There are only a few semi-competent (Bradford, Foles, etc...) guys potentially available, but I really have to blow their teams away to get them. I'm not prepared to do that. I narrowed my choice down to three names: Matt Moore, Brian Hoyer and Sanchez.
There were a lot of things I liked about Hoyer. He didn't turn the ball over an insane amount and he lead several fourth quarter comebacks. I just can't get over how bad he was in that last five game stretch (after he got back some of his big weapons I might add).
I get the love for Moore on this site. He had one solid season with the Dolphins and a fraction of a good season with the Panthers. We rightly criticize Sanchez for his turnovers, but Moore actually isn't any better. Sanchez's career interception percentage is 3.7%, Moore's is 3.6%. Sanchez has fumbled 50 times in 71 games with significant (10 attempts or more) playing time. That's .70 fumbles per game. Moore has fumbled 23 times in 30 games or .77 per game.
What Sanchez does have, is a track record in close games. He has 14 game winning drives in his career including two in the playoffs. He's also 4-2 as a playoff quarterback with an pretty solid nine TDs to three INTs. And QB friendly system or no, he ended up rated 17th in QBR (Foles was 15th for reference) and 24th in FO's DYAR rating. Not great, but positive play.
I've got roughly $5 million left.
5. NFL Draft
Prospects are rated all over the bloody place so I used NinerNations composite big board (here) to try determine availability for players. My rule was that I couldn't draft a player more than ten slots lower than where he was ranked on this board. For example: my first pick was at 50, so I could draft any player ranked 41st onwards. The only exception was QBs, who had to be at or lower than my pick (ex. ranked 50th or below for my first pick).
My aim is to trade down as much as possible. Ideally I'd be looking for a pick both this year and next to fill the 2016 draft cupboard.
TRADE with DEN: 2nd Round, 59th Overall - RB Jay Ajayi, Boise State
In my scenario, Maxx Williams is still available. The Texans draft after us and their best TE is currently Garrett Graham, so Denver (who currently has one TE on the roster) leaps up to try and keep the shelves stocked for Peyton Manning. They give their 4th (I'm guessing 125th after comps) this year and their 4th next year to move up.
This is a loaded running back class, but it would tough to find one more complete then Ajayi. He's gets yards after contact, is a good receiver and has good recognition in pass protection. He fumbles a bit too much, but I think that can be coached out.
3rd Round, 81st Overall - TE Clive Walford, Miami (FL)
I looked hard at Bryce Petty and Garrett Grayson here, but ultimately I don't feel like either guy is going to develop into a high level starting QB. Walford is an already productive player who has a little more athleticism than he's given credit for. If Walford is what I think he is and one of the other young tight ends steps up to be a solid number two, that may be the end for Chandler.
4th Round, 125th Overall (From DEN) - OG/OC Ali Marpet, Hobart
He's not the prototypical size for a Greg Roman O-lineman, but he's plenty strong and proved at the Senior Bowl he could hold his own against the best. Everything I've heard about him says he's got a tremendous work ethic. He'll cross train at center, which is where I'll list him for now. We also have some insurance at center if Wood ends up playing a bit worse than his average play of last year.
5th Round, 141st Overall - OLB/EDGE Lynden Trail, Norfolk State
He's been a hot name this offseason, projected as high as the 2nd round, but to be honest he's very raw. His numbers at the combine didn't seem to match up with the athleticism you see on tape either. Still, he has a lot of tools to work with and is a low risk gamble here. He'll have a year or two to learn under Mario and Hughes with an eye towards being the down the road replacement for Mario.
5th Round, 159th Overall - DT/E Joey Mbu, Houston
Doesn't offer a lot in the way of pass rushing, but he's difficult to move in the run game. Should be good as a rotational tackle and five tech end. He's also a high character guy and a team leader.
6th Round, 194th Overall - CB Deshazor Everett, Texas A&M
Physical skills don't blow me away, but I'm picking him here because he makes plays. He has five picks, 23 knockdown and four defensive TDs in his career.
7th Round, 232nd Overall - TE Blake Bell, Oklahoma
A project I'm excited about. Shows good athleticism and fine hands, just doesn't have a lot of experience at the position. Ideally this year he'd be able to contribute in short yardage situations and on teams.
QB Brandon Bridge, South Alabama
Speaking of raw. More physical talent than most of the QBs in the class. He's hopefully my replacement for Jeff Tuel short term and maybe, if the football gods are extremely kind, something even better down the road.
OT Eric Lefeld, Cincinnati
Solid athletic ability, so could stick at right tackle.
Here's my roster going into training camp
QB: EJ Manuel, Jeff Tuel, Mark Sanchez, Brandon Bridge
RB: Fred Jackson, Anthony Dixon, Bryce Brown, Jay Ajayi
FB: Henry Hynoski, Corey Knox
WR: Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Chris Hogan, Marquise Goodwin, Marcus Easley, Deonte Thompson, Tobias Palmer, Caleb Holley
TE: Scott Chandler, Chris Gragg, Marqueis Gray, Clive Walford, Blake Bell, Chris Manhertz
OT: Cordy Glenn, Seantrel Henderson, Cyrus Kouandjio, Eric Lefeld
OG: Richie Incognito, Jah Reid, Cyril Richardson, Ali Marpet, William Campbell, Darryl Johnson, Alex Kupper, DJ Morrell
OC: Eric Wood
D-LINE: Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Corbin Bryant, Kenrick Lewis, Joey Mbu, Stefan Charles, Jeremy Towns
EDGE: Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes, Manny Lawson, Lynden Trail, Bryan Johnson
ILB: Kiko Alonso, Preston Brown, Nigel Bradham, Randell Johnson, Ty Powell, Jimmy Gaines
CB: Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, Corey Graham, Ron Brooks, Nickell Robey, Ross Cockrell, Deshazor Everett, Mario Butler, Rod Sweeting, Jonte Green
S: Aaron Williams, Dawan Landry, Duke Williams, Jonathan Meeks, Baccari Rambo, Kenny Ladler, Deon Broomfield
K: Dan Carpenter
P: Colton Schmidt
LS: Garrison Sanborn
KR: Marcus Thigpen
I've got slots left on the roster, but frankly I'm exhausted at this point. Certainly we're not perfect, but I think that this is a roster that can get over the playoff hump in 2015. I've got a short term QB to complete with EJ along with a long term project without spending any capital in next year's draft. I've also added an extra 2016 pick (ideally I'd like to add more but projecting that stuff is nutso right now) to give me a little more firepower in case I need to move up for a QB in 2016. Depth has improved along the O-line and D-line, with some promising skill position players added through the draft. Whether its EJ or a 2016 QB, we've got enough good young skill position players to grow. I didn't get as much done at tackle as I was hoping, but Reid should provide some competition and both Henderson and CK are still young with a chance to develop.
Thanks for reading this incredibly long post.