With positive news coming from the lockout proceedings on a daily basis, it seems that it is only a matter of days before the NFL unchains the gates and once again opens for business. With that in mind and training camp set to begin at St. John Fisher College in Rochester on July 29th, the next few weeks are set to be a whirlwind of insanity. Depending on when the agreement is finally reached and free agency officially opens, the Bills may only have a few weeks to sign their draft picks, unrestricted free agents, undrafted free agents and their current players with expiring contracts. The first step in the process will be addressing which of their own free agents they intend to bring back. It is expected that in the new CBA, players with at least four years of NFL experience will be eligible for unrestricted free agency. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the list of potential free agents the Bills currently have on their roster and determine which ones (if any) are essential to bring back.
LB Akin Ayodele: The prototypical journeyman, Ayodele joined the Bills after the first game of the season when rookie Danny Batten was put on IR and Paul Posluszny’s week one injury against the Dolphins appeared much more severe than it turned out to be. Before midseason he claimed the starting inside linebacker job opposite of Poz when Andra Davis was lost to a shoulder injury. Ayodele performed admirably in relief duty, amassing an impressive 106 tackles, good for third on the team, and forced two fumbles in 15 games played. Even with the selection of Kelvin Sheppard in the third round of April’s draft, don’t be surprised to see Ayodele in a Bills uniform when the lockout is lifted. He and Davis provide solid depth to a linebacking corps that was shredded by the run last year and both would give Sheppard a chance to learn the scheme and develop in the system.
QB Brian Brohm: It would be pretty shocking to see the Bills sign Brohm back. In two career starts and one relief appearance with the team Brohm has an embarrassing QB Rating of 26.0 with zero touchdowns and five interceptions. In his lone appearance in 2010 against the NY Jets’ backups the once highly touted signal caller went 10 of 23 with 106 yards and three picks and was replaced in the fourth quarter by Levi Brown. The Bills need to sign a proven backup with starting experience to backup Fitzy when the lockout ends.
LB Keith Ellison: Ellison looks more like a safety than a linebacker and is way too undersized to play in a 3-4 defense. He saw limited action on defense and played mostly special teams in 2010. With the selections of Sheppard and Chris White in April’s draft don’t expect to see Ellison back in a Bills uniform.
CB Drayton Florence: Florence is on the wrong side of 30 but he’s been a solid corner during his two year tenure as a Bill. He amassed 58 tackles, had three picks, forced and recovered a fumble and had 15 passes defended in 2010. The Bills drafted Aaron Williams in the second round of April’s draft with the intention of making him a corner so they might pass on handing out an expensive contract to Florence. With Ashton Youboty expected to depart in free agency however, the Bills are slim with experience at corner. If Florence and Youboty depart it would leave Buffalo with Terrence McGee, Leodis McKelvin, Williams, Reggie Corner and seventh round pick Justin Rogers as the depth chart in the secondary. If he would agree to it, the Bills should definitely consider signing Florence to a one or two year deal to give the younger guys some time to develop.
LB Paul Posluszny: Poz is without a doubt the most important free agent that Buddy Nix needs to resign. He may not be the All-Pro most fans expected him to be by this point in his career but there is no denying that he is a solid middle linebacker and seemed to fit extremely well transitioning from the 4-3 to the 3-4. In 14 games last year Poz set career highs in tackles (151) and sacks (2) and was the only Bills linebacker opposing offenses had to account for. There is some concern with his durability however, as he’s only completed one full 16 game season without succumbing to injury. If the Bills allow Posluszny to depart via free agency they will be left with two rookies in Sheppard and White, along with two journeymen in Ayodele (also a free agent) and Davis manning the middle of the defense.
TE Jonathan Stupar: Stupar showed some flashes last season when actually given a chance to play. In a week three loss to the Patriots he caught three passes for 27 yards and a week 14 victory against the Browns saw him catch another three balls for 45 yards. Chan Gailey just doesn’t seem to use the tight end position in his offense unless it’s for run blocking which is not Stupar’s forte. It would be hard to imagine Buffalo signing him back this year.
SS Donte Whitner: Mark my words; Donte Whitner has seen his last days in Buffalo, NY. A man who, along with Aaron Maybin, has quickly become the teams central figure in an almost decade long period of miserable drafting, Whitner has not played anywhere close to the expectations of a strong safety drafted with the eighth overall pick. Whitner turned down a five million dollar a year offer from the Bills before the gates at Ralph Wilson Stadium were chained and locked, demanding a contract closer to $7 million a year. Five years into his career Whitner has amassed five total interceptions. His free safety counterpart Jarius Byrd has doubled that total in only two. The Ohio State product has only finished one 16 game season injury free and surpassed 100 tackles twice (most of which were 8-20 yards downfield). He does have the capacity to put a pretty good stick on unsuspecting receivers and running backs, but his propensity to unload on opposing offensive players causes him to consistently miss tackles. The re-signing of fan favorite George Wilson, the immergence of Bryan Scott and the selection of Da’Norris Searcy almost makes it a forgone conclusion that Whitner will be packing his bags when the lockout is lifted.
CB Ashton Youboty: Youboty is tough to figure out. He’s showed extremely brief glimpses of brilliance in his five years in Orchard Park but the majority of his time has been spent on the sideline with injuries and personal issues. 2008 was perhaps Youboty’s best season and he only played in five games. Due to injuries Youboty was forced into a starting role and showed glimpses of becoming a solid shutdown corner. He too succumbed to injury however, sidelining him for the rest of the season, and never again delivered on the potential he displayed during that brief stint. By putting his house in Buffalo up for sale a couple of months ago and the Bills drafting Williams and Rogers almost definitely signals the end of his career in the Queen City.