On the Roster: Aaron Williams, Drayton Florence, Terrence McGee, Reggie Corner, Leodis McKelvin, Justin Rogers
What we Know: Williams became a starter by the end of the season and progressed nicely throughout the year. He had some growing pains early on and got torched on a few plays but adjusted his game to become a reliable starter by the end of the year. He did battle some injuries and missed a few games but is the early favorite to start at one corner spot when the 2012 season kicks off. Florence seemed to have a flare for making big plays but also became a serious liability in games as the season wore on. He was consistently torched by Laurent Robinson in Dallas and costly penalties against the Jets in New York contributed to a crushing loss late in the year. He signed a 3 year $15 million contract before the season started so it’s likely that he’ll stick around in nickel and dime packages but he doesn’t appear to be the answer opposite of Williams.
As has been the tragic story of his career, McGee missed the majority of the season with multiple injuries. He appeared in only six games and although he was solid when healthy, his prolonged track record of injuries has made him completely unreliable. It was reported yesterday that he agreed to restructure his contract to create more flexibility for the Bills in the offseason but it’s not a guarantee that he’ll be back in 2012. McGee’s former starting counterpart McKelvin has as much talent and physical ability as anyone on the current roster. He’s rarely ever burned in coverage but his lack of awareness and ball skills are extremely frustrating to say the least. Take the game against Dallas as a primary example. With an opportunity to knock the ball away from Dez Bryant, he goes for the pick, and Bryant rips it out of his hands for a touchdown. His disturbing lack of understanding the system and coverage schemes relegated him to special teams duties for the majority of the season. As expected, he showed some game breaking abilities in the return game and actually became a standout on coverage units, but he wasn’t a first round draft pick because of special teams prowess. Entering the final year of his contract, McKelvin will likely be given one last chance to prove he’s worth a roster spot but needs to show serious improvement in mini-camps and training camp to stick for one more year.
Prognosis: This unit was able to make some big plays in 2011 but they were also susceptible to long passes. McGee’s inability to stay in the lineup and McKelvin’s ineffectiveness in coverage put a lot of pressure on younger players like Williams and Rogers. Florence seemed to take a huge step back after getting a big contract and shouldn’t be the favorite to start opposite Williams in 2012. Speaking of Rogers, the seventh round pick showed some flashes as a kick returner and didn’t look completely lost in coverage. He has an outside shot of seeing more time in nickel and dime packages next season. McGee and McKelvin are both mysteries and shouldn’t be counted on for 2012. With that being said the only lock as a start in 2012 seems to be Williams. There should be open competition for roster spots amongst the rest of the rabble but Nix and the front office need to add another legitimate starter in the offseason.
Offseason Solution: Sign a starter in Free Agency
Nix made it known that he plans to add another corner to the mix sometime in the offseason. He was aggressive in pursuing former Raider Stanford Routt for the past few weeks before he signed with Kansas City on Tuesday. Routt said his decision came down to the Bills, the Chiefs and the Bengals so it’s good to see the front office being aggressive in trying to lure free agents to Western New York. By no means should the search stop at Routt however. The free agent cornerback crop has the potential to be stacked this offseason.
With Routt off to Kansas City, Brandon Carr will likely test the free agent waters. Carr (26) is a number one-caliber corner. He had four interceptions, 15 passes defended, and allowed a 49.4 completion percentage against (per bleacher report) in 2011. Chiefs GM Scott Pioli said that the team still wants to bring Carr back but with the Routt signing and elite corner Brandon Flowers already on the roster it seems likely that he’ll hit the market. Carr is one of the premier corners available on the market however and will in turn garner a handsome salary. With Ralph Wilson’s apprehension to dulling out large sums of money to corners it seems unlikely that Carr will land in Buffalo but there’s no harm in speculating.
A more likely scenario would be a player like Tracey Porter or Terrell Thomas. Porter is a solid starting corner and although he had a bit of a down year in 2011, he’s only 26 years old and still has plenty of potential. He will forever be remembered for his Super Bowl heroics against Peyton Manning and is no stranger to big plays. He also won’t demand the type of contract that the upper echelon free agent corners like Carr, Cortland Finnegan, or Brett Grimes will likely receive.
Thomas was the best corner on the Giants roster heading into the 2011 season. He became a shutdown corner in 2010 and had all the potential to enter that elite class in 2011. A torn ACL ended his year in the preseason however and it’s an injury that’s surely a cause for concern for a corner. It’s questionable whether he’ll be able to regain his potential-elite status again but he is expected to be ready by training camp. His injury should drag down his price tag a bit and he’s definitely worth taking a shot on for the right price.
On the Roster: Jairus Byrd, George Wilson, Bryan Scott (FA), Da’Norris Searcy
What we Know: Although he hasn’t shown the same ball-hawking ability that made him a Pro Bowler in his rookie season in 2009, Byrd took a huge step forward in 2011. He was arguably the surest tackler on the team and made multiple big hits in the secondary. His three interceptions and three forced fumbles are nothing to overlook and he really demonstrated the ability to be a cornerstone for the defense for years to come. His starting counterpart in Wilson also had a breakthrough season in 2011. He could’ve even been considered a dark horse pick for defensive player of the year in the first half of the season. In his first year entering the season as the starter at strong safety Wilson did nothing but make plays in the first half. He had big interceptions in four consecutive weeks from week three against New England to week eight against Washington. An injury cost him three games in the middle of the season and, not surprisingly, occurred in the middle of the team’s seven game losing streak. His leadership qualities and play-making ability were sorely missed during the demoralizing skid.
Scott made some pretty big plays of his own during the season. It could be argued that his interception towards the end of the first half in the week three victory against the Patriots was the game’s turning point. Scott’s a sure tackler and although he’s somewhat of a liability in coverage, is important to the defenses success. He has the ability to line up at linebacker in obvious passing downs and is excellent in run support.
Searcy showed some promise in his rookie season but definitely had some growing pains as well. When he was forced into starting duties when Wilson went down, he was outmatched by superior tight ends and had some trouble staying with slot receivers. He proved to be adequate in run support but still needs some seasoning before he’s ready for a more significant role.
Prognosis: The combination of Byrd and Wilson is more than solid on the back end. They both are capable of making big plays in the passing game and are solid against the run. Byrd has the potential to be a perennial Pro Bowler and while Wilson is already 30, still has some solid years of production left. Scott and Searcy provide adequate depth behind the two starters. While Scott’s somewhat of a liability against the pass as a safety, he fills the tweener role of a coverage linebacker nicely. Searcy still has some room to grow and shouldn’t be counted on to be a consistent contributor for at least another year or so.
Offseason Solution: Re-sign Scott and draft a safety to provide depth
Scott plays a valuable role in the Bills’ defensive system and should be brought back to provide depth. He shouldn’t be in high demand in free agency and should be relatively easy to re-sign.
While the combination of the four current safeties on the roster is more than adequate, both Wilson and Scott will be 31 when the 2012 season starts. Searcy is the current favorite to be the eventual heir apparent at strong safety but it might be wise to use a late round draft pick for depth purposes. If Scott is not re-signed adding another safety will become more of a priority. Still, Nix and the Bills shouldn’t break the bank on a free agent option like Michael Griffin as an upgrade over Wilson. If Scott walks, adding a player like San Francisco’s Reggie Smith may be an option. He can provide depth at both safety spots and at 25 years old he has plenty of years of production left.