The Second Part of a Three Part Series
Prior to his second season in control Gailey had to deal with a severely shortened postseason due to the NFL lockout. The team lost minicamps and training camp was shortened because greed once again reared its ugly face in the professional sports spectrum. The free agency period was shortened to roughly 2 and half weeks while rookies weren’t able to properly become acclimated to the league with offseason team activities and a full training camp schedule.
In the 2011 draft the Bills selected number three overall with their eyes set on drafting Auburn QB Cam Newton if he was available. Newton went first overall however and Nix and Gailey were forced to make the first rational move in recent franchise history by filling a need and snagging the best player on the board at the same time, Alabama defensive tackle Marcel Dareus. Most fans were ecstatic with the pick because Dareus was believed to be one of the most dominant defensive players in the draft. A long awaited day 1 victory after so many reaches in the past seemed to give light to what was sure to be one of the best Bills’ drafts in recent memory. The football gods may have smiled upon the emotionally battered citizens of Buffalo for the day but in Western New York the sun only shines for brief moments.
Going into the draft it was all but a guarantee the Bills would look to address the hole at quarterback with a draft class presumably deep with talent at the position. With Newton off the board Nix and Gailey did the prudent thing by filling a huge need with Dareus and set themselves up with a chance to draft a developmental QB prospect in the second. Of those still on the board sat the hero of the 2011 Rose Bowl in Andy Dalton, an athletic prospect from Nevada in Colin Kaepernick and the super talented/major head case Ryan Mallett. Instead of picking the best player on the board and filling an enormous need by selecting Dalton Buffalo chose Aaron Williams a cornerback from Texas who projected out as a free safety in the NFL. When asked about the decision to pass on Dalton, Nix and Gailey agreed that the second pick of the second round was a reach. The Bengals, who had the next pick after the Bills nabbed Dalton and have enjoyed the spoils of consecutive playoff births in his first two years in the league as their starting quarterback. Williams on the other hand has developed into a corner that gets beat for huge yardage and scores by average receivers on a week-by-week basis.
Neglecting to grab a QB in either of the first two rounds meant Ryan Fitzpatrick was set to enter the 2011 season as the unquestioned starter for the first time in his career. The early results were indicative of a genius decision by the Bills’ brass as the team enjoyed an improbable 5-2 start with Fitzpatrick looking like a franchise quarterback in the process. Prior to a late October matchup in Toronto against the Washington Redskins, Nix showed his gratitude by paying Fitz like the signal caller the Bills have been sorely missing since Doug Flutie flew the coop for San Diego. Of course, that’s when it came apart at the seams.
After shutting out the Redskins to reach the five win plateau, the team would go on to loose eight of their final nine contests of the season after teams caught up to Gailey’s spread offense and Fitzpatrick’s lame duck arm. Some of the late season swoon could be attributed to a rash of injuries that decimated a very shallow pool of talent, but it was Gailey who failed to adjust to the onslaught his team received on a weekly basis.
Even with the late season collapse the team had showed improvement overall on the offensive side of the ball and with an extra two victories from a season before some would even dare say they were making progress.
The 2012 offseason saw the Bills front office do something they hadn’t done in years: investing in their homegrown talent and making an enormous splash in the free agent market. A little more than a week before free agency began the Bills announced that they had resigned Stevie Johnson to a five year extension. That was just the tip of the iceberg however. Ten days after Johnson signed his contact the Bills would announce one of their biggest free agent signings in franchise history. After almost three days of the entire Western New York community staying up until all hours of the night refreshing their twitter feeds and staying glued to various news outlets, the team announced that they had landed prized defensive end Mario Williams to the tune of a five-year $100 million contact. A week later the team announced they had landed Mark Anderson to pair with Williams to potentially create one of the most feared defensive lines in the NFL.
The table was set, the pieces were starting to fall into place. A few additions via the draft to clog a few other holes and the Bills were staring a weak 2012 schedule in the face with the chance to end a 12 year playoff drought and contend for an AFC East Title.