Coming Down to the Wire

April 24, 2013 by

One day away from the best three day stretch in all of sports and I’m just writing my first article on it. What the hell is wrong with me? I apologize for my inconsistent posting over the last couple months but let’s be honest the Buffalo sports institution hasn’t been anything too noteworthy recently. Nevertheless the NFL Draft commences on Thursday at 8:00 and I’m finally starting to get excited so let’s give this a whirl.

The Buffalo Bills own the eighth overall pick in the first round and few if any experts know what they’re going to do. Buddy Nix seemed to indicate that quarterback is the likeliest possibility during the team’s pre-draft luncheon about a week ago but future Bills GM Doug Whaley let it be known that the team is extremely high on West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin. Either way we’re likely in for some fireworks when Roger Goodell steps to the podium around 9:20 on Thursday night.

What the Bills Should Do:

Option 1: Trade Down

Austin and Alabama corner Dee Millner are likely to draw some serious interest from teams sitting in the 15-20 range while Lane Johnson has been flying up draft boards as of late and if he somehow makes it to eight, he would look very intriguing to multiple teams at the bottom of the first. Carolina, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh (picks 14-17) could all use a serious upgrade at both receiver and corner and Austin and Millner are two of the most complete players in this draft. The Saints are no strangers to moving up on draft day and number eight would be a solid fit for them.

When it comes down to it, the Bills need to fill as many holes as possible in this draft and the only way to do that is by accruing more draft picks. St. Louis has two first rounders, while they will not give up both to move up into the top ten, they might be willing to give up a second-rounder to grab a desperately needed playmaker for Sam Bradford.

Option 2: Draft Austin

Call me crazy and make your comparisons to the C.J. Spiller pick in 2010 but Austin is the biggest playmaker in this entire draft. He and Stedman Bailey are the only reasons that Geno Smith is even sniffing the top ten. Austin would bring the dynamic that TJ Graham was supposed to last year. Though I’m not ready to give up on Graham after one year of underachieving, adding Austin into the fold would give the Bills a Maclin/Jackson dynamic with two guys who have homerun potential every time they touch the ball. You could make an argument for Cordarrelle Patterson here but 2 outstanding years of JuCo and one less than amazing season at the Division 1 level doesn’t warrant a top ten pick in my mind (Darrius Heyward-Bey anyone?).

Option 3: Stand Pat and Draft their QB

This honestly seems like the most likely path. Whether it be Ryan Nassib or Matt Barkley all indications are that Nix will finally push away his stubborn pride and pull the trigger on a young signal-caller to develop. Between the two I’d prefer Nassib honestly but I would be fine with either player. Even with a mostly-miserable senior campaign by Barkley he is just one year removed from being projected as a top 5 pick. He has the talent and while I HATE California quarterbacks, I believe this guy has the talent to be a franchise QB one day.

Nassib makes a bit more sense considering his former head coach and offensive coordinator call the shots in Buffalo now. Nassib has a great arm and has played in much poorer conditions than Barkley during his college tenure. He knows Nathaniel Hackett’s playbook and his learning curb would be significantly reduced compared to Barkley.

Put a Gun to my head if:

The Bills Draft a Guard at 8

Don’t get me wrong, Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper are two of the top prospects in the draft and would immediately fill the void left by Andy Levitre’s departure but this is a position the Bills could address in the mid-rounds. I may be one of the few people actually intrigued to see what last year’s fifth round pick Zebrie Sanders can do at the guard position if that’s the direction they decide to go. I was extremely high on Sanders going into the draft last year and believe he has the talent to be a very good lineman.

The Bills Pass Up an Opportunity to Move Down

Rumors are swirling today that the Bills are afraid that if they take the opportunity to move down into the teens or 20’s the Jets may draft Nassib with one of their two first round picks (9 and 13). New Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg supposedly has a man crush on Nassib and some experts believe they may nab him if he falls to them.

It would make perfect sense if these rumors were true because the Bills have made historically poor decisions based on urgency and fear (Ryan Fitzpatrick’s contract). If Nix can work out a deal that would move the team down in the first and acquire another second or third and still draft either Nassib, Barkley or even E.J. Manuel, it would make Nix look like a genius, which is precisely why they’ll likely turn down any offer to move down and reach for a quarterback at 8. Like I said if the Bills have a guy that they believe can be the future of the franchise then I’m fine with them pulling the trigger at 8. If they are given an opportunity to acquire more picks and address more needs however, they can’t pass it up.

New Banner

April 11, 2013 by

I just wanted to give a huge thank you to Justin Jarosz on creating our new banner. Bleed Buffalo has been a bit silent in recent weeks with a lack of activity in NFL free agency for the Bills and the mess that’s been created at FNC, but don’t worry. We have plenty on the docket for the next two weeks with the draft right around the corner. Prospect profiles, Bills needs articles and live coverage of the draft on the 25th. Continue to read, continue to follow and as always continue to Bleed Buffalo.

Safety Talent Pool Still Deep

March 14, 2013 by

Buddy Nix addressed the most important internal issue before free agency even began by placing the franchise tag on Jairus Byrd. It’s imperative for the Bills to get a long term deal done with Byrd this offseason still but not allowing him to hit the free agent market was essential. Nix also made the bold move of releasing veteran safety George Wilson to save just north of $2 million in cap space (although they haven’t seemed to need that extra cash yet). The Bills still need to address the starting strong safety position however and although Da’Norris Searcy took some steps in the right direction in 2012, he’s not ready to be the full time guy.

Again, some of the big names are off the board already with Dashon Goldson heading to Tampa and LaRon Landry inking a deal with the Colts. This group still remains pretty loaded however, with multiple players still available that would be incredible additions.

Kenny Phillips: It’s no surprise that Phillips hasn’t signed anywhere yet because of his nightmarish past of injuries. Don’t discount his talent though, when he’s healthy Phillips is one of the better safeties in the league. He’s a ball hawk in the secondary and he’s a hammer in run support. He’s still very young (26) and if he can stay healthy he could be a huge addition to a Bills secondary that is one of the worst in the league at covering tight ends. The injuries are no small concern however. Out of a possible 80 games in 5 seasons Phillips has only played in 56. He would be a high risk high reward type of signing but he would absolutely be worth taking a shot on.

Bernard Pollard: Pollard’s nickname on the Ravens was “bonecrusher” but it probably should’ve been “Patriot’s Assassin”. While he’s not the surest coverage safety he’s an absolute stud in run support and there probably isn’t a player in the league that hits as hard as him. The Bills should sign Pollard simply for his ability to knock Patriots players out of games. In all seriousness though, Pollard is only 28 years old so he would be an ideal candidate for a 3-4 year contract. He’s got plenty of good years left and he would bring the hard-nosed attitude this defense desperately needs.

Quintin Mikell, Adrian Wilson, and Michael Huff: By no means am I categorizing all of these guys as the same types of players, they’re just in the same age range. Of the three, Mikell would probably be the best of the bunch but signing any of the three comes with its perks. Mikell is solid in coverage and would still has a few solid years of production left. Wilson is a force in the run game and an unbelievable leader. Huff is probably the most flawed but he is the youngest of the group (30 vs. 33) and he’s above average in coverage. Signing any of these three would be a solid stopgap option as Searcy develops into the starter of the future. Kerry Rhoades would fit this criteria as well.

Outside Linebacker Options Still Available

March 14, 2013 by

Manny Lawson gives the Bills a solid presence in the struggle to stop the run but he doesn’t offer much in terms of a pass rush. When they line up in a 4-3 he will likely be the starter at outside linebacker with the assumption that they don’t add at least one more. The 3-4 is another story however. While Mark Anderson and Mario Williams are the most likely candidates to rush from the edge in 3-4 situations the team needs to add depth and situational pass rushers who can make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket. Even with the addition of Lawson they could still use an upgrade in their base 4-3 as well. Lawson could be a solid rotational guy but there are still better options available in the market.

Names like Cliff Avril, Paul Kruger and Phillip Wheeler have already been scooped off the board but the talent pool is pretty deep at outside linebacker.

Connor Barwin: Barwin has only been linked to one team (Philadelphia) thus far in free agency. While his market has certainly taken a hit because of a poor 2012 campaign which saw a massive decrease in sacks (3) and production from his 2011 season (11.5 sacks), Barwin is still a quality starter. There’s speculation that some teams may only offer him a one year deal because of his poor 2012 showing. At only 26 years old it would be more than worth it for the Bills to throw there hat in the ring. If they offer him a multiple year deal it may separate them from the competition.

Victor Butler: Like Barwin, Butler has drawn interest from the Eagles but with the likes of Mychal Kendricks and Demeco Ryans still around it’s likely that only one would be signed. Butler has lived in the shadow of pass rushing juggernaut DeMarcus Ware and franchise player Anthony Spencer. When given an opportunity he’s shown flashes of brilliance but hasn’t had more than the occasional chance to shine. Butler will only be 26 when the season starts and he could be a star in the making. He’s not likely to get a huge contract and his name likely wouldn’t arouse season ticket sales but Butler has some serious potential. He would be a major addition to the pass rush.

Kevin Burnett: Burnett was linked to the Bills before signing with the Dolphins a couple years ago and he would make so much sense in this system. Burnett has very few holes in his game. He’s a three down linebacker who has the versatility to play outside linebacker in a 4-3 and inside in a 3-4. His age (30) might be a bit of a concern but he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, amassing over 100 tackles both of the last two seasons and 2.5 sacks each year to boot. Don’t be surprised if you hear his name thrown around in Buffalo over the next few days.

Daryl Smith: Smith has quietly been one of the most effective 4-3 outside linebackers in the game since joining the league in 2004. He’s an absolute force against the run and can hold his own in coverage as well. He’s spent time at middle linebacker but flourished on the outside. A groin injury cost him the majority of the 2012 season and he actually turned 31 years old today so there may be some concern in both areas but he’s not likely to command a huge contract. Smith would be worth the risk.

Bills Don’t Need to Implement Plan B Yet

March 14, 2013 by

A little less than two days into NFL free agency and the Buffalo Bills don’t have much to show thus far. They’ve added linebacker Manny Lawson to the fold but released Ryan Fitzpatrick. They currently sit about $23 million under the league’s salary cap so they have plenty of room to make multiple additions to a roster that’s desperate for a serious injection of talent in multiple areas.

Lawson was a nice addition but he’s hardly the answer at linebacker. In fact on most rosters he’d be seen as nothing more than a strong depth piece and special teams contributor. His strong point is his run stopping ability and can’t be counted on as more than a two down linebacker which still leaves a serious whole in the linebacking corps. The only backer on the current roster that saw significant playing time on passing downs was Bryan Scott and his play was anything but inspiring. If the Bills’ intend to play a fair amount of 3-4 fronts, which new d-coordinator will likely implement, not only will they need a player who can stay on the field all three downs, they’ll also need an upgrade at middle linebacker. The books still out on Kelvin Sheppard and while two years is hardly enough time to judge a player, he needs to show serious improvement in his third season. With all of that being said, there are a trio of middle linebackers who could fit this mold.

Middle Linebacker:

Karlos Dansby: When the Dolphins signed Dannell Ellerbe, they cut loose Dansby. Dansby is a ferocious competitor, a stalwart in the run game and an unquestioned leader. While he’s getting up there in age (31) he’s still a more than sufficient three down linebacker. While his age will play a factor in contract length, he will still likely have plenty of suitors. If Dansby could be had at the right price for the right amount of time he would be a massive upgrade to the middle of the Bills defense

Brad Jones: It’s a shock to me that Jones hasn’t signed a deal yet because I thought he was the best free agent middle linebacker in the market. Not only did he outperform Desmond Bishop whom he replaced because of an injury, he also showed up former top 5 pick A.J. Hawk. Jones is a prototypical three down linebacker who is likely to cost a lot more than Dansby but he’s just hitting the prime of his career (27 years old). With the amount of cash the Bills still have under the cap, they should really take a shot on Jones.

Rey Maualuga: Maualuga had the best year of his career in 2012, eclipsing the 100 tackle mark for the first time. He lost his starting linebacker job to undrafted rookie Vontez Burfect but showed great versatility spending time at both outside linebacker spots. He’s not great in coverage but he’s solid against the run and he too just looks to be coming into his prime. Maualuga has drawn interest from other teams but left Arizona without a contract so he’s still in play. Maualuga would be a recognizable name for Bills fans to get excited about but he’d also be a welcome addition in the linebacking corps.

Lawson Signing Good Indicator of Bills’ Intentions

March 14, 2013 by

The Buffalo Bills are on the board in 2013 NFL free agency. After remaining dormant with the exception of releasing former starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick Tuesday, the Bills have signed former 49ers and Bengals outside linebacker Manny Lawson to a four year deal. It’s not an earth-shattering move but it gives a good indication into what directions the Bills will go with free agency this year, finding guys who fit their system without breaking the bank.

There are a million great write-ups out there right now on Lawson but in a nutshell he’s a solid run defending outside linebacker who struggles in coverage. He’s not going to get after the passer (only 18 career sacks) as much as you’d like to see but he’s a heady defender who stays at home against the run and only missed three (according to Pro Football Focus) tackles last season. He’s versatile as well, spending time in Cincy’s 4-3 scheme after spending his first five seasons in the league in San Francisco’s base 3-4. Lawson will offer an immediate upgrade to a mediocre linebacking core.

Don’t expect his signing to be the last in this free agency period however. The terms of Lawson’s contract haven’t been released but after releasing Ryan Fitzpatrick yesterday the Bills sat about 26-27 million under the cap (with Jairus Byrd’s franchise figure). Keep in mind that under the new CBA teams need to spend to 99% of the cap so Lawson will likely not get them anywhere close.

The market is anything but dried up at this point with more players being released on a daily basis (Bernard Pollard or Michael Huff anyone?) and a good core of players still available. I would expect these types of signings going forward however, mid-level starters who can offer an upgrade but are by no means franchise-changers.

Free Agency Primer: Linebacker

March 12, 2013 by

With the exception of maybe quarterback, linebacker is the Buffalo Bills’ biggest need entering the free agency period. Currently the Bills linebacking corps features Kelvin Sheppard, Chris White, Nigel Bradham and Arthur Moats. It’s arguably the weakest position currently on the team and the free agent class this year is loaded with potential upgrades. Depending on which system Mike Pettine features the Bills could use help at outside linebacker, rush outside linebacker and inside linebacker.

After a promising rookie season Sheppard took a huge step back last year. One possible reason for the decrease in production can be attributed to Sheppard being on the field for a little more than half the time in Dave Wannstedt’s backward defensive scheme last season. Sheppard will likely get another year to prove himself so don’t look for Buddy Nix to spend big at the middle linebacker position. Bradham showed flashes last season but he definitely needs more experience and competition is the best form of experience in my eyes. Look for the Bills to add multiple linebackers through free agency and the draft this year.

Paul Kruger (Baltimore): I wouldn’t have Kruger on this list if the Bills hadn’t already been linked to him. A four year pro out of Utah, Kruger didn’t break through until last season. He showed glimpses when given the opportunity in 2011 but he had a breakout 2012 season. He was arguably the best player on the Ravens defense, demonstrating a consistent ability to get to opposing quarterbacks (9 sacks) and be a disruptive force in the backfield. He’s likely to demand big bucks when the clock tolls 4:01 today however and with news that Cleveland and Indy are already anticipating a bidding war, may price himself out of Buffalo. Kruger is still young (27) and his best years are in front of him but for some reason I’m hesitant to dull out big money for a one year performer.

Erin Henderson (Minnesota): I’m a huge fan of Henderson and going into the offseason he was a guy I’ve been targeting for the Bills. Henderson is a force against the run. He’s a prototypical 4-3 outside linebacker but shouldn’t have issue morphing into a 3-4 inside backer in certain packages. He’s only a two down linebacker but he’s personifies exactly what the Bills need: a run-stuffer with intensity. I haven’t heard his name thrown around much in terms of potential teams interested in him so he’s flying a bit under the radar which could be huge for the Bills. He might not be a household name at this point but he’s a solid player that could seriously upgrade a linebacking corps desperate for an influx of talent.

Phillip Wheeler (Oakland): Wheeler had a breakout year in Oakland in 2012, leading the Raiders in tackles and becoming one of the few bright spots on a defense that struggled mightily. He’s progressed every year he’s been in the league and is still relatively young (28). Wheeler is solid against the run and showed a bit of a flair for big plays last season (3 sacks, 2 FF). He projects out as a 4-3 outside linebacker and 3-4 inside linebacker and would be a massive upgrade to Buffalo’s linebacking corps. Other teams have expressed interest in Wheeler so he likely won’t come as cheap as a guy like Henderson but he might be worth the extra price.

Rey Maualuga (Cincinnati):  Maualuga is a tackling machine, amassing 122 total stops in 2012. He’s a ferocious competitor and a locker room leader. He did however get pushed out of his starting middle linebacker job in Cincy for undrafted rookie Vontez Burfect and was forced out to the weakside. Maualuga isn’t extremely athletic and is more of a two down linebacker with his limitations in pass coverage. His leadership skills and his presence as a strong run-stopping force should be attractive to a team desperate to upgrade both.

Connor Barwin (Houston): Barwin did the opposite of what most of the aforementioned linebackers did this past season, he underperformed in a contract year. After putting up an impressive 11.5 sacks in 2011, he totaled only three last season and wasn’t a threat getting after the passer. While this will likely drive his price down significantly you have to worry which player you’re getting. If he could be had at the right price, Barwin would be a huge upgrade and add an additional outside pass rusher in Pettine’s multiple look scheme.

Free Agency Primer: Tight End

March 12, 2013 by

As we sit on the precipice of the free agency signing period, the Buffalo Bills have a laundry list of needs that they must address before the 2013 season. Quarterback, wide receiver and linebacker are at the very top of the list but don’t discount the hole at tight end. Since being claimed off waivers by the Bills in December 2010, Scott Chandler has been one of the most consistent contributors on a mediocre offense. He has proven to be a solid red zone receiving threat and has more than a few big plays in his tenure in Buffalo. Chandler suffered a torn ACL at the end of the 2012 season however and reports have indicated that he’s a likely candidate to start the year on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List which would mean he wouldn’t be able to participate for the first six weeks of the 2013 season. This is speculation at this point of course but suffering such a serious knee injury so late in the season is never a good pre-curser to the following year.
Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett’s offense calls for a more athletic tight end who can line up in the slot and stretch the field vertically. While Chandler should still be seen as a solid weapon in the passing game once he returns, he doesn’t fit this criteria extremely well. Tight end should prove to be one of the strongest positions in the free agency pool this year and the Bills would be stupid not to make a move on at least one.

Dustin Keller (NY Jets): Personally I think this should be Buddy Nix’s first target in the free agent pool. Keller has an uncanny ability to stretch the field and is solid out of the slot. He’s proven to be Mark Sanchez’s favorite target since being drafted out of Purdue and is a serious threat in between the 20s and in the red zone. With the exception of an injury-riddled 2012 season, Keller has hauled in at least 45 passes and amassed at least 500 receiving yards in every season in the league. He’s also totaled 17 touchdowns in 5 seasons in the league (only 2 in 2012) and has been the quintessential Bills killer throughout his career. Not only would Keller add a vertical threat that this offense so desperately needs, adding him would also make a divisional rival weaker.
Brandon Myers (Oakland): I’d put names like Martellus Bennett or Jared Cook on this list but they both have likely priced their way out of Buffalo. Myers is a much more likely fit for Buffalo. Although he’s essentially been a ghost for the majority of four year career, he broke out in a big way last season. You can attribute some of his delayed growth on an unstable quarterback situation for the majority of his career but you can’t look past his impressive 2012 season (79 catches, 806 yards and 4 touchdowns). You always have to be a weary of a player only performing in a contract year but Myers proved that he could be a solid vertical threat with sure hands last season. Depending on his price tag he would be worth taking a look at if the Bills can’t land Keller.
Delanie Walker (San Francisco): The 9ers acquisition of Anquan Boldin all but assures Walker hitting the free agent market at 4:00 pm today. His numbers are anything but earth-shattering and affirm his status as a number two blocking tight end. Walker has lived in the shadow of Vernon Davis throughout his career and has had to deal with a bit of an inconsistent quarterback presence until the past two seasons. While Walker has never been a number one tight end, he has the physical attributes that the Bills should look for in a tight end. He’s big, strong, fast, a mauling blocker and has sure hands. He wouldn’t have the type of impact that a Keller or Myers might but he would be a great fill in while Chandler recovers and a solid compliment when he returns. Some reports have Walker asking for starter money which a team like Cleveland or Tampa Bay may be willing to pay him. If the Bills lose out on the aforementioned options he would be a solid addition at the right price.

James Casey (Houston): Casey is an intriguing option. He has solid hands, he’s great in the red zone and he’s a plus athlete. He’s a man without a position however. After drafting Casey as a tight end the Texans used him in a multitude of ways during his tenure with the team. He played some tight end but spent the majority of his time at the fullback and H-back position. The Bills already have an H-Back on the roster in the form of Dorin Dickerson but make no mistake, Casey would be an enormous upgrade. Like Walker his numbers are indicative of a backup player but his 34 catches for 330 yards and 3 TDs last season are nothing to snub your nose at. Casey is big enough (6’3″, 240 lbs) and athletic enough to make the transition to tight end full time but he should be seen as a consolation prize if the Bills can’t land a bigger name.

Anthony Fasano (Miami): Like Keller, Fasano has been an absolute Bills killer in his five seasons with the Dolphins. Again, an unstable quarterback situation has adversely affected his career numbers but Fasano is no slouch. He’s been one of the few consistent vertical threats for the Dolphins over the past five years and he’s a serious threat in the red zone. Fasano could likely be had at a much lower cost than guys like Keller, Bennett or Cook and if the Bills decide to focus on other positions before addressing tight end, he might be the best option to improve their current roster.

Filling the Gaps: Wide Receiver

March 9, 2013 by

Today marks the first day of NFL free agency, unofficially of course. A new rule passed during last season allows agents for impending free agents to gage interest and even work on deals with other teams three days prior to the official beginning of free agency on March 12th. After making headlines this offseason for cutting multiple veterans and most recently agreeing to terms on a new contract with kick/punt returning dynamo and corner Leodis McKelvin the Buffalo Bills are expected to be players in free agency on some level. After dulling out $20 million to McKelvin over four years and placing the franchise tag on Jairus Byrd, the Bills have roughly $16-20 million in cap space (depending on the official figures for McKelvin). The Bills have secured some of their own homegrown talent on the defensive side of the ball and now need to set their sites on addressing multiple holes on offense.

The free agent market looks to be loaded with talent on the offensive side of the ball in areas where the Bills need an influx of talent. Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace, Wes Welker and Danny Amendola headline a deep group of potential free agent wide receivers. Jared Cook, Tony Gonzalez, Martellus Bennett and Dustin Keller are the cream of the crop at tight end. Quarterback is really the only position that Buffalo really couldn’t improve on via free agency. While Buddy Nix isn’t likely to woo anotheri Mario Williams-like free agent to come to Buffalo, there’s plenty of talent in this pool that could vastly improve the team’s current roster.
Brandon Gibson (St. Louis): Gibson has already been linked to the Bills thanks to his relationship with Stevie Johnson. He’s a talented receiver who’s shown flashes of absolute brilliance in the past. Bills fans might remember him tearing throw the secondary to the tune of 6 catches for 100 yards and the game winning touchdown in week 14. He has a solid build (6’0″, 205 lbs) and is a legitimate threat in the red zone. He’s coming off a solid 2012 campaign where he led the Rams in touchdown catches (5) and finished second in catches (51) and receiving yards (691). He was prone to drops for a portion of last season and he did make some stupid mistakes last season. He and Johnson are good friends, have the same agent and was quoted as saying that he “looks up to” Stevie. Hopefully his relationship with the Bills’ top wideout will be enough to deliver Gibson to Buffalo.

Ramses Barden (New York): Barden is hardly a household name but he’s still young (just turned 27), has a great build (6’6″, 224 lbs) and has shown flashes from time to time. His overall numbers from last season are nothing to brag about but few people are likely to forget his dominant performance against the Panthers in week three. Barden hauled in 9 catches on 10 targets for 138 yards. While the rest of his season and career for that matter have been nothing to brag about, he still has solid potential. Keep in mind Barden has been buried on the depth chart his entire career in New York by the likes of Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Plaxico Burress, Steve Smith, Bennett, and Ruben Randall. He’s never gotten a real chance to contribute until the game against Carolina when he had to step in. One game isn’t likely to get you a big contract but it will get you some notice around the league. Barden would be a nice player to add in to the mix and his price tag will likely be relatively low with such a deep free agent class.

Danny Amendola (St. Louis): It’s already a forgone conclusion by some that if the Patriots don’t sign back Wes Welker, Amendola is the next option. He’s been called the poor man’s Welker for most of his career but most people don’t realize that he spent the majority of his time in St. Louis on the outside and not in the slot. Most people have to realize that not every white receiver is Wes Welker in the NFL. He’s an extremely reliable receiver with great hands and a great ability to separate himself from corners. He’s got solid top-end speed and while he might not blow the top off defenses like a Mike Wallace, he’s deceptive enough to be a deep threat. His major problem is staying healthy. He’s never finished a complete season in his NFL career and that’s the main reason the Rams didn’t place the franchise tag on him. Amendola is a big risk for the money he’s likely to command so while it would be a coup to get him, it might not be worth the cap hit he’ll incur.

Denario Alexander (San Diego, RFA): It physically hurts to put his name on this list because the Bills had first crack at him before he signed with the Chargers in October. He left Buffalo after a workout with no offer on the tables from the Bills. All he did after that was haul in 37 catches for 658 yards and 7 touchdowns over a 9 game stretch for San Diego. He consistently blew the top of defenses with his tremendous speed and was the one consistent offensive threat for the Chargers in 2012. He’s only 24 years old and he’s built like a prototypical receiver (6’5″, 217). He does have some baggage however. He has a nightmarish injury history which allowed him to go under the radar for so long. The good news is the Chargers tendered him at the lowest possible level. Since he went undrafted if the Bills did decide to make a move for him, it would cost them a draft pick. If the price is right, Alexander would be a great addition.

Emmanuel Sanders (Pittsburgh, RFA): At the beginning of the offseason after the Steelers made it clear that they had no intention of bringing Wallace back I figured there was no way they’d tender Sanders at anything less than a first or second rounder. Recently it’s been revealed that Pittsburgh is likely to give Sanders the lowest possible tender which would garner them a third round pick if he signs elsewhere. I thought it was crazy but after looking at the nightmare of a cap situation they’ve created, it was the only move they could make. Sanders is a solid receiver, he’s no Wallace or Antonio Brown but he would fit nicely into Doug Marrone’s scheme. His price tag will likely be low but the Bills have to decide whether or not he’s worth giving up a third round pick for.

Key Dates Rapidly Approaching For Bills

February 27, 2013 by

The Buffalo Bills have made a statement this offseason. By releasing veterans Nick Barnett, Terrence McGee and George Wilson and not tendering Donald Jones and David Nelson they’ve demonstrated that mediocrity will not be tolerated in this new regime. All five of the aforementioned players have flashed moments of brilliance but whether it’s their age or their lack of overall talent, they’ve been deemed non-essential to the cause going forward. By no means is the job complete however.

NFL free agency starts two weeks from yesterday and the Bills are expected to be players on some level. With significant holes at linebacker, corner, safety, wide receiver and quarterback the Bills can’t solely rely on the draft to fill the holes created by years of ineffectiveness in assessing and adding significant talent. Prior to the signing period the Bills have several questions that have been left unanswered. The days leading up to March 12th will prove to be of vital importance to fielding a competitive 53-man roster for 2013. Here’s a few key dates to keep in mind.

Monday, March 4th: The last day for teams to designate a player with the franchise or transition tag.

Russ Brandon has made it clear that he only plans on using the team’s franchise tag as a last resort this offseason. The prime candidate to receive the tag of course is free safety Jairus Byrd. The tag is quite affordable for safeties (roughly $6.8 million) and it may be used as a stepping stone in an effort to get a long term deal with Byrd done. The former Oregon product has become the best player on the Bills defense and is arguably the top safety in the NFL. Quarterbacks don’t throw the ball anywhere in his general vicinity and when they do he has demonstrated an incredible propensity to force turnovers. In four years with the team Byrd has already recorded 18 interceptions, forced 10 fumbles and recovered 5. He’s the unquestioned leader of the defense and one of the biggest playmakers on the team.

If the Bills are able to sign Byrd before the March 4th deadline they may decide to use the tag on guard Andy Levitre. Levitre has been the anchor of the offensive line since being drafted in the second round out of Oregon State in 2009. He hasn’t missed a start in four seasons with the team and has demonstrated fantastic versatility spending time at both guard positions, left tackle and center. The tag number for an offensive lineman is expected to be in the range of about $9.6 million however which could be cost-prohibitive for the Bills offseason plans. Levitre has made it known that he plans to shop for a big payday when free agency begins and may not be too receptive to being tagged. The Bills do have the option as a last resort however.

Tuesday, March 12th: Free Agency Begins

Before the Bills can look to bring in new talent they need to address the talent on their current roster that is set to hit the market. Byrd and Levitre are obviously the top two targets to re-sign but the front office shouldn’t turn a blind eye to some of the other impending free agents.

Chad Rinehart: While Rinehart isn’t anywhere near the level of Levitre, he’s proven an extremely valuable depth piece along the line. He’s spent time at both guard positions and filled in nicely when Kraig Urbik missed time due to injury. Rinehart might be looking for more money and a chance to start somewhere else but he’s a vitally important piece to the interior offensive line.

Leodis McKelvin: Recent reports have indicated that McKelvin is open to returning to the Bills but he wants to start. The Bills too are reportedly interested in retaining McKelvin and even went so far as to say that he’s currently the starting cornerback opposite of Stephon Gilmore. His return skills are elite and every time he touches the ball he’s lightning in a bottle. His coverage skills have been anything but however. He’s as athletic as any receiver in the NFL but his awareness and reaction skills are horrible. If Mike Pettine thinks he can turn his career around McKelvin will be back and expect him to start.

Dorin Dickerson (ERFA): Dickerson likely isn’t going anywhere. He’s an exclusive rights free agent and showed glimpses of being able to stretch the field from the H-back position this past season. The skies the limit on Dickerson’s potential but he needs a chance to play. The Bills ran multiple packages to get him on the field last year but he wasn’t given enough of an opportunity to shine. He has great speed for a fullback/tight end and could really be an underrated contributor in 2013.

Kyle Moore: For a three-four game stretch last season Moore was the best pass rusher on the team. He totaled three sacks for the season and looked like he could be a consistent contributor during that span. As the season wore on however, he was constantly exposed as an atrocious run defender which cost him playing time in favor of Shawn Merriman. If he could be had for the right price Moore could be a solid situational pass rusher going forward.

Wednesday, March 13th: Ryan Fitzpatrick’s $3 million contract bonus paid out.

Although cutting Fitzpatrick would only save the Bills roughly $300,000 in cap space, he has a mandatory roster bonus of $3 million that will be paid out on the 13th. Cutting him before that date would set a precedent that even though it won’t do too much in terms of cap relief, poor play will not be rewarded under this regime. Cutting Fitzpatrick would of course create a bigger hole at quarterback with only Tavaris Jackson under contract. The Bills are almost guaranteed to draft a quarterback in the first or second round of the draft in April and if they’re looking for more competition besides Jackson they could bring in a low cost option like Jason Campbell or Matt Moore to push a young quarterback.


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