Buffalo Bills fans frustrated over the team’s inaction in free agency will have to come to terms with a cold reality:
The future of the team ultimately will be in the hands of a rookie quarterback, which means a quick-fix approach to the team’s playoff drought probably is not the wisest plan of action and another dose of patience is required from the faithful.
So it goes for a Bills team rebuilding under new head coach Doug Marrone.
The Bills will install new schemes on offense and defense. Even though Buffalo has quality on its offensive and defensive lines, creating a legitimate playoff contender almost surely is going to take time.
One week into the NFL’s free-agency season, all signs point to the Bills taking a wide receiver and a quarterback early in April’s NFL Draft. Or a quarterback and a wide receiver. The decision by Ryan Fitzpatrick to reject a reasonable contract offer from the Bills was yet another signal in that direction.
Fitzpatrick recognized that the team’s preference is to get a rookie QB on the field this season.
The quarterback options that remain to the Bills in free agency are nothing more than stop-gap replacements.
Veteran quarterbacks the Bills could pursue to compete with incumbent Tarvaris Jackson include Kevin Kolb, Jason Campbell and Brady Quinn. None of them are going to change the Bills’ desire to take a quarterback with one of their top two picks.
Buffalo spent the third most money in the league last year, behind only New Orleans and Tampa Bay. In the wake of their 6-10 finish, the Bills have decided lavish spending is not the prudent course this season.
Nevertheless, there still are plenty of ways the Bills can help their roster by doing some bargain shopping of veterans now that the first wave of big-money free agents have signed.
Giving themselves more options at need positions would make a lot of sense.
Here’s how those positions, after quarterback, stack up in free agency:
Receiver: Veterans on the market include Darius Heyward-Bey, Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman, Titus Young, Laurent Robinson, Mohammed Massaquoi, David Nelson, Steve Breaston, Devery Henderson, Early Doucet, Ted Ginn, Ramses Barden and Austin Collie. The Bills have Stevie Johnson and T.J. Graham. If they draft a receiver at No. 8 overall, he could start. Marcus Easley will get another shot.
The Bills decided they didn’t want to commit a tender offer of $1.3 million to retain Nelson’s rights. But if he lingers on the market, they might be able to re-sign him for less. They still need a low-cost veteran to add more reliability to the cast.
Guard: Tennessee signed Andy Levitre for $7.8 million a year. The Bills re-signed Kraig Urbik for $3.3 million a year. Center Eric Wood is entering the last year of his contract. He could command $5 million to $6 million a year. Journeyman Colin Brown is on the roster. Available guards include Kevin Boothe (Giants), Brandon Moore (Jets) and Tyronne Green (Chargers).
Tight ends: The Bills’ Scott Chandler is coming back from knee surgery. No. 2 tight end Lee Smith is the blocking tight end. The top seven tight ends on the market have been signed.
Linebacker: The Bills added Manny Lawson to start on the strong side in both a three-man and four-man front. It’s apparent they have high hopes for Nigel Bradham, who only played 36 percent of the snaps last season. He ran a 4.53-second time in the 40-yard dash last year but will have to prove his value in coverage. Bryan Scott was re-signed to play in the nickel defense. Again, here’s a spot where a veteran presence would be reassuring.
And somebody needs to play inside next to Kelvin Sheppard in a 3-4. It’s hard to see someone like Pittsburgh’s James Harrison, at age 34, wanting to join the Bills’ rebuilding. Karlos Dansby, given his age (31) and cost, may not be an ideal fit, either. But as jobs fill up, veterans will get more eager to sign.
The market still includes Justin Durant (Lions), Victor Butler (Cowboys), Daryl Smith (Jaguars), D.J. Williams (Broncos), Brad Jones (Packers), Calvin Pace (Jets), Bart Scott (Jets) and Larry Grant (Niners).
Safety: Da’Norris Searcy is in place to take over for George Wilson at strong safety. Here’s a case in which good teams like the Packers and Steelers trust that the next man up in the organization will fill the role. Can Searcy do it? The draft has some good safety prospects. It will be interesting to see if new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine wants to bring in a lower-cost veteran like Jim Leonhard (Broncos) or Eric Smith (Jets) to help teach the scheme.
Dolphins win offseason
Miami had more than $30 million in cap space when free agency started, and its fan base is restless. So the Dolphins handed out more than $130 million in contracts in the first week of free agency. The Dolphins are the mythical offseason champions. It’s a dangerous title, as Washington so frequently has proved and as Philadelphia discovered two years ago.
There is little doubt the Dolphins have improved. Receiver Mike Wallace, signed for $12 million a year, is a proven big-time weapon, even though he’s not in the Calvin Johnson class. Miami got tight end Dustin Keller for a reasonable one-year price ($4.25 million). They added a big wideout in Brandon Gibson for an acceptable cost, a little more than $3 million a year. Receiver Brian Hartline was retained. All of that helps an offense that ranked 27th last year. Miami needs second-year man Jonathan Martin to come through at one tackle spot and must add another tackle as well. If that happens, QB Ryan Tannehill should post good numbers in coach Joe Philbin’s Green Bay-style offense.
The questionable spending took place on defense, where inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe got $7 million a year to replace Dansby. Ellerbe has 14 career starts in a Baltimore system set up to make him look good. Philip Wheeler, a two-year starter, was signed from Oakland for $5 million a year to replace Kevin Burnett. Ellerbe and Wheeler are younger than Dansby and Burnett, but they have to do a lot to prove they’re better. One benefit of the 4-3 defense is the linebackers usually come at a reasonable cost. Time will tell if the deals hurt Miami’s cap situation.
Big TE gamble
St. Louis suddenly finds itself in a division with not one but two juggernauts in San Francisco and Seattle. The Rams’ offense has ranked in the bottom 10 in the league six years in a row.
So St. Louis rolled the dice on tight end Jared Cook, who they hope will help their attack.
Cook signed for $7 million a year, becoming the third-highest paid tight end in the NFL, behind only Dallas’ Jason Witten and San Francisco’s Vernon Davis. He’s ahead of New England’s Rob Gronkowski, at $6.9 milllion a year.
Cook has averaged 46 catches for 640 yards and 3.5 TDs the last two seasons while the Bills’ Chandler has averaged 40 for 434 with six TDs. Granted, the Titans’ offense is low-functioning and Cook is a physical talent. But it’s a major projection by Rams coach Jeff Fisher.
Youth is served
Quote from Patriots owner Robert Kraft on the first week of free agency: “The top 25 players have received $700 million. How many Pro Bowls do any of you think, cumulatively, those 25 players have gone to? Anyone have a guess? Six. So cumulatively, the players that got $700 [million] – 25 players – so that tells you that the trend is going to signing young, up-and-coming players. There were 52 starters – and a starter is someone who plays more than eight games – who have been cut this year, and 41 of them are over 30 years old. I don’t think this has ever happened the same way in the league.”