As you’d anticipate, winter and spring will be an active offseason for Russ Brandon, Doug Whaley and everyone involved at One Bills Drive. The Buffalo Bills finished their 2013 campaign with a 6-10 record and missed the playoffs for a fourteenth consecutive season. That can’t possibly be tolerable, correct?
First-year head coach Doug Marrone has now had a full season to appraise his personnel, and a plethora of roster changes are sure to come via free agency and the 2014 draft.
One of numerous vital parts of the offseason will be gauging and establishing which of their own nine players slated for free agency are worth re-signing and how far they’re willing to go to get deals done.
Of course, at the top of that list for a second consecutive offseason is safety Jairus Byrd. The Bills failed to reach a long-term with Byrd last season and elected to place the franchise tag on him; something that clearly didn’t go over well with either Byrd or especially his agent, Eugene Parker. I highly suspect both parties would like to avoid the same fate a second time around.
Beyond Byrd there’s not a lot of big names among potential Bills free agents, but the list does include two regular starters, a few notable reserves as well as both their 2013 kicker and punter.
Here’s a little bit about each of the pending nine who could soon be free to sign elsewhere come March 11, as well as a prognostication on whether they’ll return. Spoiler alert—I only have three remaining in a Buffalo uniform for next season.
Jairus Byrd: There are one of two scenarios guaranteed to happen, the only pair where Byrd will be playing professional football in Buffalo for 2014. Either the organization is going to franchise tag him again, this time at a rate of $8.3 million—or he’s going to be the most lucratively paid safety in the league.
It’s as straightforward as that.
There’s not a chance in the world agent Eugene Parker allows his client to ink a multi-year deal for a penny less than anyone who plays Byrd’s position. Parker was resolute about such last year, and now with Byrd, despite missing five games making the Pro Bowl and being named to the AP All-Pro team (for a second straight year), his chances of any hometown discount are nil. The Bills could…and should pony up and give Byrd what he deserves. Last offseason Tampa Bay signed Dashon Goldson to a five-year, $41.25 million deal that included $22 million guaranteed. Byrd positively will top that deal should he hit the open market.
The front office could also elect to tag Byrd sometime between February 17 and March 3, pay him $8.3 million and very likely go through what they did last summer—Byrd skipping all of OTA’s, training camp and the preseason before reporting as late as allowed without losing a game check. For a team perceivably having a much higher emphasis on contending in 2014, a repeat of last year is hardly a sharp move.
Of course, the Bills could simply elect to allocate money elsewhere and let Byrd vamoose for a mammoth payday; parallel to what guard Andy Levitre did last year. That decision would very unlikely go well over amongst fans. Team building is supposed to be constructed by keeping your best players, not grooming them to leave for greener pastures elsewhere, no?
Prediction: The Bills want Byrd back but don’t necessarily want to make him the highest paid safety in football. I see another tag coming with every effort to swing it into a long-term deal. I just can’t fathom letting someone who many (including myself) respect as the best player on the roster disappear for nothing—at least not if they’re genuinely serious about finally turning things around.
Scott Chandler: To show how banged up and overall inconsistent the wide receivers were in 2013, a healthy Chandler led the Bills in both receptions (53) and receiving yards (655). Chandler is unrestricted after his last two-year deal paid him a touch over $2.7 million per season. He’ll likely want, and deserve more on his next deal. I’m not sold, however, on Buffalo being the organization to give it to him. The Bills have two tight ends under contract who despite being scarcely used pass catching ability in Tony Moeaki and Chris Gragg. I also think the Bills are going to look in the draft, perhaps with a high pick to generate a more athletic tight end for E.J. Manuel to heavily rely on.
Prediction: Unless they get him back at a rate the team considers tremendously friendly, this may be the end of the line for Chandler in Buffalo. Eric Ebron is a potential game-changer in this draft and while I typically encourage fans to brush away early January draft talk buzz, I think Ebron is a guy who legitimately will be in the mix as the Bills ninth overall pick. Austin Seferian Jenkins is another name to monitor closely. I’m telling you, folks— these types of tight ends are becoming the next big trend, thanks to guys like Jimmy Graham and Jordan Reed among others.
Arthur Moats: He began the season as a starting linebacker but gradually saw his playing time reduced as 2013 wore on and only saw a handful of snaps over the final four games. He’s spent the past four years in Buffalo and is far better known for special teams play than his defensive prowess.
Prediction: It appears Doug Marrone is keeping Danny Crossman as his special teams coach (seriously, another story in itself) so Moats’ future is probably directly tied to what Crossman thinks of his value there. I think he’ll move on to another team, not necessarily for more money but because he may have a better chance of more defensive playing time elsewhere. I definitely expect the Bills to look at upgrading their linebacking unit and don’t think Moats is a part of that moving forward.
Alex Carrington: The 26-year old earned a starting job at defensive end out of training camp, but his season was over before the end of the third game after tearing a quad muscle. His chances of returning perhaps took a hit when the team gave Alan Branch a contract extension late in 2013. Still, Carrington looked poised for a breakout campaign after 2012 and it’s at least feasible the front office and coaching staff is serious about wanting him back.
Prediction: This may sound trivial, but his return could be tied into what happens with Byrd mainly because both share the same agent. I got a feeling should Byrd’s negotiation goes awry, Russ Brandon may want nothing to do with a Parker client ever again if possible. My gut tells me he’ll be playing somewhere else in 2014.
Dan Carpenter: He was only signed to the roster because Dustin Hopkins got hurt and ironically Carpenter finished 2013 with one of the more prolific kicking campaigns in franchise history. Carpenter connected on 91.6% of his field goals, second-best in Buffalo ever, and his 33 field goals made were tied with Steve Christie for the most in one season. He also drilled four kicks from beyond 50 yards. It wasn’t long ago where Buffalo would punt rather than send our Rian Lindell from that distance.
Prediction: Here’s a poorly kept secret— Buffalo would love him back. However, they won’t be alone in pursuit of him. What hurts Buffalo’s chances is the organization is unlikely to sign and hand him the gig. He’ll have to compete with Hopkins, of whom the team still likes plenty. Carpenter is sure to fully explore every option in the open market before coming to any decision. My thinking is he’ll take good money and assurance of a job elsewhere, leaving Hopkins as the Bills 2014 kicker.
Jim Leonhard: He signed just one week before the regular season began, wound up playing in all 16 games and had four interceptions. The nine-year veteran has stated publicly he’d like to play one more season before retiring. I’d highly suspect he’d eagerly take the veteran minimum to return with the Bills, largely because he loves playing for Mike Pettine.
Prediction: I think it’s time to see what 2013 rookies Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks can do in a reserve role that includes actual playing time. His four interceptions padded the stats but Leonhard was brutal at times and especially in run support. If he’s serious about playing a full decade playing in the NFL, it’s probably going to come with one of the other 31 franchises.
Thomas Welch: It’s incredibly hard to get any kind of read on the reserve offensive tackle because starters Cordy Glenn and Erik Pears literally took every tackle snap this season. Welch appeared only on special teams and sparingly on tackle-eligible plays.
Prediction: I positively think it’s the end of the road for Pears in Buffalo, which makes a Welch return feasible. Chris Hairston should be healthy in 2014 and compete for the job at right tackle. Opportunity more than money should lure Welch back, assuming of course the Bills are interested. I think they are and therefore returns.
Frank Summers: The fullback did a pretty good job in his first year with the Bills; catching seven passes for 79 yards and rushing 12 times for 46 yards while scoring two total touchdowns. At worst he didn’t make people long for Corey McIntyre and when he was at his best, Summers was actually a viable weapon on the offense. Both sides publicly have stated an interest in him returning.
Prediction: I think Summers will be back. The Bills have enough needs and upgrades to worry about heading into free agency and the draft. Why add fullback to the list when Summers was perfectly serviceable? Expect Summers to return on a two or three year deal.
Brian Moorman: Shawn Powell getting axed and Moorman returning in 2013 was a feel-good story for fans, as Moorman’s been on one of the franchise’s most popular players over the last decade. However, Moorman at 37 sometimes looked like a shell of his former self; averaging 41.2 yards per attempt and a few poorly timed bad kicks that hurt the team.
Prediction: Both sides have sung the praises of each other since the season ended, but I think the clock (has again) struck midnight on his Buffalo career. Expect the Bills to find someone younger and move on from the enchanting players in franchise history.