Despite the Buffalo Bills porous record in his first year as general manager and debatable draft decisions this past April, there’s one thing that categorically makes me fond of Buddy Nix. He’s a football guy—nothing more and nothing less and the last thing he’s fearful of is assembling change.
He’s also not afraid to man-up to mistakes and rectify them. He dumped Trent Edwards once he lost his starting job when he could’ve had him toil as Ryan Fitzpatrick’s backup. He settled with tackle Cornell Green instead of keeping him around for two more years, even though the free agent pickup was a disaster as a starter before landing on Injured Reserve. He traded Marshawn Lynch to Seattle after he felt confident enough Fred Jackson was healthy enough to shoulder the load. He not only claimed the controversial Shawne Merriman off waivers, he extended his contract despite the injury history and Merriman getting hurt 20 minutes into his first Bills practice.
To quote Mick Foley, Nix has a surplus of “testicular fortitude”
When you look at the Bills 53-man roster for the season finale at New York this past Sunday, only 30 names that appear on the roster were here at the end of last season. For those fond of math, that’s only about 56% of the 2009 Bills.
You can anticipate a high proportion of roster turnover again this winter and spring. Unlike last season the Bills are going to lose a significant amount of their own free agents. They also have a high draft pick (third in each round) plus an extra selection from Seattle from the Lynch trade. Couple that with a lack of talent Nix knows is glaringly evident and you have the capacity for a plethora of offseason activity at One Bills Drive.
What do the following players have in common: Fitzpatrick, C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Lee Evans, Stevie Johnson, Roscoe Parrish, David Nelson, Demetrius Bell, Andy Levitre, Eric Wood, Kraig Urbik, Kyle Williams, Torrel Troup, Dwan Edwards, Alex Carrington, Chris Kelsay, Arthur Moats, Leodis McKelvin, Jairus Byrd, Byran Scott, Merriman, Rian Lindell and Brian Moorman?
These 23 players are the only currently on the Bills roster you can count on being around in 2011. Call them the “core” guys, if you will. Everyone else on the roster, whether its via free agency, underachieving, too old and worn down or just too unproven will have to merit a spot on the roster.
It’s more than just slightly conceivable there could be a 25% or more roster turnover next year just from 2010 alone.
Let’s identify guys not listed as core guys who may or may not be back next season.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Donte Whitner, Paul Posluszny, Drayton Florence, Akin Ayodele, Keith Ellison, George Wilson, Ashton Youboty, Mansfield Wrotto, Quinton Ganther, John McCargo.
My Thoughts: You can say goodbye to Whitner right now. He wants top money, isn’t worth top money and Nix isn’t going to pay him top money. This makes (George) Wilson, who the organization loves on and off the field a lock to be back. I’m far from certain, but expect Posluszny to be back because he’s the type of player the Bills always seem to bring back. Florence I’d grade out as 50/50 for returning. Anyone else on this list will be a low priority. I could see Ayodele back as depth. As for McCargo, Ralph Wilson has a better chance of rehiring Wade Phillips than bringing the 2006 bust in the fold again.
Likely Restricted Free Agents (Pending CBA): Brian Brohm, Johnathan Stupar, Garrison Sanborn, Scott Chandler, Paul Hubbard and Felton Huggins.
My Thoughts: I think you’ve seen the last of Brohm in Buffalo. If the Bills draft a “franchise” guy Fitzpatrick will eventually be the backup, and even if they don’t they’ll look to upgrade behind Fitz. Stupar and Chandler will probably both be offered, though no tight end on this team will be guaranteed anything, nor should they be.
Aging Vets Who Could Go: Terrence McGee, Marcus Stroud, Andra Davis, David Martin.
My Thoughts: Stroud signed a contract extension that made him $16-million over the past two years. Considering the money he’s made and his age (He’ll be 32 next season) he’s a prime candidate to go. At best he was inconsistent in the 3-4 defense and at times was downright non-existent. He’s scheduled to be under contract through 2012 but I don’t see it happening. McGee is well liked and respected throughout the organization, but the bottom line is he’s aging and his body is breaking down. He’s missed 12 games over the last two years. McGee signed a five-year extension in September 2009 that paid him $9-milllon in guaranteed money, including the $8.3-million he made last year. He’s still under contract through 2013 but with a base next year of $3.2-million, he could be a goner, especially if Florence is re-signed. Davis signed a two-year deal last April and his 2011 salary is modest, but he has the wear and tear of nine NFL seasons on him and with the Bills defense in desperate need of new talent, he could find himself looking for work. I don’t see 10-year veteran David Martin returning either. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Buffalo start all over completely at the tight end position.
“Role” Players Who Will Fight It Out: Spencer Johnson, Reggie Corner, Reggie Torbor, Corey McIntyre, Geoff Hangartner, Jon Corto, Garrison Sanborn.
My Thoughts: All…. or none of these guys could be back. Free agent and rookie talent will be brought in and these guys will competing for spots. I think Chan Gailey likes Eric Wood at center, which could push Hangartner into a utility backup role (a move I’d like). Corner and Torbor should be back as reserves but aren’t promised anything. I’d be surprised to see McIntyre leave, while Corto will be a long shot to keep playing just 10 minutes from home. Johnson is still under contract for three years and should be safe, but only if Stroud is let go. There’s no question the Bills will have at least one new defensive end if not two come draft weekend. I had to include Sanborn somewhere.
High Profile Underachievers: Aaron Maybin, Shawn Nelson.
My Thoughts: Let’s just say the new coaching staff isn’t nearly as fond of these two as the old guard. I’ve already said on record and will repeat again I think Maybin has played his last meaningless snap in Buffalo. George Edwards and his defensive staff has zero confidence in him and frankly, I don’t think his release will cause many tears in the locker room. This kid needs to get his head focused on nothing but football to have a chance to be decent and I don’t think that happens in Buffalo. Many think he’ll fight for a roster spot in training camp. I predict he’ll be looking for a training camp to join shortly. As for Nelson, he has much more rope left than Maybin but isn’t assured of anything. The tight end position was so futile this season that nothing would surprise me there.
Excess Offensive Linemen Who Will Fight It Out: Chad Reinhart, Erik Pears and any other low-key free agents brought in.
My Thoughts: I’m not turning over any stones here. I expect the Bills to address right tackle this offseason and then have a free-for-all for depth behind the starters. For the record, did you notice that Urbik isn’t grouped here? I have him on the core section because this staff loves him as a football player. In fact, I think he could easily be the starting right guard with Wood moving to center.
Youngsters Who Will Have To Earn Spots All Over Again: Ed Wang, Marcus Easley, Naaman Roosevelt, Donald Jones, Cordaro Howard, Antonio Coleman, Jehuu Caulcrick, Kellen Heard, Levi Brown, Mike Caussin.
My Thoughts: Let’s get the big item out of the way— based on their productive play this year, you can easily make a case for Jones or Roosevelt being on the roster again next year. However, the team already has Lee, Johnson and a now-proven Parrish. I also think Nelson is a lock to stick around. That leaves the two kids plus the fourth-round (injured all season) rookie Easley to fight it out for what amounts to one or two (at the most) roster spots. One thing I’m fairly confident in is Nix won’t add to the already crowded receiver position. I like Howard’s versatility and strength and he jumped a lot of people on the depth chart last year… and think he’ll do it again. Everyone else mentioned better have one heck of an offseason because none are givens for being here next September.
(You’ll have to forgive me if this isn’t the sharpest written piece. I’m trying to fill my Bills quota while I drool over Ryan Luck playing in the Orange Bowl on TV and suffer patriotic humiliation as Canada is destroying the Americans in World Junior hockey.)
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