Due to the mystery surrounding the Collective Bargaining Agreement, no one knows when the 2011 NFL free agent period will commence. In years past the annual general manager shopping day began on April 1 (with the exception of Buddy Nix, who was sleeping last year). However, there will be no Christmas gifts for football fans of various teams until a new CBA is hammered out– whenever that happens.
For the first time since unrestricted free agency began, there’s a strong chance teams will be filling holes through the draft before turning their attention— and dollars to veterans in search of a bigger contract.
While the engagement date for free agency remains in ambiguity, there’s one thing we do know. Should the Buffalo Bills choose to be players during this period, they’re in strikingly great shape to do so, whether there’s a return of the salary cap or not.
Back on January 18, Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan uncovered some numbers that frankly, floored me. According to Gaughan’s article, the Bills were some $12 million under the “mythical” salary cap in 2010. Of course, there wasn’t a cap last year so the savings were based on the 2009 cap figure of $128 million. Gaughan also reported the Bills were roughly $11 million in under the cap cash spending in 2009 and more than $12 million in 2008.
Tally up those numbers and it equates to more than $35 million in savings with regard to the salary cap over the last three years alone.
Add in the $40 million-plus Toronto has paid the organization over the last three years to host five games at the Rogers Centre (three regular season, two preseason) and Ralph Wilson has squirreled away quite a bit of currency.
Wilson has a copious amount of money to spend from his three-year savings, but will he?
There’ll be plenty of players to choose from. According to the league, there’s 495 players scheduled to become free agents this year, on the assumption the league goes back to needing four seasons accrued to become a free agent— the most ever. Pro Football Talk reported that number includes 170 starters.
Star players ready to hit the free agency market include Lamar Woodley, Cullen Jenkins, Tamba Hali, Charles Johnson, Matt Light, Richard Seymour, Jermon Bushrod, Owen Daniels, Tyson Clabo, Jared Gaither, Ray Edwards, Haloti Ngata, Chad Greenway, Davis Harris, Stephen Tulloch and Nnamdi Asomugha.
Think the Bills would look a lot better with a few of those guys on the roster?
The Bills never, nor should they spend carelessly like the Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder’s of the world. It’s financially reckless and guarantees the organization nothing except more expensive trips via the withdrawal slips at the bank.
On the other hand, Wilson is not getting any younger and heads a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in over a decade. If he hasn’t noticed that fan serenity is at an all-time low, he positively should. Buffalo had three homes games blacked out last year and were it not for a final hour save by businessmen Russell Salvatore, the count would’ve been four. That’s more than half the Orchard Park portion of the home schedule, ladies and gentlemen.
The empty seats came complete with the “excitement” of hiring a brand new general manager, new head coach (Chan Gailey) and the thrill of a game-changing top ten draft pick (C.J. Spiller).
Sorry, but Bills fans are no longer buying potential and “long term” success. They want a winner and going by the gate receipts, want it now.
Last year’s free agent crop did little to help ignite the fan base and even less to spark the Bills on the field. Dwan Edwards was a decent signing before his season ended prematurely with a hamstring injury. The rest of the class consisted of Cornell Green, Andra Davis, Chad Jackson, Reggie Torbor and Akin Ayodele.
No seriously, it did. Forgive me if I missed anyone.
In fairness to Wilson, he’s not exactly playing with an even deck. Prominent free agents aren’t going to simply shuffle off to Buffalo because it’s the place to be. Clearly at this time, Buffalo isn’t anyone’s destination of choice. For example; is Jenkins going to leave a Super Bowl contender in Green Bay to come to Buffalo if the money is remotely close? There’s no doubt for the time being Wilson is going to have to overpay to get significant free agents in town. Sure the Green’s, Davis’ and Torbor’s that don’t have multiple options will always be around, but they’ll only coincide with a continued playoff slide.
Obviously, some significant money will go retaining their own free agents. Paul Posluszny, Drayton Florence and George Wilson are all waiting to hit the open market and I highly suspect the organization wants all three back. Starting safety Donte Whitner is also a free agent, though it doesn’t seem the team will fork up what he’s seeking.
There’s also a trio of important players headed towards the final year of the deals; Stevie Johnson, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Demetrius Bell.
Even after all that business is attended to, there’s plenty of room for Wilson to afford Nix to get at least two, if not three vital free agents. I’m not talking depth fillers either, I mean guys that can actually make a difference.
Right tackle, inside linebacker and perhaps a defensive end addition, all starter caliber could go a long way towards revamping this organization, coupled with a successful draft.
Don’t say teams don’t turn things around in a year. Seattle and Kansas City both picked in the top five last year and made the playoffs in 2010. Tampa Bay was within a game of doing the same.
if Wilson is committed, truly committed to winning, he’ll spend some of his weighty savings this offseason. He’s certainly not expected to empty all the cash from his locker, but he can at least give Nix the combination.
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