State of the Franchise: Buffalo Bills

The Bills hired former Cowboys head coach Chan Gailey today in one of the least inspiring coaching hires of the past decade. Gailey was widely considered a failure in his two years Dallas, and has only been back in the NFL for two seasons (as the Chiefs offensive coordinator) since spending six years at Georgia Tech.

While its a confusing hire, the Bills appeared to simply run out of options. Aside from the Raiders, there may not be another franchise with more question marks than the Bills. Its going to be a busy offseason for new GM Buddy Nix if he expects his team to improve upon a 6-10 record this past season.

Lets take a look at the roster and what decisions lie ahead this offseason:

Quarterback
While they Bills have some young arms, the quarterback of the future likely isn’t on the current roster. Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm all saw action in 2009, but none of them stepped up and made a strong case to return as the starter in 2010. Edwards and Brohm are young enough to bring back and give another look. Fitzpatrick is a serviceable backup, but he’s already with his third organization and there simply isn’t much hope for him suddenly developing into a quality starter.

Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen are both options for the Bills in the 1st round. If either of them are on the board, I would expect the Bills to pull the trigger. However, given the fact that they could be gone, don’t be shocked if the Bills go after a veteran free agent such as Jason Campbell or try to pull of a trade for someone like Derek Anderson.

Running Back
The Bills don’t exactly have a stellar backfield, but the position is one of their stronger areas. Fred Jackson stepped up while Marshawn Lynch was suspended and ended up as the team’s primary option throughout the season. Both Jackson and Lynch are under contract for another three years, but don’t be surprised if the Bills part ways with the much maligned Lynch. He was suspended for three games to start the season after getting arrested on a misdemeanor gun charge and upon returning his effort was noticeably lacking.

Wide Receiver
The T.O. experiment wasn’t a complete disaster, but I wouldn’t expect him back in Buffalo. The money he’ll demand simply won’t match his output or his impact on a team destined for another 6-10 season.

If Owens is gone the Bills need to bring in a replacement, preferably a big receiver to compliment Lee Evans. James Hardy has the size, but just hasn’t panned out in his first two years. Its probably too early to give up on him, but the new regime has no allegiances to Hardy and his future with the team could be in doubt.

Josh Reed is also a free agent and likely won’t return. Unless the Bills are excited about the trio of Evans, Hardy and Roscoe Parrish, I would expect to see them bring in at least one new face at the position. If they’re looking to make a splash, Brandon Marshall and Anquan Boldin would both be excellent fits.

Tight End
2009 4th-round pick Shawn Nelson will be given every opportunity to prove himself. He’s an elite athlete that could certainly become a security blanket for a new young quarterback should the Bills go that route. All signs point to him as the starter with Derek Fine and/or Derek Schouman likely returning as his backups.

Offensive Line
This is the area that needs the most work. Demetrius Bell and Jonathan Scott split time at left tackle and neither found much success. Bell is still a work in progress, and may yet end up being a quality starter, but he’s was in over his head this year. ProFootballFocus.com graded him as the 74th most effective offensive tackle in the game out of a total of 77 qualifying players. Russell Okung could be an option in the 1st round and would be an instant upgrade at left tackle.

At right tackle Kirk Chambers, a career backup, was given his first chance to start. He’s an adequate backup, but just lacks the strength to hold up over the course of an entire game. A new right tackle should be high on the Bills wish list this offseason.

At guard the Bills started two rookies, Eric Wood and Andy Levitre. Both struggled at times, but showed some promise. They should both be back in starting roles in 2010 and the position could certainly grow into an area of strength.

Geoff Hangartner, in his first year with the Bills, started all 16 games at center. He’s a very solid run blocker, but is better suited for a backup role because he simply lacks the ability to hold up in pass protection over the course of a game. Eric Wood, who played center at Louisville, could be moved back to his collegiate position.

Defensive Line
The Bills defensive line has been painfully mediocre for a number of years, but not bad enough to be overhauled. They were right near the middle of the pack with 32 sacks this season, 15 of which came from the combo of Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay.

The Bills did select Aaron Maybin in the 1st-round in 2009 but he failed to make an immediate impact. One can expect growing pains from a redshirt-sophomore making the jump to the NFL, but Maybin was a complete non-factor this season. Its far too early to throw in the towel, but there is definitely reason for concern.

At defensive tackle, Kyle Williams had a breakout season. He stepped up as a dominant run stuffer and even finished fourth on the team with four sacks. One of the starting jobs in 2010 certainly belongs to him, but the other is up for grabs. Marcus Stroud, who has been in decline since coming over from Jacksonville, took yet another step backward this season and his future with the team is in jeopardy. He still has three years remaining on a four-year, $28M contract and is a prime candidate to be a cap casualty this offseason.

Former 1st-round pick John McCargo has been a bust since day one. He isn’t going to step into Stroud’s starting role anytime soon. Spencer Johnson is a candidate to start, but he would be a short-term solution only.

Linebacker
At inside linebacker, Paul Posluszny has developed into one of the games top players at the position. His attitude and work ethic are a perfect fit for Buffalo and have endeared him to fans from day one. Along with Kyle Williams and Aaron Schobel, he is one of the three players from the Bills front-seven who should have a starting role guaranteed for 2010.

Since coming over from the Giants in 2008 Kawika Mitchell has struggled at strong-side linebacker. He is a great player to have around the locker room but he isn’t starter material. His coverage skills are above average, but he lacks the ability to step up and stuff the run, which is what the Bills really need from the strong-side linebacker position. 2009 1st-round pick Aaron Maybin, who played defensive end this year, could certainly be worth a look at linebacker.

On the weak side Keith Ellison once again struggled to live up to the expectations he set for himself as an overachieving backup in 2006 an 2007. Since taking over a full-time starting role in 2008 he has been exposed as a liability against the run. He’s a restricted free agent and the Bills could seek an upgrade at the position.

Even if the three starters return, the Bills need to add some depth at the position. This coudl certainly be an area addressed with multiple mid-round draft picks.

Cornerback
The Bills had one of the league’s worst units at cornerback this past season. However, 2008 1st-round pick Leodis McKelvin missed nearly the entire season with a fractured fibula. He’ll be back in 2010 and the Bills will look to him to take major strides to live up to his 1st-round status.

Terrence McGee and Drayton Florence (who replaced McKelvin in the starting lineup) also return. They should compete for the starting job opposite McKelvin along with Reggie Corner who started a handful of games this past season.

Despite their 2009 struggles, this unit should remain intact for the 2010 season. It isn’t a strong area for the Bills, but with so many other holes to fill the need for a cornerback will likely be ignored. Much of the issues with the secondary could be fixed by the return of McKelvin and an upgraded front-seven.

Safety
The Bills have some major decisions to make at safety for 2010. Jairus Byrd would have to figure prominently into their plans after an impressive rookie season. However, there’s a log jam at strong safety. Free agent Bryan Scott will likely not return, leaving Donte Whitner and George Wilson to compete for playing time. Whitner, a 2006 top-10 pick, has struggled to live up to expectations. Don’t be shocked if the Bills part ways with the underachiever this offseason opening the door for restricted free agent Wilson to step into a full-time starting role should he return.

Offseason Strategy
Given the uncertain state of the NFL, I wouldn’t expect the Bills to be major players this offseason. They’re far more likely to dump some expensive contracts (Stroud, Whitner, Lynch, etc) than bring in any more big names like T.O. They’re in the midst of a rebuilding process that should start with the offensive line and finding a franchise quarterback.

With their 1st-round pick the Bills need to target Russell Okung, Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen. Personally, I believe getting stuck with anyone outside of those three would be a failure. Some would argue that Anthony Davis and Bruce Campbell are worthy top-10 picks, but that’s a discussion for another time.

The Bills should also try to accumulate draft picks. This is a very deep draft class as a result of the slew of underclassmen that turned pro and rebuilding teams like the Bills need to use that to their advantage. If they can dump players like Lynch or Whitner for draft picks they should jump at the opportunity.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2010 NFL Draft, Bills Comments Off

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Ryan McCrystal

Ryan launched DraftAce in 2004. His Top 100 board is currently ranked 1st out of 20 publications in The Huddle Report's five-year averages. His mock draft is ranked 10th out of 32 competitors.You can also find Ryan's weekly Heisman Predictor series on ESPN Insider every fall.