Five Things for the Bills to be successful

1. Determine the goals of the team: I know this comes across as "Duh!", but I am left to ask the question for several reasons. First, Donahoe's approach has been something less than to put the most competitive team on the field for the money spent. Donahoe's propensity towards marketing, vice a more operationally oriented approach, is the proverbial cart before his horse.

Are the goals to sell tickets? Have a roster full of "good guys"? Bring in as many marquee players as possible? Make attempts at "one-upping" divisional rivals in personnel moves? "Beat other teams to the punch" in the draft? Is it to "revive Bledsoe's career"?

Or is the goal to put the most competitive team on the field? Because quite frankly Tom Donahoe's approach has me puzzled. Again, I only ask because Donahoe certainly could have done more in terms of putting a more competitive team on the field, both from a coaching as well as from a player perspective.

In hindsight the "Bledsoe trade" was a ticket seller with no further utility to the team barring a miraculous and unlikely turnaround in his level of play next season. Fans expecting that should contact me immediately in order to purchase inexpensive land just south of the Keys.

The "Milloy deal" brought a solid player to Buffalo but one who as a seven year vet only produced marginally more than a rookie Wire playing the same exact position last season with no more sacks or interceptions than Wire had. It was not the best value for the dollars spent especially given the Bills' other far more pressing needs on both lines. It has also put an abrupt halt to Wire's potential development at that position considering that Milloy's salary demands that he start for at least two more seasons.

Bringing Spikes in will lead to the goal of putting a more competitive team on the field for sure if he is used properly. Again, more on that in ensuing weeks. But few, if any, of Donahoe's other moves will have done that. Instead, it should appear that Donahoe's goal has been "getting good deals in free-agency" or "one-upping divisional rivals" vice truly improving the team as much as possible within the salary cap constraints that exist.

Risky moves such as relying on injured or very mediocre and aging players who happened to come at "bargain prices" such as McKenzie, Marcus Jones, James Jett, Ross Tucker, Bobby Shaw, and others have not worked out nearly as well as Donahoe stated they would upon signing these players. Not surprisingly so I might add.

2. Quit staffing the team with "nice guys":

I know this is going to be unpopular, but the team, assuming that the first item on this list is to build a competitive team, should not pay players for "being nice guys." Again, I know this sounds like common sense, but I must ask the question just as I did as the signing/extension was made. Why did the Bills give Alex Van Pelt a $1.5 million signing bonus in the five-year contract that he signed? It would cost the team nearly $1 million to cut him now.

Please do not get me wrong, I think Alex, Drew too, are top notch individuals and either could be my next door neighbor any day of the week. But let's face it, if Drew had been on any other team this season with virtually any other offensive coordinator/QB coach, then he would have been replaced by midseason for performance reasons for the first time in his career. That was not an option in Buffalo because Van Pelt provides no more hope for relief than Rob Johnson would at this point. Ergo, he is overpaid and currently has a sizeable cap hit due to an inordinately high signing bonus received.

I, we, all understand that Drew has an incredibly worthy foundation, and that Alex is one incredibly good person, truly. But this is a business, not a "Travelers MOTY" program. It's an NFL franchise! So wake up Mr. Donahoe! Let's start treating it as one. Perhaps move Alex to a coaching role. No one would be upset at that, he would have a job, remain in Buffalo, continue to be a fan and media favorite kind-of-guy, and presumably be happy with that. Drew's foundation will do just fine if he is not on the Bills. In fact, one more season like this year's and it surely cannot help the foundation much.

Under any circumstances, Mr. Donahoe needs to start finding players who can play at a level that is expected by fans and more importantly to a level that is "playoff capable." Neither one of the current QBs is capable of doing that and neither has a track record in the past of doing that. Bledsoe's playoff performance record, other than one half of one drive in the Pittsburgh playoff game in '01, is abysmal. Van Pelt's is nonexistent. I will have more on Bledsoe's two seasons in Buffalo in coming weeks. But offering contracts to players solely because they are well liked or "good guys" should not occur.

3. Immediately cease any and all talk of "building the offense around Drew!":

No team revolves around one man and few players deserve that kind of respect and attention. Some teams attempt this such as Minnesota (Moss), Atlanta (Vick), and perhaps teams such as KC (Holmes) and Baltimore (Ray Lewis). But Bledsoe is definitely not one of those players that merits that type of treatment no matter how you slice it.

So the team, fans, and media need to realize that this team needs to be "built" more modularly and as if Bledsoe will not be around following this upcoming season if even that long. Far too much energy is being wasted on "what to do to revive Bledsoe's career." This team is not about "Bledsoe's career" or shouldn't be! It's about putting a winning program on the field. That is not going to happen with Drew under center. Donahoe, the new coach, and fans and media can figure that out now, or they can all wait until some extension is signed committing us to future cap hits and see it unfold by week four next season.

This team needs to move forward, not linger in why Drew has not matched his two best seasons in his eleven-year career well over a half-a-decade ago now. It needs to start building a team that can accommodate many QBs, not specifically Bledsoe. Nor should the team spend another thought on trying to correct whatever it is that is disabling that. Sign A.J. Feely, draft Rivers, then begin focusing on the future of the franchise.

If it were up to me, I would release Van Pelt or sign him to a coaching role. Then either cut Drew outright at the supposed $2 million cap hit it would make yet saving an additional $4 million in salary for this upcoming season or use the leverage of this past season to get him to sign a new contract that would not cost the team more than $1 million in a cap hit following the '04 season if released and then have him compete with whatever other two QBs happen to be on the roster next season. Under no circumstances would I concede the starting role to Bledsoe henceforth. He needs to earn it from now on. If earned, then if his poor performances continue in the regular season, he will need to be replaced post haste.

4. Ditch the Tom Donahoe "Friends & Family" program:

Perhaps this is more aptly named the "Friends and Pittsburgh Ties" program. Under any circumstances, it needs to cease. Why Mularkey is even in consideration for the head coaching job in Buffalo following the season that he had down in Pittsburgh is a major league headscratcher to me. I would also be skeptical that Mularkey would fire Kevin Gilbride, another F&PT program guy.

A promotion to head coach here would mean an inherent approval of the offensive coordinator's efforts in producing an offense ranked 19th in scoring and 22nd in yardage in Pittsburgh while dropping 6 of 7 games vs. playoff teams on the merits of an average of fewer than 14 points-per-game in offensive production in six of those seven losses. This does not appear to me to be what a Bills' team that was dead last in the league in offensive production from week three onward really needs!

Mr. Donahoe needs to start running this team to put a winning product on the field, not by hiring coaches who will provide Bills fans with absolutely no hope of any serious turnaround of the team's most serious issues this past season. He can start by not hiring Mularkey and by hiring a head coach with experience in leading a team to the playoffs and one that has a recent track record of leading an offense that has actually been able to put up touchdowns. See point number one above. Pssst! Mr. Donahoe, Jim Fassel!!!

5. Address the team's real needs and quit dwelling on perceptions:

Again, this would appear to be a common sense realization. However, the Milloy signing is a perfect example of it not materializing. Am I saying that Milloy is not a good player? Absolutely not! He is very good although seemingly on the downside of his career albeit only at the onset of that downside. What I am saying is that we paid far too much money for a position that was not among the Bills primary needs.

Primary needs last offseason were for, in order, a respectable LDE, a DT, interior OL-men, an OLB, and a WR. Guess what! Other than Adams at DT they are identical this offseason as they were last offseason. Frankly, I am still not sold on Adams as anything more than average nor that his level of play will not taper off drastically at any time or that he won't put on a ton of weight this offseason. This season he played three or four very good games, to say the least, while the other dozen games were average or below average. His four good games were against the lesser teams on the schedule excepting the rout of the Pats in week one.

In any case, and as I mentioned above, Milloy, a seven year vet coming into this season, only marginally outperformed Wire as a rookie last season. He had somewhat more tackles but the same number of sacks and no interceptions which were identical to Wire's outputs last season. They both play with intensity. It only stands to reason that Wire would have improved given the opportunity that apparently he will not get for as long as Milloy starts there. It does not make sense to me to cut off development one of your most promising rookie draftees by signing an aging replacement clearly on the front end of the downside of his career to one of the richest contracts on the team.

I hear talk and rumors, amongst fans mostly, stating that the Bills need a TE or WR. I cannot disagree more. Moulds is a top receiver in this league and only needs an offensive coordinator who knows what he is doing and a QB who can get him the ball instead of under and wide throwing him constantly. Combined with the rushing that we have seen from Henry, WR cannot possibly be a top need.

The same goes for Reed. Reed took far too much heat this year for "dropped balls" which were very poorly thrown by Bledsoe. In fact, it is my opinion that both Moulds and Reed would have had two or three hundred more receiving yards easily, perhaps more, if Bledsoe's tosses had been on the money this season. Shaw would have benefitted as well. The Bills' current receiving corps, at least Moulds and Reed, have the potential to be amongst the top 10 in the league.

As well, for crying out loud, the team needs to quit stewing about "losing Price." This just in! Drew and the Bills put the ball in the air nearly 150 fewer times. At a modest six yards a pop that is nearly a thousand yards on the season. Of course the Bills were not going to have two receivers over two thousand yards again. Common sense should spell that out clearly. If Price were so marvelous, then why did he barely outperform Reed and Shaw as the number one receiver down in Atlanta. Fans bemoaning Price's loss can find the same answer to our passing game woes as exists in Atlanta. Exactly!

The Bills are set at TE with the extension of Mark Campbell who has played extremely well this season showing that he is an extremely versatile tight end who can run routes, catch well, and run block also. The acquisition of a top-notch receiving TE means nothing if the plans do not include him or if he has a QB who cannot get the ball to him regularly. Nor is it high on the Bills' needs list.

I will have more on the offensive and defensive team needs in the weeks ahead. But suffice it to say that in priority order, the single biggest needs for the Bills this offseason even assuming a Winfield departure will be left defensive end, interior offensive line G/C, QB, defensive tackle, and free safety. Look familiar! WRs and TEs are not pressing needs.

The bottom line is that Donahoe has the authority and ability to put a top notch team on the field next season barring what will be a learning curve of some sort for whomever plays QB. Then again, that QB will have the benefit of solid rushing with Henry and the soon to be emergent Willis McGahee, a rushing tandem which if it develops according to expectations, could be the best in the league by a long shot.

In any case, Donahoe's moves this season will either propel this team into a role in which it can compete in the playoffs or tie up more bucks in not addressing the needs that are most pressing while ignoring the future direction and competitiveness of the team down the road. The ball is in his court. I, along with many other fans, are not all that convinced that he is on the right track yet given the talk of Mularkey being a prominent candidate and given Donahoe's decision to "let the new head coach determine Gilbride's fate." Instead, it would appear that the Donahoe Friends and Pittsburgh Ties program is still in full swing!


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