Uhhhh……, Rebuilding….?

I think it is well past time for the fans and media to start asking some hard questions of Bills' management. At present, the current Bills coaching staff are trying to make the Bills all things to all fans. With glaring issues on both lines coupled with one of the deepest drafts ever, in other words a great draft to trade down in, not up, the Bills almost completely ignored two of their three largest weaknesses and traded up.

The first question is whether in a draft which is widely and indisputably regarded as one of the deepest ever, coupled with the fact that the Bills are a 6-10 team more than a single issue or two away from making the playoffs, how does one justify trading up thereby reducing the overall number of selections among the first six rounds of such a deep draft to only 4 selections?

Furthermore, neither one of the first two selections will make an immediate impact for this upcoming season. The selection of Losman certainly spells the end of the Drew Bledsoe era and all but guarantees that Bledsoe will not finish out this season as starter in Buffalo. Whether or not he even begins it, now remains to be seen as well as trade possibilities must be at the forefront of the mind of anyone who can "read the writing on the wall."

The second question is would the Bills have been better off simply selecting J.P. Losman with the 13th overall selection and their own 1st rounder and then selecting the best WR available in round 2? Or perhaps trading up for less to acquire a WR later in round 1?

The third question is are the Bills planning on making a three WR set with two RBs, only five offensive linemen with no TEs their standard set? Or are they ready to give up on Donahoe's '02 early 2nd rounder Josh Reed? Or will Evans go mostly unused this season?

The fourth question is which of these draftees will make an impact for this season? Has Donahoe conducted his second draft in a row where not a single draftee can be counted on to contribute significantly in the season drafted?

The fifth question is what are their plans now for Bledsoe? While Donahoe and the coaches may seem to think that Bledsoe will play all 16 games this season, common sense, reason, history, and several other factors strongly suggest that if the fans have their way Bledsoe won't be starting after week 7. It will be in writing now, then at least once more prior to the season beginning, Bledsoe will not make it through the week 4-7 gauntlet of N.E., @ NY Jets, Miami, and @ Baltimore by contributing more than he costs the team. As a result, fans will put undue pressure on Mularkey to make the switch to Losman. The outcome of such a situation could very easily determine many things for a long time to come in Buffalo.

By my assessment, Bledsoe will have perhaps 6 straight quarters of below average play before the fans go berserk for Losman, and justifiably so. How the coaches handle that when it occurs will be interesting to say the least following their utmost assurances that Bledsoe is in the same category as Montana and Esiason. By clinging to Bledsoe, Tom Donahoe, Mularkey, and the offensive coaches have necessarily done themselves a disservice.

Losman should be the starter from early in the season and that should fit into the Bills plans now! This will also condense the time it takes the team to be competitive with the Bills future at QB. Leaving Bledsoe in during a "retooling" season is senseless if he is not to be the starter the following year. If Losman is not to start in'05, then this draft was meaningless for the '04 and '05 seasons.

Of the eight quarterbacks drafted in the first round over the past three drafts, five of them saw significant starting time as rookies with the odd men out being Carson Palmer, Rex Grossman, and Michael Vick. Included in those that did start games in their rookie seasons are Patrick Ramsey, Losman's predecessor at Tulane. They all fared reasonably well given their particular circumstances on teams with only a fraction of the talent that Buffalo will have this season.

Will the team now try to trade Bledsoe? Will any team give up more than a 4th or 5th rounder next season to acquire him at a cost of $8M this season? He is rumored to have refused to renegotiate his contract with the Bills, so will any team seeking to acquire him be able to strike a restructured deal before trading for him? Will any teams even be interested at all?

For all intents and purposes the Bills seem to be placing all of their eggs in the coaching category in relying on improvements to the team for this upcoming season. With a first time/rookie head coach and offensive coordinator with relatively little experience, is this a wise thing to do? I like Jim McNally a lot, and consider him to have been the single most influential coaching acquisition this past offseason that will impact this upcoming season. However, this will essentially be the same exact line as the Bills had last year practically speaking.

One coach can only change so much and McNally has cautioned fans not to expect miracles. Yet that is exactly what fans are expecting, many of them. Meanwhile the head coach and the offensive coordinator will also have a say/role in how effective that offense is and both are relatively inexperienced coaches in their first years in their respective roles. To expect a steep learning curve and some understandable mistakes would be common sense. However it also stands to reason that these understandable mistakes will cost the team somewhat, especially in a division which is arguably the toughest division in the league and which is led by very experienced coaches on all sides of the ball, and especially with the difficult schedule that the Bills have this season.

Sure, Chris Villarrial adds a slight element of improvement on the offensive line, but not nearly on its own merits enough to push the play of this line to a level of providing the improvement in pass protection from only the fair level of play that it achieved last season to one of making the entire difference. When one factors in "Iron Legs" Bledsoe, there is little reason to expect more than a marginal or only slightly better than marginal improvement.

Lee Evans will not learn to read NFL defenses from day one and run the types of routes required of him against far superior competition in the first half of the season and the Bills will be fortunate if he can do it over the last half. Besides, the Bills could have Marvin Harrison and Torry Holt as wideouts, but if Bledsoe or Losman don't have the time, then it matters not in terms of going deep.

Villarrial is touted as a strong run blocker, not as a premier pass protector. How well this bodes in a division with two teams who have both incredibly talented defenses as well as an array of complex defensive looks remains to be seen. As well, the Patriots, Dolphins, and Jets are all excellent defensive teams ranking 1st, 3rd, and 8th in scoring defense last season. The Bills must also face five of last season's seven top interception generating teams in seven games this season.

So if the Bills coaching staff in their seeming "overconfidence" to be polite, can affect the changes that they are talking about strictly via a simple coaching change, then great. Certainly fans have good reason to be skeptical however given that two of the Bills starters this season will be mediocre Trey Teague and Marques Sullivan who barely played last season. Offensive line depth will be a huge issue this season and if injuries befall this team's OL at all this year, expect nothing short of a tremendously struggling offense again. Even the best RBs need good offensive lines.

Trading or releasing Bledsoe outright at this point would suit the team's needs just fine. This smokescreen that Tom Donahoe, Mike Mularkey, and Sam Wyche have put out and continue to put out about Bledsoe being a "franchise QB" is fooling only themselves apparently. This season will be chalked up to a learning experience for the new coaches one way or another, a new (together) and relatively young OL with new chemistry, and a new RB who will essentially be a rookie characterized by one enormous question mark. This team may as well start planning right now to put in J.P. Losman at some point fairly early during this season. He certainly does not lack the confidence necessary to play in the NFL. In fact, he may very well be the most plug-n-play ready QB in the draft this year all things considered.

Doing so would enable Losman to begin to merge in with the new direction of this team immediately. Not doing so could very easily delay the Bills' efforts to put a winning team on the field for yet another season and on into the 2006 season as Losman would be starting next season for the first time. Based on Donahoe's own statements upon his hire, this will be the fourth season under his watch and it needs to be competitive, not simply another season of rebuilding. Certainly Donahoe should not be rewarded if this team has two additional seasons of rebuilding pushing the effort to five or six seasons.

However, with the rookie Losman looming over Bledsoe's shoulder, with the "red shirt" rookie McGahee, and with a new second WR Evans, this is clearly yet another season of rebuilding in one form or another. Toss in a brand new head coach and offensive coordinator and that ices the cake. It can be called a "retooling" if it better befits the argument. Either way, it represents yet another season of this team's likely inability to make the playoffs and most certainly a season in which the team will be incapable of advancing in them. Starting Losman however will ensure that this team has the most playoff capable team on the field beginning in 2005. Any delays in doing so should be appropriately addressed within the organization at the time.

Pending key free agent re-signings next season as well as the statuses of other aging players, this team can wait no longer. It is bizarre strategic management of the team to say the least. It is almost as if this team is being managed never to peak as a unit with one unit deteriorating as another comes of age. Instead, just enough high profile players are brought in each season to excite younger fans and infuse some reason for hope regardless of how substantiated such hope is. Meanwhile, the tenets of fundamentally sound football take a backseat to more prominent player marketing efforts and signings.

Nevertheless, let's get this entire show in its new form moving forward together from the start, now, this season! Doing so necessarily entails releasing or trading Bledsoe now! For anyone truly believing that Bledsoe will make it through this entire season in good standing with the fans and media, please contact me quickly. There is some prime land available for sale just south of the Keys.

As to the rest of the draft, any 7th rounders or undrafted free agents that contribute on special teams can be considered bonus players. Euhus will not be a factor at all this season. Neither will Anderson other than perhaps as a backup later on in the year. Losman, barring starting/playing, will not either. As of now the party line is one of his sitting for two or three seasons.

If Evans is a factor, it likely will mean reducing Reed's role, a former 2nd round 36th overall pick, significantly. Even so, rookie WRs have one of the tougher times adjusting than most other position players and the success rate, i.e., the rate of first round WRs playing to a "first round level" is low.

Rating this draft:

How to rate this draft indeed! If the Bills had been a 10-6 team with few immediate needs, then perhaps this draft would have made sense. But the reality is that the Bills have not had a winning season since 1999 and are a combined 17-31 over the past three seasons under Donahoe with a regression from '02 to '03 and have numerous issues on both lines as discussed.

J.P. Losman was a good acquisition, however he could have been drafted without giving away what will almost assuredly be a top 20 selection in next season's draft, perhaps much higher, in addition to a fifth rounder in this year's draft. He could have been selected at 13th overall. Yet Donahoe continues to be content to mortgage even more of the precious future away in carrying out his strategy, whatever strategy that happens to be. Whatever strategy it is, it certainly is not clear from season to season. It almost seems like a completely improvisational approach.

Assuming that the same number of WRs would have been taken until the Bills 2nd round selection, Rashaun Woods would have been available then had the Bills selected Losman instead of a WR. A Losman/Woods combination would have been equally impressive especially given that it would have meant the retention of the Bills 5th rounder this season as well as their 1st next. It certainly would have fit the bill.

In the event that San Diego would have perhaps taken Woods in the 2nd, it stands to reason that the Bills could have traded up in the later first for somewhat less than they used to acquire equal talent in reverse order with a trade up to the 22nd overall selection. This also presupposes that it was not the Bills who began the run on WRs after the first three easily predictable early first-rounders were gone and that another WR would not have remained late in the first for a trade-up or even in the second.

Even so, it still remains a mystery why as a team that is purported to run the ball as the Bills are supposed to do, with seemingly the best RB tandem in the entire league, why such a team needs two stellar WRs to be effective. Among the top ten rushing teams in the league last season, only one, San Francisco with Terrell Owens, had a better receiving compliment as the Bills had and most top-10 rushing teams did not have that. Even that is arguable. Good coaches with RBs such as Travis Henry and Willis McGahee simply have to find a way to make the offense work with receiving talent such as Moulds, Reed, Shaw, Aiken, and Campbell. Meanwhile, Evans' acquisition now pushes last year's 4th rounder Aiken to our 5th WR if he is retained at all. Puzzling to say the least.

Tim Anderson was a solid selection in the third round. The reasoning behind the Euhus selection in the 4th round is also questionable to say the least given other far more pressing needs on the team and the release of very capable Dave Moore and non-interest in several other decent TEs during free agency which would have come inexpensively even up until very recently.

Either way, this draft was a skill position bonanza yet with only four selections other than 7th rounders. Having said that, I would grade this draft a C+ on content and D on value. Just as last season however, the results of it will not be fully known for perhaps several seasons. It is difficult to grade a draft that will not help its team in the year drafted and for its projected impact this season it rates D+. It may in fact not be until three seasons from now that this draft helps the team to be competitive. Perhaps this is Tom Donahoe's way of delaying further criticisms of his abilities as a GM indefinitely. If Losman and Evans turn out to be anything short of standouts, the draft will have been a failure. Tune in during the 2005 and 2006 seasons at the earliest to see how this draft manifests itself.

Trading away additional selections and what would have been a pivotal pick in next season's draft when equal or close to equal talent could have been had with less sacrifice, along with the trenches not having barely been addressed at all are too glaring for any higher grade. The Bills first selection was a reach at 13 as well. Pending the outcome of this upcoming season, the Bills may also face both offensive and defensive line crises next offseason due to their relative and recent inactivity, particularly on the offensive line.

Fans will see this season whether the coaches' assessments of their current offensive line talent and of Chris Kelsay and/or Ryan Denney were accurate or not. Expect Denney to play some more this season so that Donahoe can stretch out his credibility even further next season by promising an upgraded Kelsay in '05 who didn't start all 16 games this upcoming season.

Barring a Bledsoe trade or release, the Bills likely will not have enough cap space to sign any significant June 1st cap casualties. If Tom Donahoe and the coaches are accurate in their assessments then this team should flourish. If not, then the opposite could very likely occur, again and the trend continue on just as it has been. Excessive talent in the skill positions do not overcome less than adequate line play. In fact, the converse is true.

As well, the Bills best offensive lineman, best OT backup, and two best defensive linemen will be up for free agency as their contracts end following this season. Those players are Jonas Jennings, Marcus Price, Aaron Schobel, and Pat Williams. How long Sam Adams has left also needs to be considered. Yet, the Bills have made no significant plans in this regard and certainly did not address this issue to the extent required in the draft.

It is easy to assume that once again Tom Donahoe's marketing instincts are leading the way instead of good solid strategic planning. He needs to begin to address the fundamentals which characterize the better teams in the league each season and stop dilly-dallying around with trying to "sell the team" due to exciting player acquisitions at the skill positions. One is truly left to wonder whether the primary goal of this team from the top down is to sell tickets or to be competitive.

At present however, the status of the Bills for next season is dicey at best and incredibly dependent upon their ability to re-sign Schobel and Jennings, which now is almost mandated. Unfortunately, the ability of the Bills to sign both Schobel and Jennings may be directly hinged to their degree of improvement this season. Players are far more eager to play for a winning team than for losing teams. Miscalculations coupled with erroneous assessments on the parts of Donahoe and Mularkey's could very easily cost this team for years to come.

The bottom line through all of this is that there appears to be no long-term master plan at One Bills Drive. Who is looking down the road at where the team will be in two or three seasons? Why hasn't Donahoe lined up any offensive or defensive line talent that has demonstrated a clear ability to perform at a high level? Why does it seem that the Bills go into the draft with several pressing needs yet armed with a philosophy of taking "best talent available" or drafting out of the greatest need position(s) altogether?

It is a high stakes game indeed. But it does not take a genius or sage to figure out that the Bills line issues could very easily escalate out of the realm of being able to be corrected in a single offseason dependent upon the outcome of this single upcoming season which can only be characterized at present by a laundry list of looming question marks. The Bills certainly have not given themselves very much wiggle room to be sure.

E-mail: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net

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