Bills Positional Needs: Part I

This three part series will take a detailed look at the top ten needs of the Bills this offseason, not only as they pertain to the season at hand, but also looking ahead at the strategy that the team should apply in considering the 2006 and 2007 seasons as well. Exactly why these are needs will be fully outlined. Part I will cover the offensive line, Part II will cover the defensive secondary and linebackers, and Part III will address the situation on the defensive line and remaining needs.

The needs of the Bills this offseason in rank order are as follows:
























The Steelers game was the icing on the cake proving the Commander Tom "fantasy football management" methodology utterly vacuous. In fantasy football, only skill position players are chosen. Well, reality should finally sink in after four seasons of the Commander Tom method. If it does not, then it is time to begin asking the same questions of GM Tom Donahoe as were asked about Drew Bledsoe! The big question is whether or not the good Commander learned the lesson. The spanking was thorough so likely it'll still hurt to sit at the Jacob Javitz Convention Center in NYC at the draft this April.

As such, the Bills' efforts at signing additional skill position players on offense should not be a priority at all. While it would be nice to sink further resources into more WRs and RBs, at some point the true issues of this team need to be addressed if the team is to ever move forward and out of the "Groundhog Day" mantra.

It should be obvious to anyone having watched the Bills and particularly regular readers that the two reasons for the failures of the offense this past season in particular, and the past three seasons more generally, have been quarterback and offensive line. If Jennings leaves via free agency, which it now appears will happen, then the condition of this line goes from average or so to well below average in a NY second. In fact, minus Jennings, it is safe to say that this line is among the bottom 20% of lines in the entire league. Other than the fact that this puts the team in a weak negotiating position, it also signifies how direly the Bills need offensive linemen.

At the end of last season, it was laid out that the Bills needed a net plus-up of two above average offensive linemen. They essentially swapped out one average aging lineman for another on opposite sides of the line in exchanging Ruben Brown for Chris Villarrial. The lack of attention to the line last season, again, leaves this unit of the team in need of dire repair. Throw in the fact that Villarrial will be 32 heading into this upcoming season and Trey Teague enters a contract season at 30 turning 31 during next season. Neither can be counted on past this season. Both have been very average and will not improve anymore as they both age beyond their primes. If Villarrial's nagging injuries remain only "naggers", then it will be fortunate indeed.

Mike Williams' disposition remains to be seen. Although an argument could be made that he improved at RT this season, his play there still remains a concern against above average DEs. Whether justified or not, there has been some speculation as to whether or not he will perhaps make a shift to guard next season.

Either way, if Jennings is not resigned, then this OL is a single season away from falling apart altogether, something that I had warned about since the end of the 2002 season had the Bills not made some moves for significant linemen instead of simply attempting to go scavenge the practice squads of other teams by pilfering their depth. Needless to say, the Bills do not have a single up-and-coming offensive lineman on the team.

Again, this puts Jonas Jennings in a position of strength and Commander Tom in a position of necessarily having to cater to Jennings' demands lest he find himself without any credibility at all next season. Any statements that the team will shift Trey Teague to LT should Jennings leave are as laughable as they were when Teague was originally signed to play LT. At less than 300 lbs. with no tremendous advantage otherwise, this set up would be the absolute last thing that a learning Losman needs.

As to the Bills other linemen on the team this season, all are below average with little hopes for much beyond backup status. The team in its media-driven fashion seems to be pushing notions that Ross Tucker was anything other than below average. To his credit he will only be 26 this season and on the forefront of his prime. But his level of play needs to improve by more than a single echelon in order for the Bills to be able to rely on him as a persistent starter.

The other Bills linemen were all a far cry from offering fans hope of a resurgence back to the caliber of OL that the team had in the early ‘90s heyday. Lawrence Smith, free agent Marcus Price, Mike Pucillo, and Dylan McFarland are clearly not the answers.

This leaves the mainstay of the Bills line, assuming Jennings imminent departure, as Mike Williams, and aging Trey Teague, and Chris Villarrial. The issues surrounding Mike Williams play are obvious and well-documented to anyone having followed the team in recent seasons. Trey Teague, an average center, will begin the downside of his career and with average play in the past, he will clearly never provide more with an imminent degradation of play henceforth leaving only the rate of such a degradation to be realized. Chris Villarrial, although playing through the nicks, has been nicked up in his last two seasons, one with the Bears and then this past season. He will be 32 this season and just as with Trey Teague, neither can be counted on for anything other than average play likely worsening moving forward.

Looking ahead to 2006, the current status of the line should not be of simple concern, but should set off major alarms. Due to the negligence in providing some up-and-coming talent, the Bills are now left to scramble in order to simply put a somewhat better than average line together for this upcoming season. The only lineman on the team that the Bills will be able to count on beginning in '06 for anything at average or better play will be Mike Williams who at present only provides "at average" play, but not much more.

Notions that the offense "improved" at the end of the season are simply media machinations. OF COURSE the Bills "improved!" They played the three worst teams in the league that provided no threat to anyone in three of the six games in their winning streak. Not one of the other teams was above average given the circumstances at the time the games were played. Having had a weak schedule, as stated numerous times before, is no basis for an affirmative assessment of improvement.

The seemingly likely trade of Travis Henry for L.J. Shelton only addresses the situation slightly in a "Band-Aid" type of fashion. The Cardinals would get the better of this trade in spades in a season where RBs are more abundant in the draft and free agency than they should be if the Bills were to get a "fair deal." But the Cards will get a proven RB as he enters his prime and with relatively "low mileage" on him, whereas the Bills will get a reportedly average offensive tackle who will enter the season at 29 years old and reportedly having weight and conditioning issues heading into training camp last season. Throw in a less than severe sprained knee injury and this trade becomes a questionmark for the Bills. Again, this is what happens when one "drafts over" current viable players however while simultaneously ignoring far more pressing team needs!

Looking ahead two seasons down the road to 2007, Trey Teague at 32/33 will be a backup if he is even resigned after this current season. Teague may be a good veteran minimum or slightly higher signing, but not worth much more after this season. Chris Villarrial at 34 will also be below average and in backup status likely. Shelton would be 31 and likely average if the Bills were to be fortunate. Who knows with Mike Williams, however Bills fans should not hold their breath that he will be a dominant lineman by then. When projected to reflect the strategic elements to the Bills current OL staffing methodology, exactly what I have warned about since the 2003 offseason should be painfully clear.

The problem is that the Bills have put themselves between a rock and a hard place in terms of their options. With limited cap space, and numerous other needs due to the Bills having several overpaid and "overcapped" players, it is unlikely that the Bills, given Commander Tom's staffing philosophy, will be able to repair the line to a condition coming close to approaching a playoff caliber line in one offseason. This is the situation that Commander Tom has created himself. Doubling up on skill position players in recent offseason at the expense of the OL is now rearing its ugly head.

My solution: In spite of significant needs elsewhere, the Bills have little choice but to do their best to overcome the negligence of the past in considering this season and much more so future seasons. Use the 2nd round selection and a 3rd round selection on two linemen and sign two other above average linemen in free agency, preferably two linemen coming off of their first contracts and ready to head into their primes, not more 29 or 30 year old linemen good for only a couple of seasons.

The Bills' line situation is so crucial for this next season considering that the health and performances of first time starter JP Losman and Commander Tom "force fitted" Willis McGahee will absolutely need better line play than the Bills got this past season if either is to play well and be able to focus on learning instead of merely fighting to "stay alive."

Part II of this series will discuss need rank positions 4-6, CB, S, and OLB.




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