Bills Positional Needs: Part II

This three part series takes 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. Part I covered the offensive line, Part II will cover the defensive secondary and linebackers, and Part III the situation on the defensive line and remaining needs as well as the needs not ranked and the associated justifications.

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























Part I of this series laid out exactly why the paramount importance and focus of this offseason should be the offensive line. While ranked 1, 2, and 3, the three varying positions on the line can more accurately be ranked as 1a, 1b, and 1c. If the Bills do not address the line situation adequately this offseason, then fans have little hope for a winning season in the fall. As such, ranked needs 4-10 are all secondary to those of the OL. For a more detailed analysis, refer to Part I of this series.

Part II will discuss ranked needs 4-6. The Bills' 4th need is for a cornerback, 5th for a safety, and 6th for an outside linebacker.

As stated before, so that the Bills are not standing around at the onset of free agency next season with their pants down around their ankles, a pose that the "emperor in his new clothes" appears to be getting closer and closer to, it would be very, very wise for the Bills to find a cornerback capable of starting and providing average or better results. Nate Clements is solid and is one of the top young up-and-coming cornerbacks in the league. However, he is a free agent following the season.

The solution regarding the cornerback situation, or at least half of it, is to extend Nate Clements this offseason. Then again, that would require strategizing and planning ahead, something foreign to the Bills during the Commander Tom tenure. It would also mean getting more value from a signing, also another foreign element during the Commander Tom tenure. If Clements, who will likely require much more to resign next season than this due to potential competing offers, were to leave the Bills following this season, then the Bills would not have one average or better than average cornerback on the roster barring the further significant development of players currently on the team.

Terrence McGee and Kevin Thomas are the primary candidates for stepping into permanent starting roles and McGee started a good chunk of the 2004 season. However, neither bore out to be much better than "requiring further work" at the position. Either way, once again, the Bills can look to extend Clements now, this season, as a 25-year old that has played well and with whom improvement can be expected as he enters his prime in the second contract of his career, or they can wait until next season and pay him more or risk losing him altogether. Regardless of the Bills decision there, the team still direly needs a CB to play opposite Clements, and should Clements leave, will need two CBs capable of playing at an NFL caliber if the defense is to continue to be above average.

If the Bills do not address the situation this season and if Clements were to walk, then in 2006, coupled with Terrence McGee turning free agent following this season, the Bills may not have any bonafide starting CBs. Jabari Greer would remain as would Kevin Thomas. So all things unchanged, looking ahead to the 2006 season, Greer and Thomas would need to be the starters. Clearly going forward, there is nothing on the "back burner" for the Bills in terms of starters in this area easily making this the second greatest need on the team.

The fifth greatest need for the Bills this offseason is a safety, both strong and free. Neither Troy Vincent nor Lawyer Milloy have played to the levels that their contracts were written. Both are on the wrong side of 30 and neither will improve further needless to say. All that can be expected with this pair of aging safeties is further degradation of play. In Troy Vincent's case, in the first, and what should have been the most productive season of the contract that he signed, he spent half the season in injury status and throughout the half that the did play, the results did not exactly shout out that Commander Tom had gotten any sort of great value buy in signing Vincent. Clearly the opposite is true.

What is one to expect however when there is greater concern in signing players for their past contributions and performances than their current ones. We all know that Vincent is a class act as a person, however it would appear that at times this is the primary motivator in signing players. In his mid-30s at 34 this season it remains questionable whether or not the aging Vincent can remain healthy enough to provide the average play that he brought to the Bills when he did play this past season. His play will only slide and regress further at that age.

Milloy will turn 32 this season and already, as a proclaimed mercenary, is taking more than he's giving in his original contract with an average value of nearly $4 million per season along with a $5 million signing bonus which makes releasing him not a viable option. This season he will cost the Bills nearly $3 million yet is performing in a very average manner. Being a mercenary is fine in some regards as most players are, yet perhaps not as openly. However, when one comes out as strongly as Milloy has in the media about such a status, then the play had better match the money being shelled out or such players appear to be more finagling shysters than players intent on being the best at their positions.

Either way, the aging statuses of two overpaid safeties have left the cupboards bare for the future with only guarantees of degrading play for the Bills in coming seasons. Izell Reese will not be resigned as a free agent. Pierson Prioleau is a very good candidate for release. Coy Wire had the rug yanked out from underneath him by the "over signing" of Milloy for media management purposes and therefore had his confidence undermined and seemingly has never recovered. Rashad Baker showed some flashes of potential this past season, but certainly did not play to a level justifying a full-time role as of yet. He has some developing to do if he is to become a proven starter.

So again, where does this leave the Bills for safeties from a strategic glance? This season the Bills will feature two overcompensated aging safeties at 32 and 34. Next season, 2006, the same two safeties will be 33 and 35. In 2007 Milloy will have been a free agent and Vincent, in the fourth season of a six-year deal will be 36. Needless to say, Bills fans can only count on both of these players' performances to take a step back as time goes on.

While there has been some enthusiasm for the rookie undrafted free agent Rashad Baker, the facts are that just as with Terrence McGee, Baker needs quite a bit of work in order to prove himself starter worthy. Whether or not that ever happens certainly remains to be seen. But while enthusiasm exists, it does not guarantee that Baker will ever be anymore than a backup. Either way, Baker backs up Vincent at FS where Vincent, due to his contract, is likely a fixture now for at least two more seasons. As well, Baker also possesses the same "lack of size" as Prioleau does.

Free agent Izell Reese should not be resigned as his acquisition was dubious at best at the time he was originally acquired and his performance while on the Bills has never broken average but has often been less. Pierson Prioleau will likely be cut and should be. At one point I was a big Prioleau supporter, however his lack of size appears to be a terminal issue for him without well-above-average speed.

To sum up, heading into this season, the Bills possess two "well dossier'ed" safeties, yet a pair that have proven to be only overpriced, unreliable, aging, and subject to injury concerns. Throw in Milloy's offseason statements essentially painting himself as a mercenary, and it is questionable how much longer he will have any utility to the team given the disparity between his mouth and contract against his play which simply has not matched the hype and bucks or cap hits. With nothing on the back burner, the Bills secondary, to a man, is now either unmanned by bonafide starters, one season away from issues at both CB spots, and more money being pumped in at the safety spots than the team is getting back in performance with no change there in sight.

Needless to say, and while the offensive line is by far the greater need area, the secondary, in order to avoid becoming a secondary among the worst in the league following this season, absolutely needs an upgrade.

The next greatest need area is outside linebacker. This is where the needs of the Bills become not quite so urgent. While perhaps a tad bit overcompensated, Takeo Spikes is a very good linebacker and may still have some improvement in him. Certainly he is not the weak link on the defense to be sure and he can be counted on to more than adequately continue to play throughout his prime. In the middle, London Fletcher is signed for the next two seasons and at 32 heading into the 2007 season should not be resigned beyond that. His inability to support in pass coverage is too detrimental a liability to the team and has been an issue.

Where the Bills need to focus is on the SLB spot. Jeff Posey simply is not holding up his end of things. His level of play is below average and is one of the weaknesses of the defense. His release this offseason should come as no surprise to anyone should it occur. Again, due to Commander "Money Bags" Tom having given Posey an overly generous contract releasing Posey will cost the Bills more than it should. While his release would not free up any enormous amount of cap space, it would certainly free up enough to "on or about" give the team enough room to sign a younger prospect or rookie with at least some potential for improvement, something that the 30-year old Posey this season surely will not do.

So the choice there essentially boils down to a below average OLB with little if any upside and no promise of impact play at all, or a rookie or other younger free agent with at least some promise. It is extremely difficult to imagine Josh Stamer not being able to do at least what Posey has and in his third season it may very well be time for that switch. Stamer has hustled and provided very solid backup play in his first two seasons. His third season may be the charm. Either way, the Bills should take the risk.

The need for starters and depth at that OLB spot exists however. Whether or not Stamer is promoted, and he gets the nod from this analyst, the Bills need additional depth here as well. Above average linebackers have been relatively inexpensive over the past several seasons as well.

Taking a more strategic look at the linebackers in general, The Bills are set at the WLB spot with Spikes into the foreseeable future. With Fletcher signed through 2006 and very unlikely to be released prior to that, the Bills are set for the next two seasons at MLB as well. At the SLB the Bills currently possess a below average level of play from Jeff Posey who has had one season worthy of note in seven seasons with four different teams. That season was in 2002 with the Texans. His removal from the offense would in no way hurt the team with potential of greater play by his would-be replacement only possibly helping the defense and team.

Posey is a free agent as well following the 2006 season but should be released either this season or next season to be sure should the team retain him this season. Pending Stamer's ability to play the spot, the Bills' pressing needs here should begin next season.

Part III of this series will discuss the defensive end, defensive tackle, kicker, and quarterback spots as well as the positions not mentioned, WR, RB, TE, and the justifications as to why those are not pressing needs for this offseason.






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