Bills Positional Needs: Part III

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 the defensive secondary and linebackers, and Part III will cover the situation on the defensive line and remaining needs as well as the needs not ranked and the associated justifications.

Once again, the needs of the Bills this offseason in rank order are as follows:

Rank

Position

1/1a

OL/OT

2/1b

OL/C

3/1c

OL/G

4

CB

5

S

6

OLB

7

DE

8

DT

9

K

10

QB

While defensive end and defensive tackle are ranked behind OLB, the three are all of comparable need status.

DE: At some point the Bills need to give up on trying their luck with 2nd-tier "reach" defensive ends in the draft touting them as "shoulda been" higher selections. They were all available when the Bills selected them for a reason. In spite of the team insisting that Kelsay "stepped up" this past season, the facts are that he played very average ball. This would be fine for a former mid or late round draft pick in his second season. But for a "shoulda been first rounder" second round selection in his second season, the expectations were clearly somewhat higher.

While the Bills certainly shouldn't run out and break the bank on a LDE, if one can be had at a reasonable cost after correcting the OL and CB issues, then and only then should the team take a look. Kelsay obviously will be the starter heading into this season again and rightly so. The problems will occur if there is no significant step up in Kelsay's play in this, his third, season. The Bills need more out of the position to remain ranked highly defensively against a tougher slate of opponents this season. Schobel's pass-rushing services are wrapped up on the opposite side of the DL for the foreseeable future leaving only the left side in doubt. Ryan Denney has proven to not have been worth the trade up that acquired him in the second round in 2002.

DT: While Pat Williams is seeking top money, the fact of the matter is that his play took a very noticeable nosedive this past season. In fact it was the first season in his career that his play can arguably be called below average. I have been an enormous Pat Williams supporter from when he first joined the Bills and have clanged the gong loudly for recognition for him when he was simply not recognized nearly enough by the league due to a lack of familiarity and quietly making his mark.

But Big Pat's best days are clearly past to the point where he is little more than a veteran minimum signing for a shrewd team with far more pressing needs. He will get more due to perceptions leaving it for him to decide which is more important, to play for the Bills or likely a much more sizeable offer elsewhere. At this stage of his career, "going with the money" may be the better option for him. The team drafted Tim Anderson last season and disappointingly, did not showcase the high 3rd-round rookie at all during the 2004 season. What this means is anyone's guess. Nevertheless, 3rd rounders should see some significant playing time in their second seasons thereby reducing whatever role Williams would have even further.

Ron Edwards is now the team's best defensive tackle, whether or not the team cares to admit it. He is also the team's best pass-rushing DT. Edwards should start as will Adams who will be 32 this season and coming off a very good season although it can reasonably be argued that his pro-bowl selection was somewhat generous. Will Adams revert to what he was in '02 and '03 with erratic and average play, or will he pick up where he left off playing above average ball last season? Either way, his play at DT can only be counted on for perhaps this season. He is signed through the 2006 season, so it would not be a surprise, depending upon his level of play at 32 this season, if the Bills were to release him following the season leaving his spot open for Anderson or another to step into. Edwards' status as a free agent following this season will also complicate matters here.

Looking ahead, it is unlikely altogether that Williams will be of starting caliber any longer following this season at 34. Adams is also fringing on that territory as well with this season as the telltale indicator as to his utility next season, 2006. In 2007 neither will be worthy of keeping as starters. This means that the Bills need to begin to start Edwards, who will be a free agent following the season just as he enters his prime. The Bills would also be suited to locking Edwards up, but just as with Clements, Commander Tom does not appear to have the necessary vision for such moves however.

If Edwards ends up walking as an unrestricted free agent following this season, then just as with the secondary, the Bills will be caught with their pants down at DT leaving only Anderson as a possible starter alongside an aging year-to-year Sam Adams. So some vision and foresight here is definitely necessary given the aging statuses of Williams and Adams both now on year-to-year status which for Williams may be generous.

K: Again, another ridiculous contract with an enormous signing bonus for a kicker of Lindell's caliber has left the Bills with a need in this area. While certain fan circles have mentioned drafting Ohio State's Mike Nugent with a high draft pick, the Bills are in no such position to afford such a luxury. Drafting a K with a 2nd or 3rd round selection given the far more pressing needs on the team should be all the evidence anyone could want for new management.

If the Bills want to select a kicker in round 6 or 7, then it may be justified. But the priority for this season is getting out from the bottom dwellers in the NFL for moving the football on offense, not bolstering kicking scoring production by 20 points on the season. If the Bills cannot figure out how to move the football this season, then field goals and kicking production may be inconsequential.

QB: The Bills really only need a backup QB. Am I the only one that thinks that the endless statements about Losman being "raw" and "not quite ready" are ridiculous! Of course he's raw and "not quite ready"! He's never played in the NFL. Thus the need for some playing time last season if the Bills expected to be competitive in 2005. Ahh, who would have figured, eh!

Shane Matthews reappearance might be good for some stability, but he should not be counted on past this season if even this season. Matthews is not on the mobile end of the spectrum. The Bills should make some attempt to find a QB in the mode of Losman, i.e., one with mobility and a decent arm. I still say that Jeff Blake fills the bill nicely and with low mileage would provide a veteran presence on the team which will be sorely needed as well. With a similar style QB, the offense would not have to alter itself much should a change, regardless of how briefly, be required.

Other than a veteran backup, the Bills should perhaps consider drafting a QB in rounds 4-6 otherwise depending upon availabilities in each of the rounds at the time the Bills select. Travis Brown would have been a good option, but once again, the poor "bedside manners" of the Bills have sent Travis off on less than amiable terms.

Either way, the Bills need for a QB is primarily for a backup "just in case." The long term job is Losman's to lose and presumably he will be given at least three seasons to become what is expected of a first-round draft pick. However, it is not a dire need and by no means should the Bills use any major scarce resources for another QB. Heading into the season with Losman as the starter, an inexpensive vet as the primary backup, and a rookie or Matthews as the third should be more than adequate.

Non-Needs:

The following are the primary fantasy football positions minus quarterback. Commander Tom loves playing fantasy football league manager yet does not fare so well at being a real NFL GM. His past three drafts have not produced a single marquee player or otherwise top-shelf player as of yet. For the only decent draft under his tenure, the 2001 draft, it can very reasonably be argued that the draft and personnel organization in place when he arrived was in fact more responsible for the results of that draft than he was. Either way, having been the only productive draft to date with far less than average results otherwise in the other three drafts to date, other than Aaron Schobel, the most productive players from that first draft are either gone, have one foot out the door, or will be free agents following this season.

Nate Clements is a free agent following the season. With no moves to extend him now on the horizon, the smart move, the odds increase with each passing day that either the Bills utterly overpay for him next season or lose him in free agency. Aaron Schobel was extended last season. Travis Henry is all but gone. Ron Edwards is a free agent at season's end. Having been snubbed for starting, will he desire to resign here in Buffalo? Jonas Jennings is all but gone. Not one player from round 4 and beyond made any sort of mentionable impact on this team otherwise.

The following positions the Bills should simply pass on this season: Wide Receiver, Running Back, and Tight End. The Bills have poured far too much time, money, and cap resources into stocking these positions with mixed results and often with the team stepping on its own feet in efficiencies in these areas, especially in the cases of Travis Henry and Willis McGahee.

As to WRs, the Bills now have Lee Evans who appears to have all the tools to breakout sooner than expected for typical first round WRs and also appears to be making a run for a long and storied career. How his second season plays out will be the primary indicator. Eric Moulds, whether he prefers it or not, will essentially be the #2 WR now and he is more than adequate there even if overpriced. For this season the Bills are set and need to make due with Sam Aiken, Josh Reed, and Jonathon Smith as the slot and backup WRs. If they are not adequate as the 3rd, 4th, and 5th WRs, then very serious questions need to begin to get raised as to whether Commander Tom is the right man for the job given the utter lack of productive drafts over the past three offseasons.

Several other teams have performed much better than the Bills without the wide-receiving talent that the Bills now possess without any additions proving that it is quite possible assuming that other important elements of the team are in place. The offensive line is one of those components. How good teams are invariably always comes down to how well teams can run the ball coupled with how well they stop opponents from running the ball. Ergo, the two lines are of paramount importance in achieving this.

At some point this "fantasy football management approach" needs to quit tinkering with the WRs and attempt to develop some chemistry. Bledsoe's departure can only aid in that cause. Tom Brady made far more efficient use out of the same or similar wide receivers than Bledsoe ever did. In fact, few QBs in the league over the years have made less efficient use out of their WRs than Bledsoe did. Methinks that perhaps the "problem with the WRs" was really Bledsoe. This season may begin to shed some light there.

TE: Simply because both Mark Campbell and Tim Euhus had season ending knee injuries is no reason to give up on both which is the implications of the talk about town. Campbell will be 29 heading into this season and should still have some utility through the end of his contract following the '06 season. Euhus, a receiving TE, was a rookie and must be kept on. Euhus is not much use in blocking however. Neufeld, while not of starter caliber, is certainly a solid backup. Who knows what Trafford and Peters can add in their second seasons. Either way, expending more resources on a TE this offseason would be absolutely and utterly foolish. Again, the Bills need to focus on running the ball and on this "smashmouth" style of pounding the run down opponents' throats that Coach Mularkey talked about upon his hire. The Bills had no such offense last season except vs. teams with weak front-sevens and defensive lines!

RB: The Bills made their own mess by getting Henry so ticked off that they now have no choice but to trade him quickly for "something of value" albeit likely much less than his actual open market worth and value. The option is to keep him on in a season whereby he will see little action before walking as an unrestricted free agent. To think that he will see a significant amount of playing time risking his outshining McGahee, and thereby putting yet another nail into Commander Tom's coffin, is silly.

So now the Bills have a top-notch RB just entering his prime for which they've gotten greedy and risked the future of the team on a RB that did not play in his rookie season and was very average with none of the speed an power that it was suggested he had in his second. McGahee had better work out to much better than Henry ever was or that decision makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Throw in a couple of lost seasons from a "time wasted" perspective and it will make even less sense, again, barring a massive improvement from last season to this one. Again, Commander Tom management at its finest!

Shaud Williams is more than aptly suited to be McGahee's backup as he played as well if not better than McGahee himself in relief. Whether or not the team retains restricted free agent Joe Burns remains to be seen, but he would make a fine 3rd and relief RB as well as preserve some chemistry. Most of this does not boil down to how good the RBs actually are anyway. The lion's share of how suitable any of these RBs are will be the extent to which the team, if at all, finally gets serious about putting a decent OL on the field. If once again the line is ignored altogether or paid less attention to than it should be, then Tommy Ball will negate all of this and more and more of this upcoming season will resemble the play of the Bills offense in the Steelers game.

On another point of note, having Bledsoe on the team made the role of a "blitz picking up" RB seem paramount to offensive success. With Bledsoe gone and Losman in, perhaps the focus on the RBs can return to normalcy and reduce this insane paramount requirement to that of normal mode and not crisis mode due to having a QB with an inability to ascertain that in a play with seven pass rushers going up against five blockers, that there may be a time crunch in getting rid of the ball.

In short, the Bills' woes in this area are of their own machination, not due to the ordinary ebb and flow of contracts and signings. Already, and as predicted, the methodology and the opportunity costs in both time and cap/money resources are now being challenged and questioned regarding McGahee's acquisition. This is the make-or-break season for him and for the decision. Henry will see little if any time if not traded and then walk following the season leaving the Bills with nothing for him. Shaud Williams and Joe Burns are more than capable backups and given the teams far more dire needs on the offensive line threatening to reduce any RB to a notch above uselessness, expending further resources on this position, while quite in the Commander Tom fashion, would be tantamount to going to get a manicure when the artery in one's upper arm has been severed and threatens the loss of the entire arm.

It simply cannot be understated how badly the Bills need offensive line help.

Comments: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net

For the most up-to-date Free Agency statuses and updates, visit: Scout.com 2005 Free Agency Tracker

 


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