Blueprint for rebuilding the Buffalo Bills

With Ralph Wilson dropping the hammer on the tenure of Tom Donahoe, the Bills are entering perhaps its most crucial stage in team history. The selection of Marv Levy as the next General Manager comes with more scrutiny and significance than ever. Get it right and the fans will soon throw the club a mulligan regarding the Donahoe-era.

Despite the team's woes over the past half-dozen years, fans gave up some serious slack following a decade of excellence and unparrelled success. But get it wrong again and you run the risk of turning off a fan base that promises to not be so forgiving.

As nauseating as this 5-11 season was to stomach, Bills fans take heart; there is hope. A good GM who's both intelligent and aggressive could turn it around much sooner than later.

I'd like to play general manager for the time being. I could have Lombardi, Stram, Shula, Parcells, Johnson, Gibbs, Weiss, Reeves, Grant or Noll as coach and it wouldn't take away from the most important point; the Bills must get a lot better ON the field.

The following is what I've come up with, titled "The Bills Blueprint for Rebuilding."

Let the debating begin.

(Cap numbers credit: billszone.com)

Surviving The Cut

Sam Adams- It was only one game and a meaningless one at that, but Adams showed Sunday that he can still play, evidenced by two sacks in the first quarter. If Mularkey is back his departure is probably academic,but this is my team and I'm making decisions 'round here. Adams can still dominate if he's alongside another stud tackle, which during this rebuilding process he will be. If Adams is cut, another team will be on his phone before his feet leave the Bills locker room. In the right situation such as with Pat Williams (another Donahoe gaffe) he's worth $3.8 million against the cap.

Mike Gandy- At only $1.9 million, he's relatively cheap and could serve a role much like Marcus Price did; a valuable backup tackle. While it would be great to upgrade at tackle, for the sake of the offense it's more pressing to address the middle of the line first. I'd keep Gandy as my starter for insurance while looking to see if I could upgrade there (and we will- stay tuned.)

Lawyer Milloy- His best days may be behind him but he still plays hard and is a leader in the secondary and locker room; a very underated asset. Since we're losing Nate Clements (read on) it's important to have veteran leadership back there. His 2006 cap figure is $4 million and cutting him saves around $2.75, but replacing him would be just as expensive and I don't want half my starting secondary learning on the job.

Jeff Posey- The uncertainty of Takeo Spikes' future makes me lean towards keeping him around, at least until training camp. Angelo Crowell is signed and ready to take his spot if Spikes comes back successfully, but it needs to be shown Spikes is healthy before pulling the trigger. Cutting him saves $1.75 million which could be used to plug in more depth later in camp.

Troy Vincent- His $3.2 cap number is high considering he's getting old, but he's my starter for one more year while I develop a new free safety; acquired during day one of the draft. The $800K saved by cutting him is not worth it. Rashard Baker isn't ready to start and I have more pressing needs. The Chopping Block

Eric Moulds- This is tough and I'm very torn here. On one hand, Moulds proved over the last few weeks that he still has plenty left in the tank (27 catches last three weeks.) He's the only link left over from the Jim Kelly days, he's been an All-Pro here and put up great numbers despite a revolving door of quarterbacks. I'm also certain that next year he'll go to a new team and put up big numbers. He takes a lot of pressure off Lee Evans here and he still is good enough to be a starter.

That being said, I think his time here has come to an end. The obvious reason is the cap figure. He will count about $10.85 million against the cap next year. Cutting him will save the team approximately $5.5 million, giving them much needed dollars to address the offensive line. In Moulds' case it's more than just dollars. He COULD restructure his deal which would give the Bills more cap flexibility. Still, his staying here hinders the development of JP Losman and Lee Evans. Like most great receivers, Moulds is selfish. Evans is the go-to guy now. How long do you think he'd remain cherry with Losman throwing to Evans all day? No need to answer; you seen it during the Miami game.

(When weighing the pros and cons, the $5.5 million saved is too much to pass up when weighing all other team needs.)

Bennie Anderson- Left guard was highly disappointing and symbolic of Donahoe's neglect on the offensive line. While adequate at run blocking, his poor pass protection was exposed time and time again. To make matters worse, his frequent penalties made Bills fans miss Ruben Brown. His 2006 cap figure is $1.9 million. Cutting him saves 900K. In this case, it's not about saving money; it's about performance.

Mark Campbell- Too expensive and not enough production for a starting TE. Kevin Everett (assuming he's healthy) will take over starting spot. Even without Everett, Campbell's cap figure next year is $1.537 million while Tim Euhus only counts for 492 grand. Is Campbell a million dollars better than Euhus in an underutilized position here? Thanks, I'll save that $1.5.

Chris Villarrial- If the club is hell-bent (and mine is) on rebuilding offensive line he could get the pink slip. Duke Preston can play this spot if he doesn't move to center or the club could look to FA or the draft. Villarial gets banged up too much and much like Anderson is a liability pass blocking. His $3.2 million cap number is too high for a guard marred by injuries and inconsistency and cutting him saves the Bills $1.7 million.

Mike Williams- No brainer here. In the history of the NFL I don't think there's ever been a backup tackle making $10.8 million. Cutting him saves the club just under $5 million. The ONLY scenario I could envision keeping him is by him severely restructuring his deal (which he won't) and giving him a chance to adapt to playing left guard from the start of camp. Cutting him eats up nearly $5 million in dead cap space but the team doesn't have much of a choice.

Other less-notable cuts: Giving the boot to Jonathon Smith (not needed with Roscoe Parrish returning punts) and Coy Wire (ditto with Rashard Baker) would save the club about another million.

SUMMARY: Making these cuts would save the Bills around $14.3 million. This would bring them to a little more than $25 million under the cap going into free agency.

The Buffalo Bills Unrestricted Free Agents

Nate Clements- Not worth franchise money. Whether it was the pressure of a contract year, frustration on a losing team or anything else, Clements stunk this year. Unlike prior seasons when teams steered clear of him he was constantly attacked and at times, exposed. It would cost the Bills at least $5 million to tag him. Not likely to happen. Someone like the Jets or Raiders will overpay him. Best of luck, Nate.

Trey Teague- Was durable during his tenure here, but team needs more beef at middle of line and he'll move on.

Ron Edwards- Didn't get chance to prove his worth due to injury. Would be good to bring back but only if price is cheap. He shouldn't deserve established DT money, at least not here.

Josh Reed- For all the drops, Reed is an underated run blocker. Would be good fit if brought back as fourth receiver, but logic says someone will pluck him thinking he can contribute more elsewhere.

Ryan Denney- Team needs a new starting end, which would push Kelsay to first man off the bench. Will probably look to draft for more depth here, which will push Denney out.

Justin Bannon- Should be welcomed back, at a cheap rate. Certainly not starting material.

Greg Jerman- Injured this season, but provides quality depth at tackle off bench. If Buffalo wants him, he'll stay.

Shane Matthews- Likely to retire.

Matt Schneck- Team will bring long snapper back. He did a good job.

Kevin Thomas- Injury killed his career here. Greer and King are both ahead of him on depth chart... to stay.

SUMMARY: It's conceivable that with the exception of Schneck the club could lose every unrestricted free agent. As GM, I'd only bring back Reed and Edwards and only if the price was right.

Restricted Free Agents

List includes Sam Aiken, Mario Haggan and Josh Stamer. All are valuable to a stellar special teams unit and should be brought back. None will be particulary expensive. Special teams is the lone unit not in need of an overhaul.

Free Agency, What We Have To Spend, And What We Need

With the moves already made, going into free agency we're now around $25 million under the cap; a lot of money to play with but with a lot of holes left to fill. We also need to have at least $7-8 million stashed to sign our draft picks, especially having higher draft position.

Between now and training camp, we're officially in the market at the following positions:

- Two new starters on the offensive line between the center, left and right guard positions.

- A possible starting tackle to upgrade over Gandy.

- Starting WR to take Moulds' spot.

- Backup running back. If Willis McGahee isn't going to be an every down back and we're bringing a sub in for third downs, I'm looking to upgrade over Shaun Williams here.

- Defensive tackle to plug alongside Adams.

- A stud, game-changing defensive end.

- Starting corner to take over for Clements.

Who I'm Going After- Free Agency

Center: LeCharles Bentley- Stud center from New Orleans. He's expensive but I want someone with his ability anchoring the line. He's just coming into his prime in his fourth year and at 6'2" and 320 pounds he's a perfect fit. The $4-4.5 million cap figure he'll command is worth it.

Guard: Steve Hutchinson (Seattle) will be on the top of everyone's wish list and the $5-6 million cap hit for a guard might be out of Bills range. A more reasonable value I want to explore is San Deigo's Chris Dielman. He'll likely only command around a $3 million cap value and a much better all-around guard than Bennie Anderson. Tuten Reyes (Carolina) is also someone I'd want to take a long look at.

Tackle: The transformation of the offensive line is complete with a new left tackle. With the money saved by signing Dielman or Reyes instead of Hutchinson, we can nab Lions left tackle Jeff Backus. A creatively worked deal could net his cap figure around $3-3.5 million and would be a tremendous upgrade over Gandy.

Defensive Tackle- There are three players I'm going after in this spot to settle in with Adams; Grady Jackson (GB), Larry Triplett (Ind) and Maake Kemoeatu from Baltimore. Kemoeatu would present perhaps the best bargain and would only cost us around $2 million. Jackson and Triplett might run us a million more but would still be bargains compared to what our run defense did this year. Kemoeatu is my first choice.

Wide Receiver: We can't afford to bring in a guy here who will be as good as Moulds was. Our goal here is to find a guy who will take some pressure off Evans and give our QB another viable option. Candidates here include Antonio Bryant (Cleveland), Keenan McCardell (SD), Jabar Gaffney (SD) and David Givens (NE). Any with the exception of Bryant could be had for less than half of the $5.5 million saved by cutting Moulds. With a young receiving corps, the pick here is McCardell at around $2.5

Running Back: Anthony Thomas, Jonathon Wells, Najeh Davenport, Maurice Morris and former Bill Shawn Bryson would all be better backups than Williams. Price tag for one of these guys should come around $1 million (cap value) For a guy who comes out of the game as much as McGahee, a second string back becomes a need.

Cornerback: Not finding someone as good as Clements, but Minnesota starting corner Brian Williams (4 Int's in 2005) could be brought in for half the price. The current crop of FA corners is very thin; it may be wise to sit on this position and see what becomes available later. We're not going more than $2 million at this spot.

Summary: We've gotten weaker in a few spots. Clements is better than any corner we bring in to fill his spot. Still, our defensive line gets a whole lot better, which helps stuff the run and enable more quarterback pressure; more than making up for a little less at "lockdown" corner.

Offensively, we lose out without Moulds. However, we've now entirely revamped the O-line; our number one priority. Backus/Dielman/Bentley is like Munoz/Matthews/Webster in comparison to what was there last year.

We came into free agency around $25 million under the cap, and after our new signings we've spent approximately approximately $18 million; solidifying both sides of the line and leaving us around $7 million going into the draft.

The Draft

Having four of the first 72 picks in the draft, including eighth overall is too important to screw up. We've already gotten a lot better on both sides of the line.

First Round (8th overall): We're going defensive end here to fill out a front four that would be dominant with Adams, a new DT and Aaron Schobel. Mario Williams (NC State) would be a dream come true. He reminds a lot of scouts of Julius Peppers and Dwight Freeney. If he's on the board my card is filled out as soon as it's announced the Bills are on the clock. There is likely less than a 50% chance he'll still be the board. Unlikely but possible early entries Brady Quinn and Vince Young could shake up a projected early round board. If Williams is gone, the next best end is Penn State's Tamba Hall. Either would be a significant improvement over Kelsay/Denney.

Second Round (40th overall): A free safety goes here, groomed to eventually take over an aging Vincent. DeWayne Slay (Texas Tech) would be a great pick but would have to slip a little. Darnell Bing (USC) or Jason Allen (Tennessee) would be good picks as well.

Third Round (67th): Going cornerback here. You can never have enough good cover guys and this pick is high enough that an eventual starter could emerge. Will Blackmon (B.C) or Anwar Phillips (Penn State) would be great contributors immediately.

Third Round (72nd): We have Gandy as depth at tackle so now we're looking for depth at guard. Will Allen (Texas) and Kevin Boothe (Cornell) should both be around at this pick.

Summary: We're going immediate starter at defensive end, future starting free safety, cornerback and guard on day one.

Intangibles

Willis McGahee is only due to make a shade over $2 million this year. With back-to-back 1,000 yards receiving and Drew Rosenhaus as his agent, it's a safe bet he will want his contract redone. The GM must not let this become a distraction, especially in light of what happened to Philadelphia this year.

Get Ready For The New Look Bills

The Bills go on to training camp looking like this

Who's In: Jeff Backus, DeCharles Bentley, Chris Dielman, Keenan McCardell, Shawn Bryson, Maake Kemoeatu, Brian Williams and either Mario Williams/Tamba Hali through the draft.

Who's Out: Mike Williams, Eric Moulds, Bennie Anderson, Chris Villarial, Trey Teague, Shaud Williams, Mark Campbell, Nate Clements

On The Bubble/If the Price is Right: Jeff Posey, Josh Reed, Ron Edwards.

Summary: While it might not READ so pretty, both sides of the line would be among the leagues best. Offensively, it will give JP Losman (or Holcomb I suppose- not on my team though) more confidence (and time to throw), and give McGahee more holes to daylight. We could finally be that power running team Mularkey kept referring while having lineman versatile enough to pass block as well. There isn't any way in words to express how much better offensively we'd be with this line.

Defensively, the front seven conceivably would be so strong the defense in 2006 could actually live up to the hype it came into entering '05. A strong front seven will keep you in the game anywhere. Spikes' health is the biggest key.

At any rate, as the Bears proved this year and seemingly someone new every year before, rebuilding a struggling team to prominence doesn't have to take as long as you may think.

If the Bills next GM can lay out a blueprint similar to this, Buffalo football come Christmas time just may matter again.


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