They are now.
In the last 24 hours Levy dropped the hammer on several big-named veterans. Sam Adams and Lawyer Milloy are all now former Bills and Eric Moulds is just hours away from following. Underachieving tight end Mark Campbell was also cut. The moves saves Buffalo around $12.8 million in cap space. Other than Moulds, Levy said that age and the vision of new schemes made the moves about more than just dollars.
With the 2006 cap expected to be about $94.5 million, Buffalo is now close to $14.5 under the cap once Moulds is released. However, there are some things Buffalo must do before throwing money around in free agency. They'll need around $1.5 million for their draft choices. They also must tuck money away for "not likely to achieve" bonuses. If no CBA is extended this money would have to be paid out this September.
They also need to brace for a contract renegotiation with running back Willis McGahee, who is represented by Drew Rosenhaus.
Basically, Buffalo is headed to free agency with a figure in the ballpark of $10-12 million to do some shopping. Realistically, that translates to 4-5 new additions that are starters.
More cuts are expected to come. Jeff Posey and Chris Villarrial may be on the way out. Cutting them would give the club about $3.8 million more in cap room, according to Billszone.com cap expert Robert Balistreri. Bennie Anderson (savings of about $900k), Mike Gandy ($1.3 million) and Coy Wire ($600k) are other possibilities.
Still, Buffalo is already in position to be a player in the free agent market. They're in the top half of teams most under the salary cap. Judging by Levy's early aggressive approach towards turning the roster over, don't expect him to stand pat. Levy has said numerous times last year's 5-11 club wasn't good enough to win and he's made no secret of his aspiration for a swift turnaround.
A positional look at what the club may do over the next two months.
QUARTERBACKCutting either J.P. Losman or Kelly Holcomb isn't a practicable option. Neither would save the team considerable cash. Cutting Holcomb would actually cost money ($125k). Levy said at the NFL combine last week he plans on bringing a third quarterback for competition. It's unlikely to be a free agent signee, though Detroit QB Jeff Garcia could emerge as a contender.
RUNNING BACKMcGahee is locked in as the starter but Levy may want to upgrade over Shaud Williams at backup, even though he was tendered an offer. McGahee's running style makes him prone to getting banged up and wasn't used as an every down back last season. Former Bill Shawn Bryson would be a great fit and wouldn't cost more than $1 million. Ron Dayne, Anthony Thomas and Maurice Morris would be quality backing candidates. Chester Taylor is an alternative but would probably cost too much and is looking to start elsewhere.
Summary: Get Bryson or Morris as a proven backup for McGahee.
WIDE RECIEVERWith Moulds gone don't be bowled over to see Levy bring back free agent Josh Reed. He'd be cost effective and Buffalo has larger needs elsewhere. Plus, Reed played well the second half of 2005. He's also an underrated blocker. If the Bills don't bring back Reed; David Givens, Antwaan Randle El and Antonio Bryant are all free agents but too expensive. Joe Jurevicious would be a great second receiver, especially in the red zone. He's likely to stay in Seattle or go to a steady contender. Reche Caldwell and Corey Bradford are options, but are either a million dollars or more better than what it costs to bring Reed back?
Summary: Get Jerevicious, or bring Reed back. The others aren't worth the money.
TIGHT ENDBy cutting Campbell, Levy is banking on Kevin Everett emerging as a star. Tim Euhus is a cheap backup with starting experience. Don't expect much change unless Buffalo pulls off a shock in round one of the draft and takes Vernon Davis or another tight end later in the draft.
Summary: Depending on how active they are and how many holes they fill in free agency, Davis may be too talented to pass up with the eighth pick.
OFFENSIVE LINEOnly one of the five who finished last year as starters are locked back in; Jason Peters. Chris Villarrial will be back as a starter, provided he's not cut. The club will let Trey Teague walk and Duke Preston figures to take over or move to left guard. That leaves left tackle and at least one guard/center as positions that definitely require addressing.
Jon Runyan is a ten-year veteran and still one of the best tackles in the NFL. But he'd likely take up at least a quarter of the Bills cap space. The Jets cut Jason Fabini for cap reasons and he'd be a big improvement over Mike Gandy with a manageable cap figure. Kevin Shaffer (Atlanta) is another free agent option who many feel is on the cusp of being a Pro Bowler. He's been in the league four years. Tampa Bay's Kenyetta Walker may be another option. Tom Ashworth (New England) isn't a superstar but a traditonal tackle who can play on either side. He did a fine job protecting Tom Brady.
Steve Hutchinson is all but unsignable to Buffalo with the price he'll command. After him there aren't many quality guards in free agency. Toniu Fonoti is huge (6'4", 350lbs) but then again so is Bennie Anderson. This spot in all probability will be addressed in the draft unless a center is picked up and Preston moves over. Gandy moving to guard is also a possibility.
LeCharles Bentley is a franchise center that the Bills covet. The problem is so will nearly 31 other teams. Even though he's worth it, it will cost Buffalo an arm and a leg to make a real run at him. Plus, rumors are circulating that he'll sign with Philadelphia as early as the first day he's eligible. Tennessee Titan Justin Hartwig would be a cheaper alternative and still be an improvement over an Teague. The other "name" free agents are older and declining.
The club is doubtful to do anything with Gandy and Anderson until the draft is over and Levy sees where they're at. Gandy can be valuable because he can play both tackle and guard and would provide depth across the line. Anderson's future with the club is in heavy doubt after an uninspiring season marred with penalties.
Summary: Make an early push towards Shaeffer and if he's too pricey tab Ashworth, Fabini or Walker. Sign Hartwig and move Preston to guard. Cut Villarrial and take one of the three blue chip guards (Giles, Spencer, Joseph) in round two of the draft.
DEFENSIVE TACKLEThe exodus of Adams leaves the Bills a big hole in a position already glaring with weakness. Tim Anderson is sturdy as a backup but not starting material. Depending on if Levy plans on using their first draft choice on either Haloti Ngata or Broderick Bunkley two starting spots will need to be filled. With Buffalo's run defense so porous last season this is a situation that needs a larger investment. There are a number of quality defensive tackles on the market and most could fit in Buffalo's plans.
Rocky Bernard (6-3,290) had 8.5 sacks last season and fits Levy's "fly to the ball" defense to a tee. He'd also come with a steep price and has earned an infamous reputation for taking too many plays off. Some say he played 2005 for a payday.
Ma'ake Kemoeatu is in the same mold of Adams (6-4,335) and comes cheaper. Ryan Pickett played for new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and could be an attractive fit at at reasnoable rate. He's been serviceable but never reached star status. La'Roi Glover was cut by Dallas for cap reasons and if there's anyway Levy can work out something with the six-time Pro Bowler they'd be wise to do so.
Financially it makes great sense to bring Ron Edwards back and count on him staying healthy. Expect this position overall to get as much attention as any as Levy knows an improved front four makes the rest of the defense better.
Summary: Resign Edwards, make a huge push towards Glover or Tripplett and decide between Haloti Ngata or Broderick Bunkley with the eighth overall pick in the draft.
DEFENSIVE ENDAaron Schobel is locked in at one end and Chris Kelsay is starting on the other. Depending on finances available Levy may try to upgrade Kelsay. Darren Howard and Aaron Kampmann are the most talented players on the market. Howard is better suited as a pass rusher while Kampmann is solid against the run. Ideally Levy would love to have Howard, who could team with Schobel to bring a nasty pass rush, and have Kelsay rotate off the bench. Revenue puts another addition at end in doubt as other positions will take priority.
Summary: Go after Howard. Kelsay as a backup with Edwards gives the line outstanding depth.
LINEBACKEROf all moves the Bills make off the field, perhaps the most crucial development on it is if Takeo Spikes can return fully or close to it from his torn Achilles. So far the news has been mixed. He hopes to be able to go all-out when training camp opens in late July and by all accounts will be. Unfortunately as recently as a few weeks ago he still walked with a noticeable limp. He's the unquestionable heart and soul of the defense and his presence elevates the entire unit. Posey will probably be kept if for no other than insurance reasons in case Spikes can't return. Angelo Crowell was signed to a three-year extension last year and will start. London Fletcher had arguably the best season of anyone on the team last year. Unless Spikes suffers a major setback don't expect Levy to do anything before the draft.
One scenario, though highly unlikely would be to move Spikes to middle linebacker and cut Fletcher to save $4 million in cap room. Again, very improbable as Fletcher played great last year.
Summary: Not a position of need to make any significant moves. Maybe trying to sign Fletcher to an extenstion (he's going into his last year) would free up more cap space for 2006.
DEFENSIVE BACKSNate Clements was franchised and for good reason. He's been in the league five years and Levy considers him one of the best corners in the league with still more upside, despite a forgettable 2005. A healthier pass rush will benefit him and the entire secondary. Terrence McGee is not only the best kick returner in the game; he's also emerging as an admirable cornerback. In the second half of 2005 he was the best player in the secondary and he can make big plays. His interception return for a touchdown (along with a kick return TD) preserved Buffalo's win at playoff bound Cincinnati. A free agent move at corner is doubtful as Jabari Greer and Eric King both return as reserves.
Safety is another story. Milloy must be replaced through either free agency or the draft. Rashad Baker has improved but whether he's a starting NFL safety is debatable. Milloy excelled by moving up in the box and playing the run effectively. Ferell's cover two defense calls for a safety with better coverage skills.
Rams free agent safety Adam Archuleta is the preeminent player on the market. He's a four-veteran who hits hard and covers better than Milloy. It's however unlikely to call Buffalo home as the Rams are making his resigning their top priority.
Marlon McCree is also a high-quality playmaker that would look nice in Buffalo. Carolina might not be able to afford to keep him.
Corey Chavous isn't as stout against the run as Fewell may like but he's one of the best in coverage.
Tank Williams is a hard hitting safety who would be perfect for Buffalo.. If it was 2005. He's a lot like Milloy and Buffalo wants someone with better coverage skills for the cover two.
Troy Vincent is up there in age and struggled at times last season but could benefit from the new scheme. He still has a nose for the ball and cutting him doesn't save considerable money (only $800k). He's also signed through 2009 which gives Levy the capacity to restructure if necessary. Expect him back for at least one more season while the Bills tutor a future free safety from the draft.
Summary: Make an offer to Chavous. He's the best fit for the defense at a reasonable price. McCree would be an excellent second choice. Also take a safety in round three to groom for Vincent. Try to restructure Vincent's deal for more cap flexibility.
It's reasonable financially to conceive Buffalo could end up with Ashworth, Hartwig, Howard, Chavous and Glover as new starters and Bryson as a valuable backup. Reed and Edwards could be brought back as well.
The draft should come down to a decision between Davis or Ngata/Bunkely in round one. Round two could see a guard go (and cut Villarrial) or a defensive tackle if the club takes Davis in round one. If Buffalo fails to land an improvement over Reed at receiver before the draft, taking Davis takes care of that problem.
Whether the cuts already made, the cuts to come and the additions forthcoming will translate to more than five victories remains to be seen. But one thing is now certain.
Marv Levy is no gimmick general manager.