Free agent: Bryant Johnson, WR
Date Visited: March 3
New Team: San Francisco (one-year, $2 million)
Disappointment Meter (1 low, 10 high): 2.5
Analysis: Johnson hoped to land a five-million per year contract with someone, but no team bit. So the former Arizona No. 3 wideout settled on a one-year deal with the 49ers, where he'll start for new offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Good no-move by Buffalo. True, the Bills need a big bodied receiver and they did have the ammunition to orchestrate a five-year, $25 million-type of deal. But that would have been straight out of the Isiah Thomas: How to Destroy a Franchise book. Johnson is a classic, low-ceiling, 60-reception No. 3 wide receiver. Whenever Larry Fitzgerald or Anquan Bolden suffered an injury in Johnson's five seasons, the former first-round pick didn't come close to equaling their production. Considering the Bills' offense is as run-oriented as Arizona's is pass-oriented, such an investment would have backfired immediately.
The Next Move: Buffalo still needs a legitimate No. 2 receiver opposite of Lee Evans. After Malcolm Kelly's pro day stock-killing performance (4.75 in the 40), the spotlight shifts to Michigan State's Devin Thomas – a one-year wonder in college. What a year it was (1,260 yards, nine touchdowns). If cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are off the board, there's a major possibility Thomas will be a Bill. (For more read: http://buf.scout.com/2/742117.html)
Free agent: Marlon McCree, S
Date Visited: March 3
New Team: Denver (one-year, $2 million)
Disappointment Meter: 6.0
Analysis: Almost too good to be true. A reunion. An apprenticeship. A playmaker. All rolled up into one integral, yet cheap signing. And no dice. Buffalo's defensive coordinator Perry Fewell coached the former San Diego safety in Jacksonville, and McCree lauded their relationship (and Buffalo's defensive scheme). Rising third-year starter Ko Simpson, fresh off of a season-ending broken ankle injury, could use the tutorship of a veteran to clean up his raw skills. And there's McCree himself, an above-average journeyman who has taken the hard road to the top as a former seventh round pick. In eight seasons, mostly as a starter, McCree totaled 42 pass breakups, 16 interceptions and 421 tackles. After a productive visit to One Bills Drive, however, McCree stopped by Mile High and was sold. He'll battle with fellow veteran Marquand Manuel for a starting spot.
The Next Move: Missing out on McCree hurts. Obviously, the prospect of a training camp battle against the on-his-last-lifeline Manuel looked a ton better than a young Simpson. If Simpson struggles coming back from the ankle ailment, missing out on McCree will sting. With Donte Whitner entrenched as one starter, Buffalo did re-sign Bryan Scott, and the duo of George Wilson and John Wendling is packed with promise. Regardless, there's something to be said for seven years of experience in an ultra-green defensive backfield.
Free agent: Ben Troupe, TE
Date Visited: March 4
New Team: Tampa Bay (two-year deal)
Disappointment Meter: 6.0
Analysis: The Bills visited with Courtney Anderson one day after Troupe, and signed the former Raider after Troupe went to Tampa Bay. Landing Troupe would have been a much bigger signing. Troupe isn't a sure thing, but he has much more upside than Anderson. For a 6-foot-4, 270-pound tight end, Troupe has athleticism that is hard to track in the open field. A one-dimensional pass-catcher, Troupe could have meshed well with Trent Edwards.The Next Move: Not a huge disappointment (Think '04 Week 17 loss to Pittsburgh's third-stringers, not '99 Music City Miracle) While Troupe trumps Anderson, Buffalo may find a better option in the draft. In the second round, the Bills could have their pick of a top-heavy tight end lot. Dustin Keller, Fred Davis or Martellus Bennett could each provide an instant upgrade over the Anderson-Robert Royal combo Buffalo currently has. Still, Troupe would have at least been an added weapon for an offense that desperately needs one.
Chris Carr with Oakland
Free agent: Chris Carr, CB/KR
Date Visited: March 20
New Team: Tennessee (one-year, $2 million)
Disappointment Meter: 6.5
Analysis: The rich could have got richer. Buffalo's return unit, that is. Already loaded with game-breaking talent in Terrance McGee and Roscoe Parrish, Carr could have been a third playmaker opponents would need to account for. In three seasons with the Raiders, Carr averaged 24.1 yards per kick return. It's not unusual for teams to boast a double-threat on kick returns. Last season, Houston used three returners (Andre Davis, Dexter Wynn and Jerome Mathis) and ranked second in the NFL in kick return yardage with 26.5. Carr's presence could've had an inadvertent effect on the Bills' 29th ranked pass defense also – even he was merely a dime corner. His presence on returns would alleviate some of McGee's overtime work, allowing Buffalo's top corner to be a tad fresher at corner. All at a relatively cheap price. Instead this return threat winded up on a kick return unit Buffalo fans are far too familiar with…the Titans.
The Next Move: The Bills' special teams unit is the least of their concerns. If McKelvin or Rodgers-Cromartie is picked at No. 11, Buffalo may toy with either of them in the return game – where both flourished in college.
Free agent: James Hall, DE
Date Visited: March 13
New Team: St. Louis (two-years, $3 million, re-signed with same team)
Disappointment Meter: 6.5
Analysis: Buffalo saw the possibilities firsthand, twice. Two years ago, Hall sacked Buffalo's J.P. Losman three times. And in 2004, then-Detroit defensive coordinator (and current Bills head coach) Dick Jauron utilized Hall brilliantly, as the defensive end had a career-high 11.5 sacks. While he isn't quite Deacon Jones, the eight-year veteran Hall could have been a welcome third-down, situational pass rusher for the Bills. Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay combined for only nine sacks last season as the common scapegoats for Buffalo's defense 31st ranked defense. Hall isn't the same player he was in '04 – he's missed 10 games the past two seasons – but in Buffalo he may have prospered under Jauron.
The Next Move: Draft a speed rusher. They're hard to find. General Managers rely on scouts to uncover freakish, hybrid Division II sack specialists. It's difficult to tell if there is one in this draft, but Georgia's Marcus Howard would be a fun project to inherit.
What it all means...
Each of the five players Buffalo whiffed on signed miniscule, rental-like contracts. They were more like opportunities, than rewards. The Bills cautiously chose to avoid such tender deals, outside of William James. In the present, the failure to sign Hall, Johnson, Troupe, Carr or McCree will be felt in the draft. Without the free agent signings, Buffalo must fill many needs its picks may not be able to suffice. In the future, it also could backfire. If one of the five near-signs breaks through in '08, the Bills will regret not being more aggressive financially.
Tyler Dunne is the Publisher of the Buffalo Football Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org