Ralph Wilson has never been one for his political correctness. What with talking half-singing a song about "changes" before firing G.M. Tom Donahoe and his numbing skepticism about the team's future in Buffalo. The Bills' owner does not mince words for fans' pleasure like most other owners.
Well folks, he's at it again.
This week it was reported that Wilson blamed Buffalo's plunge in the standings to a lack of talent. Soon after, players refuted his claim, pointing to the 4-0 start among other things. The 90-year-old Wilson may seem to age hourly, but he's still sharp as a tack. Wilson couldn't be more right. The Bills are not talented. Forget that 4-0 start. That was an extended preseason against four putrid football teams that'd struggle against Tim Tebow's Gators. Seattle, Jacksonville, St. Louis and Oakland are now a combined 11-41. Any success the Bills have had this year has been a mirage.
This current roster – the one with loaded contracts along below-par lines, uncertainty at quarterback, scraps at receiver and inconsistency in the secondary – is not good enough to compete in the near future. Anything short of full-scale rebuilding this offseason would be a Frank Wycheck-sized disappointment. Salvage last offseason as a start. Marcus Stroud, Kawika Mitchell and Leodis McKelvin are keepers.
Now, Buffalo must get offensive. Here's guessing that offensive coordinator Turk Schonert is scapegoated for what will probably be a 6-10 season. Wilson's jabs at the team's talent hint that head coach Dick Jauron is not the problem, rather his personnel. Of course, Jauron's a big part of the problem. That's undebatable. But look for Wilson and chief operating officer Russ Brandon to veer blame to Schonert. Every implosion needs a whipping boy.
This is the problem, they'll say. Not the defense that's held San Francisco and Miami to two touchdowns. The offense that has made Travis Brown and Shawn Bryant seem like formidable starters. If Jauron was on the verge of extinction at One Bills Drive, Wilson would have tipped it off somehow.
Dumping Schonert is all fine and dandy but it's not the solution. The problem is who is on the field. Brandon has some serious look-in-the-mirror soul-searching to do with this team.
Is Trent Edwards the franchise quarterback?
Does Jason Peters deserve the contract raise he craves?
Who on earth will ever fulfill the No. 2 WR role on this team?
How can the Bills schematically prepare for 3-4 defenses --- the alignment that essentially doomed Buffalo's season?
Let's hope the answers are not: ‘of course'… ‘yes'… ‘James Hardy'… and… ‘we just need to block better.'
The Bills must take new, defiant stands on at least three of these four critical issues. Rebuilding is nothing new in Buffalo, but that's the NFL. The Bills cannot remain stagnant with a team that would've won two games with a tougher schedule. Game-planning for the Bills last season was elementary addition and subtraction because of Steve Fairchild's run-run-pass rhythm. Game-planning for the Bills this season has been just as easy because Buffalo has no weapons worth shading attention to.
Why stack the box when the Bills can't block? Why creep a safety toward Lee Evans when nobody will stretch the ball to him? Why do anything outside of your base defense?
The Bills need playmakers the worst way. Brandon envisioned a team that wins in the trenches, he's the built this roster inside-out. His commitment's been bold. A seven-year, $50.5 contract to Aaron Schobel. A four-year, $23 million to Chris Kelsay. A seven-year, $49 million deal to Derrick Dockery. (Have a trash can nearby?) Inheriting Marcus Stroud's five-year, $31 million deal. A five-year, $25 million ‘huh?' to Langston Walker. A three-year, $8.8 million coddle to Brad Butler. A five-year, $14.5 million ‘thank you' to Kyle Williams.
All of this in a span of two years.
And what does management have to show for it?
An offensive line ‘anchoring' the 21st best rushing game. A defensive line allowing 110 yards per game (17th). A pass rush (if you want to call it that) that has totaled 22 sacks, good for 25th in the league. Schobel can't stay healthy or get to the quarterback. An out-of-shape Peters has been bull-rushed against opposing speed rushers. Dockery and Walker? Woefully average. Kelsay? A fringe rotation player starting at end. Butler and Williams? Eh.
Buffalo's big-money players on the line have been letdowns this season.
It's all been one massive pork-barrel project.
While overspending on mediocrity, the Bills disregarded the skill-position players on offense. This offseason, the Bills need to rip up contracts where they can to clear up cap space. With more teams giving players extensions internally before their contracts expire, the pickings will be slim in March --- all the more incentive that the Bills must be proactive. There is some star power.
MVP-candidate Kurt Warner and rising star Matt Cassel headline the quarterback class. T.J. Houshmandzadeh will be eyeing an escape from The Jungle of Hell in Cincinnati. Tampa Bay's Antonio Bryant may have earned himself a hefty pay raise after his 200-yard outburst last week. Tight ends Owen Daniels (56 rec., 673 yards, 2 TD) and Bo Scaife (50 rec., 517 yards, 2 TD) will be available. Outside of this, Buffalo would be settling B-List free agents a la Nate Washington, Bobby Engram, Bryant Johnson, Hank Baskett, Rex Grossman and Leonard Pope.
The Bills must pinpoint a stud (like Cassell, like Houshmandzadeh, like Daniels) and pounce when the clock turns at midnight Feb. 27. If not, we'll see another season of Josh Reed failing to get separation, tight ends disappearing in the red zone and quarterbacks failing to lead the offense.
As Ralph says, the players are the problem.