The Bills hit next week's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis with two new staff additions who can really use the time to get up to speed with what coach Dick Jauron wants.
Buddy Nix, who was Buffalo's SEC scout from 1993-2000 and had a very good track record, has rejoined the team as a national scout after ending a brief retirement. He spent the 2001-2007 seasons with the San Diego Chargers as former Bill scouting guru A.J. Smith's right-hand man.
Defensive line coach Bob Sanders, meanwhile, takes over for Bill Kollar. He was Green Bay's defensive coordinator the past three seasons. He's been hired to help Buffalo's pass rush and Buffalo will be paying close attention to DE prospects like Texas' Brian Orakpo, Florida State's Everette Brown, LSU's Tyson Jackson and Penn State's Aaron Maybin. Each would project as good value with the 11th overall pick. Maybin is moving up a lot of draft boards.
TEAM NEEDS/OFFSEASON STRATEGY
Of Buffalo's 21 free agents, none can be considered an urgency to re-sign as a starter in 2009. Most will be evaluated by what they bring to the table as backups and special teams players.
CB Jabari Greer, an unrestricted free agent, watched rookie first-round pick Leodis McKelvin emerge at his starting right corner spot while he sat out the final six games of the 2008 season with a knee injury.
Perhaps Buffalo's most important free agent to re-sign is one that can't get away anyhow. RB Fred Jackson, who emerged as a strong No. 2 behind Marshawn Lynch, is an exclusive rights free agent. The Bills only need to tender him a one-deal at $460,000. He's hoping for a long-term contract and the Bills are open to talking.
TOP THREE TEAM NEEDS
1. Defensive end: Buffalo's anemic pass rush ranked 26th in large part to Pro Bowler Aaron Schobel missing 11 games with a foot injury. With no guarantee he'll ever regain his past form, the Bills need to shop for their next great end.
2. Wide receiver: The Bills collected just nine TDs from their wide receivers and rookie James Hardy will be coming off major knee surgery. The team can no longer ignore getting some help for Trent Edwards and Lee Evans, preferably through free agency.
3. Offensive center: Veteran Melvin Fowler hit the wall and was benched the final 11 games in favor of Duke Preston. The team needs a dominant force in the middle. It's been a long time since Kent Hull played.
MEDICAL WATCH: Surgery has been ruled out for DE Aaron Schobel, who is recovering from a Lisfranc foot injury. Schobel was recently put through a workout by team trainers where he tested his foot and X-rays showed proper healing is taking place, he told buffalobills.com.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--OL Kirk Chambers appeared in all 16 games with four starts and has become a valued backup. Bills will make an honest effort to bring him back.
--OLB Angelo Crowell, a three-year starter from 2005-07, is eager to re-sign after losing all of last year to a serious knee injury. If Bills rule him healthy, they'd likely bring him back so they can address other needs.
--C Melvin Fowler lost his starting job to Duke Preston and won't return.
--CB Jabari Greer, the former undrafted free agent, will be looking to test the market. Bills are in a favorable situation with last year's No. 1 pick, Leodis McKelvin, performing well and slated to start in '09.
--LB Teddy Lehman was added to roster late in the year. Could re-sign as a depth player.
--QB J.P. Losman, the former first-round pick and starter, has thrown his last pass in a Bills uniform unless something drastic materializes.
--FB Corey McIntyre was an OK player as team's lead blocker when used. Will re-sign but on Buffalo's terms.
--C Duke Preston started the final 11 games and didn't do badly. The team will work diligently to bring him back as an important depth player and possible starter if an upgrade isn't found.
--OL Jason Whittle, the team's oldest player at 33, appeared in nine games with two starts at right guard. He's a rugged player with some versatility. Bills will look to bring him back if the price is right and he still wants to play.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--LB John DiGiorgio is an important backup. He missed 10 games with a knee injury.
--LB Keith Ellison has made 30 starts in three seasons, all in an emergency role. While undersized as a starter, he was fifth in tackles last year with 82 and Bills will tender him to make certain he's part of their depth rotation.
--S Dustin Fox was a late-season roster addition.
--QB Gibran Hamdan should return in the No. 3 role again.
--WR Justin Jenkins played well on special teams.
--S George Wilson, a converted WR, was a valuable backup and special teams leader. He had 11 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries and is a priority to re-sign.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--QB Matt Baker was placed on IR coming out of camp. Could re-sign as a camp arm.
--DE Copeland Bryan emerged as a decent backup with 14 tackles and a sack.
--LB Blake Costanzo will be in line for more job security after making 53-man roster out of tiny Lafayette College and leading Bills in special teams tackles with 26.
--RB Fred Jackson is in line for a long-term deal after emerging as explosive No. 2 back. He rushed for 571 yards and three TDs while catching 37 passes for 317 yards.
--LS Ryan Neill completed his second full season at long-snapper, appearing in all 16 games.
--TE Derek Schouman, a second-year pro, earned 12 starts and caught 15 passes.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: None.
--WR P.K. Sam: FA CFL; terms unknown.
PLAYERS LOST: None.