Desperate for a veteran receiver to complement No. 1 target Lee Evans and needing to spark interest in a team that has missed the playoffs nine consecutive seasons, the Bills moved quickly to sign Owens, released by Dallas. The move stopped a discouraging trend in which the Bills failed to land running back Fred Taylor and wide receiver Laveranues Coles, two veteran leaders who also would've assisted young quarterback Trent Edwards' development.
But signing Owens to a one-year deal worth $6.5 million changed everything.
The colorful and controversial Owens has worn out welcomes with San Francisco, Philadelphia and Dallas, but Buffalo isn't worried about locker room chemistry because, frankly, there isn't much of that after finishing with a 7-9 record three consecutive seasons.
He's 35 but still regarded among the NFL's elite receivers and he will open up Buffalo's stagnant offense that finished 25th in yardage last season and has finished in the bottom eight in yardage six consecutive years.
On the NFL's career lists, Owens is No. 2 in touchdowns (139), No. 6 in catches (951) and No. 5 in yards (14,122).
"We told fans at the conclusion of last season we needed to win more games," Bills COO Russ Brandon said. "We needed to take it up a notch. We took it up a notch by adding a player like this."
And it may not even have happened had the Bills signed Coles, a proven nine-year veteran with the New York Jets who would've been a perfect fit as an outside Evans and a lot less of a distraction. With young James Hardy coming off ACL surgery, the Bills couldn't afford not to upgrade their receivers.
Fitzpatrick, who started 13 games for the Bengals last year, will replace J.P. Losman (free agent) as Edwards' primary back up but the signing is peculiar. He's less than a year older than Edwards, has started fewer total games and is just 4-10-1 as a starter, not exactly prime insurance.
Florence, a hot commodity a year ago until his career fizzled in Jacksonville, replaces Jabari Greer (New Orleans) and will push last year's first-round pick Leodis McKelvin for the starting right corner job, and add to the candidate mix at nickel.
Hangartner will replace Melvin Fowler and Duke Preston, who split the center duties a year ago. Playing in a division dominated by 3-4 nose tackles that gave them all kinds of fits last year in compiling an 0-6 record against the Jets, Dolphins and Patriots, the Bills were seeking a center who could hold his ground.
Hangartner, 6-feet-5, 301 pounds, was part of a Carolina line that set team records for rushing yards and fewest sacks allowed. He has started 27 NFL games and appeared in 54.
"There are some great nose guards in this division, but it's a challenge I'm looking forward to," he said.Hangartner's deal is four years in length worth $9.6 million in base salary. The Bills clearly were skittish about signing a big-money lineman after getting burned in the seven-year, $49 million contract they handed Derrick Dockery three years ago.
Dockery was released on the eve of free agency, only to re-sign with his old team, the Washington Redskins, for five years and $26.5 million.
Also released was tight end Robert Royal, a position the Bills are likely to address in the draft, possibly with the 11th overall pick.
Of their own unrestricted free agents, tackle Kirk Chambers was an important re-signing for depth purposes on a line suddenly thin on bodies.
The Sports Xchange
Bills COO/GM Russ Brandon
On how the deal transpired:
It moved fast. When you have the opportunity to go after one of the top receivers in league history, one of the premier playmakers, as I mentioned earlier, you need to start quick. Fortunately for us, our good friend Gerry Buchheit flew us down to Miami this morning and we picked up T.O. and Drew and we came back and John Guy went down with us and spent a great day with each other.
Mr. Wilson, as you know, everything we do, we do as a partnership within this organization. The leader of the organization is Ralph Wilson, our Hall of Fame owner, and it's great to say "Hall-of-Fame" owner. He gives us the resources to be successful. And when you have the opportunity, like I mentioned earlier, to bring in a player of this stature, and as we told the fans at the conclusion of this season, we needed to win more games, we needed to take it up a notch, we took it up a notch today by adding a player like this.
On if Owens' history gives him any concern about the move:
Our focus is on winning football games and the production, and everything that goes with that and that speaks for itself, so just the thought of what our receiving corps looks like right now and what our offense can be with Trent Edwards, is really exciting for all of us.
On having a need to win and acquiring an elite receiver:
Well, when you have Terrell, I keep repeating myself, but when an opportunity like this arises, you'd better be able to strike quickly, and when we went into our offseason plan, we went in with a very strategic vision like we did the last couple years and how we wanted to make this team better. And one of thoughts in our planning was to bring a playmaker in and we obviously obtained one of the best playmakers in the history of this game.-----
Agent Drew Rosenhaus
On getting a deal done quickly:
You know, when you are fortunate enough to work with a future Hall of Famer like Terrell, you would expect to get it done fast because a player like this will not stay on the open market. I figured as fast as he can run is as fast as fast as we would get signed, and that's fast.
On if his relationship with the Bills was helpful:
I have a great deal of respect for Ralph Wilson and I told Terrell today he was very happy for him, that he would have an opportunity in his career to play for a Hall of Fame owner. I think Ralph Wilson is a pioneer in this game. It's a privilege to deal with him. I enjoy working with Russ, with Jim Overdorf, with John Guy, these are first-class people. I'm very impressed with the Bills organization and I told Terrell that I think he is going to be very happy here.
On if the deal was struck in Miami:
No, it worked out here. Terrell and I did some soul-searching after he had a chance to meet with all of the coaches, who did a fantastic job in getting to meet with everyone in the organization. We took our time with this and this is something that he prayed on. He spoke with a lot of the key family and friends and it was really a no-brainer.
We have you covered through Owens Fever!Say It Isn't So, Mr. Wilson!