What Now? Bills still have work to do

Signing Terrell Owens addressed Buffalo's No. 1 need, but the team still has holes to fill. Extending Fred Jackson's contract, signing Cato June and adding an offensive lineman are good places to start, BFR's Tyler Dunne says...

One surreal Saturday, epic YouTube clip and jersey swap later, Terrell Owens is a Bill.

By now, the parties on Chippewa Street and gushing call-ins to radio shows should finally be settling down.

The offense found a physical yin to Lee Evans' yang. Of course, Orchard Park could erode into Amsterdam. – T.O. has such a culture-killing effect. But on the chalkboard, Buffalo addressed its No. 1 need this off-season. You can kiss Trent Edwards' ball-patting goodbye. Owens takes heat of Evans, allows Josh Reed to move to the slot and eliminates the eight-man boxes that stuffed the rushing game.

Now what?

It's been all quiet on the eastern front for more than a week. The Bills still have pressing needs at tight end, defensive end, outside linebacker and all along the offensive line. The NFL Draft alone cannot suffice all of Buffalo's immediate defects. A handful of above-average free agents are still available and the Bills (like many teams) have cash to spend.

Here are a few steps the Bills should take next:

1. Reward Fred Jackson

Buffalo hasn't cultivated much talent this decade. Draft flops and free-agent busts have dragged the franchise to new lows.

Fred Jackson is the exception. In Jackson, the Bills finally uncovered a gem. He got to the NFL the hard way, on back country roads instead of I-90. After two seasons worth of seizing every opportunity thrown his way, Jackson deserves a multi-year extension.

Rewarding Jackson reverberates a positive message throughout the locker room that management will "take care of" players that perform. Last year's extensions to Kyle Williams and Brad Butler suggested that Russ Brandon was in tune with the philosophy of locking up core players before they hit the market. No difference here. Jackson rushed for 4.4 yards per carry last year, often showing much more punch and assertiveness than Marshawn Lynch. With New England stacking everyone except the towel boy into the box in violent high-speed winds, Jackson grinded out more than 100 yards in one half.

It's awfully easy for the Bills to sit on the exclusive right's $460,000 qualifying offer to Jackson.

But after failing to reel in any big names this spring to multi-year deals, why not lock up Jackson? By extending their do-it-all back to a four-year, $20 million type of deal, the Bills take a Pioli-like step forward. The Patriots exemplify the power of rewarding your employees.Players in New England are paid on performance, and mutual respect reigns.

What kind of message are you sending by signing DeShaun Foster to a $1 million or $2 million per season to be the 3-carry-per-game third-stringer? Unless Buffalo is seeking to deal Jackson or Marshawn Lynch, such a maneuver makes little sense. Jackson's current tender is borderline insulting. The offense's best pure playmaker from last season shouldn't be the 42nd highest paid player on the team.

The Bills haven't negotiated with Jackson since free agency began. It's time for the front office to give Jackson's camp a call.

2. Sign June

Cato June is in a pickle. The free agent linebacker holds barely any leverage. His style of play only fits into a Tampa 2 scheme. June is not in high demand, thus the lull since he visited Buffalo.

The Bills are probably letting June realize the predicament he's in so he'll lower his asking price. And then – presumably – they'd pounce.

The sign-on-the-dotted-line pounce should be upon us soon.

June injects a playmaking flavor to the Bills' budding linebacker corps. Angelo Crowell is visiting with Buffalo Monday to discuss a possible return, but look for him to head to Tampa Bay. According to NFL.com's Steve Wyche, Crowell has already begun preliminary contract talks with the Buccaneers.

June, a former safety, doesn't have many options but Buffalo shouldn't bully him into a cheap contract. Sign him. Plug him next to Paul Posluszny and Kawika Mitchell. And take a sigh of relief. With this trio and John DiGiorgio as a backup/special teams ace, Buffalo's linebacker grouping is suddenly among the AFC's best.

In 2005, June made the Pro Bowl with five interceptions (two for touchdowns) and the next season he had 143 tackles on Indianapolis' Super Bowl team.

"A lot of the same terminology, a lot of the same schemes and it's really about, kind of like I said when I went from Indy to Tampa, it's about fitting in with the players that they have here," June said on his visit March 4.

3. Add another veteran to the offensive line

Geoff Hangartner should be an instant upgrade over Duke Preston at center. The move was inevitable considering the Bills were 0-8 against the 3-4 defenses of the AFC East. Hangartner was Carolina's top backup, playing extensively the past two seasons. He can swing at guard also, which is encouraging after Derrick Dockery was released.

Yes, Hangartner showed promise in his eight starts last season, but is he the cure-all force this line needs? No.

Since the Bills cannot draft both Everette Brown andMichael Oher in April, the team needs to find a starter on the line or at defensive end right now. This past weekend, our own Pat Moran reported that Buffalo may be interested in San Diego's Mike Goff.

Goff, 33, could be a serviceable bridge on the offensive line. He has suffered chronic knee paid and is on the decline of his career but Goff would be an upgrade over the underachieving Dockery. He was a key cog on the lines that lifted LaDainian Tomlinson to new orbits this decade. A new scenery could rejuvenate Goff in his 12th season.

Other veteran guards still on the market include Kendall Simmons, Pete Kendall and Harvey Dahl. Not exactly a list of main entrees on the menu. But fresh faces nonetheless.

In retrospect, the Bills should have dove head-first into rebuilding on the offensive line. Rather than settling with Hangartner, why not unload an impossible-to-refuse contract to Jason Brown, Stacey Andrews or Tra Thomas? Trade Jason Peters for a handful of picks and move on with a new-look line. No starting left tackle in the NFL gave up more sacks that Peters last season (13.5). The last thing he needs is the richest contract ever for an offensive lineman.

Buffalo's current front five isn't much different from the unit that was rag-dolled in the heart of the team's schedule. While management can't re-trace its steps for an A-prime UFA, adding a veteran like Goff is a small step forward. He could bridge the development of a rookie such as Oregon State's Andy Levitre.

In short, the draft could buoy starters at defensive end and tight end, but the Bills must replenish the offensive line and add a linebacker beforehand.


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