Buffalo may have caught a huge break Friday. After the Bills coasted through free agency and the draft without signing a playmaking linebacker to buoy next to Paul Posluszny and Kawika Mitchell, an instant cure has suddenly blipped onto the radar.
St. Louis just released Pisa Tinoisamoa – one of the best defensive players nobody's heard of. The veteran linebacker led the rebuilding Rams with 135 tackles last year.
New head coach Steve Spagnuolo didn't provide any detailed reasons for the release, simply citing that there were "a lot of factors." Unless there's some sort of behind-the-scenes, 24-esque subplot being internalized, Spagnuolo is probably just embracing a start-from-scratch youth movement. Cleanse the veterans (Orlando Pace and Torry Holt were also released) and start second-round pick James Laurinaitis immediately. Spagnuola, billed as a defensive innovate, surely wants to construct the Rams' ‘D' in his vision.
No problem here. One team's trash should be another team's treasure.
While the Bills did a standup job fortifying their interior offensive line and adding some bite to the pass rush, one need was ignored in this year's draft: linebacker. Oklahoma's Nic Harris will be a fun long-term project, but he's not ready yet. The Bills should pounce on Tinoisamoa. Now.
Granted, Buffalo will be somewhat weary. Look for the front office to cautiously monitor Tinoisamoa's market value over the next few days. If the price tag doesn't spike too high, though, it'd be a keynote signing for a turbulent off-season. Pat Thomas and Keith Ellison are not game-changers, not dependable, not guys that will contain the likes of Tom Brady, the Wildcat offense or Mark Sanchez at all. Both would be weak links on Buffalo's young defense, stop gaps at best.
After the Bills bypassed on Cato June, who signed a one-year, $1.5 trial run with the Houston Texans, jumping at (or at least exploring) Tinoisamoa is a necessity. Posluszny and Mitchell are fresh off of productive seasons, but need a stable third ‘backer to truly break out. Buffalo's rush defense was 22nd in the NFL last season, in large part to Angelo Crowell's absence. Nothing was accomplished to remedy the situation this spring. After letting Crowell walk, Buffalo sifted through the bargain bin for Kansas City's Thomas. The footnote signing didn't exactly cue "Shout!" in the homes of fans. Thomas will be a special-teamer at best. Anything more is wishful thinking. In nine starts for the Chiefs last season, Thomas showed little.
Buffalo's defense needs a rock, a Tinoisamoa. It's an auction worth bidding in.
Because if not, the New England Patriots (like they always do) will swoop in. The Boston Globe mentioned that the Patriots may be interested in Tinoisamoa. Do not expect such a hot commodity to stay on the market for long. If the Bills plan on barking with the big dogs in the AFC, then half-hearted free-agent signings need to stop.
Outside of Terrell Owens, the Bills settled with second-tier free agents across the board.
Buffalo chose Drayton Florence over Jabari Greer, Geoff Hangartner over Jason Brown and Ryan Fitzpatrick over Jeff Garcia (or any veteran to boil Trent Edwards' seat). Financially, the decisions make sense. Hangartner is a step up from Duke Preston and he isn't breaking the bank. But teams that lose eight of their last 10 games can't settle for Ibuprofen. They need surgery.
It's the eleventh hour now. There aren't many starter-worthy linebackers still available. At 36 years old, Derrick Brooks doesn't have much to offer and beyond that it's simply a bundle of Pat Thomases.
Tinoisamoa would be the marquee addition this off-season and this defense need for the Bills to seriously contend in 2009.