BILLS: Turning Things Around In The East

Are the Buffalo Bills doing enough to make them contenders in the AFC East? Free agent signings, building a defense and stocking up for the Draft could be enough to knock off the Jets and Dolphins, but can they topple the Patriots too?

Bills Team Report Sports Xchange Last week after the Bills shocked the NFL by landing free-agent defensive end Mario Williams, ESPN analyst Bill Polian surmised that it could pave the way for other free agents to take Buffalo more seriously when their phones ring.

   "There'll be other people interested in playing with Mario," said Polian, the former Buffalo and Indianapolis personnel king.

   He was right.

   On the heels of Williams' signing, Buffalo added a bookend for their now very formidable defensive front with the addition March 21 of fellow five-year veteran Mark Anderson.

   The addition of Anderson was significant for the Bills because it not only gives them a proven commodity opposite Williams, it kept him away from AFC rivals New England, Miami and Baltimore which also coveted Anderson's services.

   Anderson recorded 10 sacks for the Patriots last year and the Patriots desired him back, but not for an overly rich deal for what to them was not an every-down player. Buffalo's deal: four years, $27.5 million with $8 million in guarantees.

   It was another coup for general manager Buddy Nix, who had the luxury of nearly $38 million in cap cash space to play with when free agency started on March 13 and he has used it wisely.

   Improving the pass rush was the No. 1 offseason priority for Buffalo, which last season recorded a measly 29 sacks.

   "It really is a big deal for us and an exciting time," Nix said. "We think this (Anderson's signing) made us a lot better. This guy's about as productive as anybody around for the number of snaps he played. He's been in rotation some but he's a pass rusher. He's had a lot of visits and a lot of offers and I think he made his choice because he wants to put his hand on the ground and rush the passer and that's what we're looking for."

   Indeed, the lure of playing in Dave Wannstedt's defensive-end friendly 4-3 scheme and the chance to play with Williams were two big factors in Anderson's decision.

   "He played a big part but I knew Mario in Houston. I knew the type of guy he was. He played a big part," said Anderson, who played part of the 2010 NFL season with the Texans. "The whole defensive line played a big part, the coaching staff and the team. I've seen how hard the team worked last year. They were close. They had a few injuries along the way. Everyone seems like they're back and ready to go. I'm just happy to be part of this organization."

   In Williams and Anderson, the Bills have their best bookend defensive ends since Bruce Smith and Phil Hansen on paper.

   A fifth-round pick of Chicago's in 2006 out of Alabama, Anderson had a stellar rookie campaign with 12 sacks but managed just 9.5 over the next three seasons for the Bears. He finished the 2010 season with Houston as a teammate of Williams.

   He resurrected his career with Bill Belichick and the Patriots last season, recording 10.0 sacks and 28 tackles as a passing down specialist. He added 2.5 sacks in the playoffs. The Bills think Anderson can be an every-down player. His signing puts into question the future roles of Chris Kelsay and Shawne Merriman.

   "I was given the opportunity to take on that starting role and to get more reps, and to be more productive on the field," Anderson said of parlaying last season's Super Bowl run with the Patriots into a big contract. "I was just blessed that I was put in a great situation. I made sure that when I stepped on the field that I made the most of every opportunity. That's what I'm planning to do coming to Buffalo."

   Like Williams, Anderson was attracted by Buffalo's collegial feel.

   "When you think of Buffalo you think of a nice, small blue-collar town," he said. "The fans are great. When I was waiting at the airport I had fans coming up to me, a lot of fans with Buffalo Bills hats. A lot of them came up to me and asked about my free-agent visit. I thought that was amazing that they keep up with everything that goes on around the league with this organization. I just love the whole college atmosphere and I feel that it's what you need. You need that type of support in order to be successful in this league."

   Well, it can't hurt but it also hasn't seemed to help.

   The Bills have missed the playoffs 12 consecutive seasons, the past two under Nix and coach Chan Gailey. But landing Williams and Anderson has erased the team's image as a football wasteland.

   His first two years on the job Nix was quiet in free agency. But he said that was mostly because he wasn't thrilled of who was available then.

   "I'll say this to you: the reason we're doing more now is the guys that we like that are out there," he said. "There's been some guys that just didn't fit in free agency (in the past), some older guys whose careers were on the decline and that's not the market we're in. We're in (for) these young guys that are on the rise. And I think that's part of the reason for this year being like it is."

Bills already reaping benefits of Williams signing

   --Giving free-agent defensive end Mario Williams a six-year, $96 million contract, richest for a defender in NFL history, was jaw-dropping on the surface. But the Bills are already reaping the benefits, some that a price can't be affixed to. According to chief executive officer Russ Brandon, the team sold 1,400 new season tickets and renewed 4,000 season tickets in the days following Williams' signing. Meanwhile, nearly three million page views were registered on the team's website (, more than 3,700 fans on Facebook signed up to win a Williams autographed football and 6,000 signed up to purchase for a Mario No. 90 jersey.

   "It's been an exciting week for our organization and Bills fans everywhere," Brandon said. "The recent increase in new season ticket sales and ticket renewals along with the traffic numbers on our social media platforms continues to highlight the passion of our fan base."

   --Williams will earn $24.9 million in actual cash payouts from the Bills in 2012, the Buffalo News reported. That's $5.9 million in base salary and $19 million in a signing bonus, part of a total six-year, $100 million package. Owner Ralph Wilson, 93, told the paper the time was right again to do whatever it takes to win.

   "I'd like to see us make the playoffs and possibly the Super Bowl while I'm around," Wilson said. "I don't expect to be around that many years. ... We owe it to Buffalo, the fans in western New York and everybody to make the move. And let's get going."

   What about giving general manager Buddy Nix a green light to spend? The team has been very active in free agency and in signing their own free agents this offseason. "I didn't give a darn about the money," Wilson said. "I can't take the money with me."

   --Wide receiver Derek Hagan, one of the team's remaining unrestricted free agents, was re-signed to a one-year, $765,000 deal. Hagan began last season with Oakland and joined the Bills in late November as an emergency replacement when injuries hit the receiving position hard. In the season-finale against New England, Hagan caught seven passes for 89 yards. Hagan brings good size (6-2, 215) to the position and will compete for a backup spot.

   --Former Bills defensive end Aaron Schobel is rumored to be mulling a comeback. Would it be with the Bills? No, said Nix.

   "Absolutely not, no. Playing with us? No," said Nix who tried unsuccessfully to keep Schobel from retiring after he became general manager in 2010. "He's retired I know. Where is this coming from?" Schobel, the Bills No. 2 career sack leader, is 34. One obvious suitor could be Jacksonville, now coached by ex-Bills head coach Mike Mularkey whom Schobel played for.

   --News that the Denver Broncos were going to deal quarterback Tim Tebow after acquiring future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning caused a stir in Buffalo, where not everyone is sold on Ryan Fitzpatrick. But using one poll as a gauge, fans are happy the Bills weren't in the running. The fan website posed the question: "Should the Bills trade for Tim Tebow?" Of 5,791 responses, 63 percent (3,685) said no, 30 percent (1,793) said yes and 5 percent (313) was undecided.

   QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I was pretty much told, which it is what it is, there's 11 guys on the football field and regardless of who you are, regardless of what you've done, you're not going to do it alone. I'm sure we're obviously going to add more pieces to this puzzle and I was just reassured no matter what happens don't think that you have to do all this. I can't throw and catch the football at the same time, I can't sack the quarterback and catch an interception at the same time. The biggest thing is we as a TEAM, as brothers, we have to be all on one accord and we have to all have the same mentality, the same desire. So, I think the biggest thing with me coming here, you know I'm not a vocal guy, I go out there and I play and my biggest thing is to have everybody put everybody else on the same standard and level and continue to grow and continue to get better." - New Bills DE Mario Williams.

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