Help Wanted: Part I

Ralph Wilson says Buffalo's problem is talent, not coaching. Therefore, you'd expect the Bills to be big players in free agency. Over a 3-part series the BFR will examine some possible free agent targets. Today's focus is on a wide receiver that was nearly signed last year and a clutch kicker the team definitely could've used in '08...

Bryant Johnson fills No. 2 need

Let's be honest: Bryant Johnson should be a Buffalo Bill right now. In the 2007 offseason, Bills fans were elated to hear that the then-Arizona Cardinals receiver had reached an agreement to catch balls at One Bills Drive. For years, the Bills had searched for a No. 2 wideout to complement the emerging Lee Evans. The list drags on --- an aging Eric Moulds, the seemingly overrated Peerless Price, and "Mr. Outlet" Josh Reed. None of them seemed to fill the shoes as Robin to Evans' Batman.

In 2008, Bryant Johnson was going to be that guy.


Bryant Johnson
Getty Images

However, those reports ended up being false and Johnson found himself gold-digging in the California Bay Area as a San Francisco 49er. He signed a one year, $2 million contract much to the chagrin of Western New York.

A year has gone by, and now is Bryant Johnson's chance to do what he should have done one year ago.

Johnson's contract with San Francisco is up, and he and the 49ers appear to be going in separate directions. Bills fans should be hopeful that Johnson's direction points him 3,000 miles east.

Outside of Lee Evans, the receiving core of the Buffalo Bills is like a bin full of recycled batteries. Sure, the Bills have that one charged, functioning battery (Evans), but all they need is that other functioning one to power up the Bills offense (the aforementioned Josh Reed, Steve Johnson, James Hardy work best in multi-receiver sets). Bryant Johnson can be that second AA that juices up the 25th ranked offense.

Granted, Johnson had what most pundits deemed as an "off year" in San Francisco. But if 45 grabs for 546 yards and 3 touchdowns is considered an "off-year," than he will be a great fit as No. 2 in Buffalo. For the two seasons that Trent Edwards has quarterbacked the Bills, the seven-year veteran Reed has been the Bills second leading receiver with 51 and 56 receptions, respectively. Josh Reed is one of the best slot receivers in the league, but he just doesn't have the skill set to be the No. 2 guy. With Johnson lined out wide, Reed can be a terror in the slot.

Johnson has good size (6-3, 211 lbs), experience (six years in league, five as number three receiver in Arizona behind Pro-Bowlers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald), and upside to be a 65+ catch per year receiver.

And his signing will only deepen the Bills receiving core. Lee Evans, Bryant Johnson, Josh Reed, Roscoe Parrish, and Steve Johnson could form a scary unit.

James Hardy would seem to be No. 2 wideout for the Bills at some point, but his ACL injury sets him back substantially after a dreadful rookie campaign. While he recovers and studies the playbook a little more, Bryant Johnson will be an extremely solid No. 2 and positive contributor for the playoff-aspiring Bills.

Rob Bironas has late-game foot the Bills lacked in '08

Place kickers are rarely, if ever, considered to be great off-season signings. This year, the Buffalo Bills can completely change that perception.

Tennessee's Rob Bironas, 30, is one of the best kickers in the NFL and will be an unrestricted free agent at season's end.

Let's face it: the current Bills kicker, Rian Lindell, is at best mediocre. Of all facets of Coach Bobby April's special teams squad, he is arguably the weakest link. He is usually automatic within 40 yards, but when the pressure builds and the limelight keys in on him, he simply cannot perform.


Rob Bironas
Getty Images

Case in point: Monday Night Football this past season. Down by two points to the Cleveland Browns, the Bills settle on the 30 yard line with all faith in their kicker to take the lead. The Bills, on a three game losing streak, desperate for a win to turn the season around, looked to Lindell to win the game. But Lindell did his best Scott Norwood impression. Wide right.

Simply put, the Bills need to go in a different direction in terms of the kicking game.

Bironas is one of the best kickers in the NFL. In his four years with the Titans, Bironas is 109-for-129.

Even more impressive is his ability in the clutch.

In his first three years, Bironas had six game-winning kicks. He can make a kick even when his heart beats a little faster. Rian Lindell, on the other hand, sometimes cannot. And ‘sometimes' is not a good word to describe your kicker.

And for the Bills, Bironas' price could be right. Last season, Bironas made right around $1.4 million. Rian Lindell made $1.5 million.

Now I know the terms "break the bank" and "NFL placekicker" will never be placed within the same sentence, at least in my lifetime, but the Bills should at least break the piggy bank on this one. Robbie Gould is the highest paid kicker in the NFL at $3.1 million per year. Bironas deserves a contract even above this.

Many games come down to the last kick, and you cannot put a price on two or three close wins decided by a kick within the last three minutes of a game. Think about it: the loss to the Browns. The 49ers game in which Lindell missed two field goals, one of which was 20 yards. Certainly, a winnable game.

Two or three games won by a kicker could get the Bills into the playoffs next year.

Don't get me wrong, Rian Lindell has been a great asset for the Buffalo Bills for the past six seasons. There just needs to be a changing of the guard. Rob Bironas is and will continue to be a great kicker in the National Football League --- one that wins games in the clutch.


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