(Update: BLD Staff Writer Joe Harris has added his thoughts to the roundtable. If you read this article before Joe put in his two cents, check it out again!)
It’s time for another edition of BLD Roundtable, where the staff here at BLD gives our take on the issues facing the Bills and the NFL. If you missed our first edition reviewing the NFL Draft, check it out here.
Question 1: So is this lockout ever going to end? Are we gonna see the NFL in 2011?
Josh Cortina, Staff Writer: Yes. Ever since I heard of the “secret negotiations” going on between some of the higher profile owners and the players reps, my hopes rose. Whenever you see two negotiating parties come together in this way, you have to think that they REALLY want to get a deal done, out of the spotlight of cameras and lawyers. It reduces postering and encourages progress. I think by the end of June, we’ll be good to go in to training camps and the lockout will be behind us.’
Josh Baker, Staff Writer: I have to believe that money will win out. The opportunity cost that teams and players would miss out on is too great. I think they’ll push it to early August, have two- three weeks of training camp and one- two preseason games and then begin the season on time. At this point the money issue is essentially the only issue left and has been for months. We have no information on how the few talks have gone and how close the two sides have come together. Money will win out.
Kevin Haley, Staff Writer: Yes, there will be football in 2011, there is too much money to be lost if the season is locked out. The NFL is the biggest thing in sports right now and they will not risk losing their position like baseball did with their strike back in the early 90’s. I don’t think baseball has ever fully recovered from that.
Brad Andrews, Editor: I’m actually really optimistic about this lockout being resolved fairly soon. Both sides postured big-time early, hoping for the other to cave. It didn’t happen. Now it’s deal-making time. I think the players are smart enough to realize they have had a pretty good deal for the last few CBAs and are ready to compromise a bit. The owners are smart enough not to kill a huge moneymaker like the NFL (which has only gotten more popular in recent years) over a few hundred million bucks. I think this will be done by early July.
Joe Harris, Staff Writer:Personally, I feel like it’s going to end about a week before August. As fans we don’t think much of the preseason cause of the normal ticket prices and diminished product, but the owners have another take. If the lockout proceeds past August 1st the owners miss out on $350 Million. If it proceeds through the post season, they would lose about $1 Billion. While the million might be scoffed at by some owners, that little switch of the M to a B, could give older owners a heart attack. This is the time in which the owners finally start seeing the repercussions of their actions, and I’m pretty sure they are going to cave before they let one dollar escape their clutches.
Question 2: Depending on how the post-lockout CBA shakes out, the Bills could have three pretty important free agents: Paul Posluszny, Drayton Florence, and Donte Whitner. Which of those guys should be Buffalo’s top re-signing priority?
Josh Cortina, Staff Writer: Poz, definitely. I didn’t realize it until I read the article about what a good tackler he was. With how weak our linebacking core is, I think it would set us back to not sign him. He needs to SERIOUSLY improve his coverage skills, but if we let him go, it’ll be just another hole to fill.
Sign Florence too. You can never have enough cornerbacks, and with the way McGee goes down to injury every year, having a solid veteran who knows the system is invaluable. Add the inconsistency of McKelvin and having to play against Tom Brady twice a year, and you have to try to lock Florence up for a few years.
Whitner is a tough one. I truely think he does not want to be in Buffalo. And for the price that he thinks he’s worth? No way. I love George Wilson and Byran Scott, and I think they are solid in the back field. Let some other team pay Witner. We don’t need him.
Josh Baker, Staff Writer: Drayton Florence is without a doubt the number one free agent the Bills need to sign. He’s made the big plays and deserves to be the #1 CB. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time and can keep up with the Brandon Marshalls of the NFL. I’m not saying that he should get his own island, but he is an essential piece in the Bills’ success in the secondary.
Kevin Haley, Staff Writer: Posluszny should be the Bills’ highest priority to resign, not because he is the best of the three players, but because the linebacking group is very thin. Personally I think Florence is more important to the team, but hopefully Aaron Williams makes him expendable.
Brad Andrews, Editor: I’d like to see all three back, but it depends on asking price. If Poz and Whitner want to be paid like elite guys…you have to let them walk. Poz is solid, and would probably look a lot better with better talent around him. But he’s no all-pro. Whitner thinks he’s a top-tier safety but is above-average at best. I think Florence is really important. He’s probably the only corner on the roster who isn’t a question mark. If I were to prioritize these guys, it’d go Florence, Poz, and then Whitner.
Joe Harris, Staff Writer: Well, Donte is last on that list for me. I would have rather traded him last year and seen the full potential of George Wilson than have him eat at the locker room with that crazy ego of his. Poz is my top guy because we need someone in the defense who has been a proven starter and can mentor Chris White and Kelvin Sheppard. Who is going to do that if he leaves, Shawn Merriman? Andre Davis might be that player, but I’d rather have that hard working Penn State attitude of Poz leading our young LBs.
Question 3: Speaking of free agency, assuming the lockout is resolved in time there could be a brief free agency period. The Bills obviously have some weak spots on the roster. Which positions (besides QB) could desperately use a free agent upgrade?
Josh Baker, Staff Writer: Tight end and offensive tackle. The TEs we have now provide marginal blocking ability and almost zero value in terms of picking up yards. I think we could get a productive solid all around veteran TE like Owen Daniels or Leonard Pope to give Fitz another weapon on the field.
OT has needed an upgrade for a long time now. I want the Bills to commit to making the offense work and to do that we need to give Fitz more than 1.7 seconds in the pocket to make the right decisions. Look for us to get a guy who is solid, but has fallen out of favor with his current team like Jermon Bushrod, Matt Light or Alex Barron.
Kevin Haley, Staff Writer: Outside LB. The Bills ignored this position throughout the entire 2011 draft, passing on quality players like Brooks Riley in the 2nd round (that still hurts me to say). Unfortunately there are no really standouts other than Lamar Woodley in this year’s class of free agents. And as well as Woodley has played over the past three seasons, double digit sacks each year, I question how much is he a product of the defensive system and the Dick LaBeau blitzing schemes. I think there is a solution for the RT position out there – and he may be flying under the radar – and that is Ryan Harris. Harris has played for the Broncos his whole career and has started opposite of Ryan Clady for much of it. He is athletic and has good technique.
Brad Andrews, Staff Writer: Buffalo’s tight ends are a mess. I’d be shocked not to see the Bills add someone there if at all possible. At other positions, a RT upgrade – especially with a proven guy like Ryan Harris – would be welcome. I’d actually like to see the Bills bring in one more CB, but I’m not sure if that’s in the cards.
Joe Harris, Staff Writer: I feel like the very obvious question to this is TE. Everyone says that the Chan offense has no need for a TE, it may not have a need, but it sure as heck would benefit from one. It would give CJ more room to operate and focus on being a play maker and not a pass protector. The top of the FA market is unfortunately Bo Scaife, while Zach Miller and Kevin Boss are both restricted. But a more realistic player who might be a Bill next year is Dan Fells. Heck, if he is a good enough TE for Beli-cheat then he is good enough for me.
Question 4: Obviously, with just two quarterbacks on the roster, Buffalo will be bringing in a free agent QB. Any guys you’d really like to see in a Bills uniform?
Josh Cortina, Staff Writer: I believe that your backup quarterback should be as similar to your starting quarterback as possible. That way, if your starter goes down, you might skip a beat in performance, but you won’t have to re-write your playbook. Think about if we had Kordell Stewart as our backup to Drew Bledsoe. Two completely different quarterbacks. It would be like restarting in the middle of the season because of an injury.
Picking up a QB in free agency this year should not be about the future. It should be a “just in case” clipboard holder. Someone who has some experience, isn’t anxious to prove themselves, and will be a solid starter in the case that Fitz goes down.
Josh Baker, Staff Writer: I think Billy Volek and Marc Bulger are interesting options, but it think the Bills should go steal the undrafted rookie Pat Devlin on the first day of free agency. Devlin is an underrated quarterback from a small conference who has all the physical gifts to succeed in the NFL. That’s what I would do, but watch for the bills to reunite Chan Gailey and Tyler Thigpen.
Kevin Haley, Staff Writer: I remember when Matt Leinart was there for the Bills in the draft and they passed on him how upset many Bills fans were. In retrospect Whitner was a better pick (although not Haloti Ngata). The Bills passed on Leinart then and should do the same again. I have always thought that Tarvaris Jackson could be a successful QB in the NFL, but he was never in a position to succeed with Favre in Minnesota, I would consider him. The guy who has always intrigued me was Dennis Dixon. He was a torn ACL away from finishing off an undefeated season and leading Oregon to playing for a National Championship. He would have likely won the Heisman that year as well. Now fully recovered he has the athletic ability to play but his delivery mechanics limit his downfield accuracy. He filled in well during the Big Ben suspension period earlier this past season.
Brad Andrews, Staff Writer: Three guys I like here: Tarvaris Jackson, Dennis Dixon, and Tyler Thigpen. All are athletic guys who have had some success on the NFL level. None are big enough names that Fitz would have to constantly answer questions about if there’s a “QB competition” or not. All three have some untapped potential, I think.
If not those three, I’d really feel better if the Bills brought in nearly anyone with some decent NFL experience. I really don’t trust Levi Brown as the #2 guy.
Joe Harris, Staff Writer: Personally, I don’t want a FA QB, Dixon would be my pick of the above guys, but I’d rather have an undrafted rookie with potential than a guy like Matt More or even Leinart the lionhearted. Two guys who I would love to see be brought in are Taylor Potts from Texas Tech and Adam Froman from Louisville. They both have good mobility and decent arms. I’d pick either of them up the day the Bills can legally talk to players.
Question 5: Finally, looking a bit into the future, what is the minimum level the Bills need to achieve for you to consider it to be a successful season for the Bills in 2011? Making the playoffs? Not finishing last? Winning a few freaking division games for once? Some other standard?
Josh Cortina, Staff Writer: Beat the Patriots. We could lose 15 games this year, and if we beat the Patriots, I’ll be happy. Plus, we’d probably have the #1 pick next year and get Andrew Luck.
In all seriousness though, we need to show improvement off our 4-4 finish from last year. I consider last year an evaluation season. Coach Gailey didn’t have enough time in the offseason to get a good picture of what he had, but now with a whole season under his belt, he can build the team he wants. A few less injuries would be nice too (I’m looking at you, strength and conditioning coaches). Give me a .500 record this year, with MEANINGFUL games in December to keep me excited, and I’ll be happy. But in year 3 of the Nix/Gailey era, you better believe that it’s playoffs or bust.
Josh Baker, Staff Writer: The Bills need to have a better than .500 season in order for any of this to reflect how much better the Bills are this coming year.
Kevin Haley, Staff Writer: One of the major standards I have had for the Bills for the last few years that they always seem to come up short on was finishing games. I think this goes hand in hand with a winning culture. Far too often in the Jauron era would the Bills be in a game, if not winning, in the 4th quarter and would be unable to get a defensive stop. Or on a 3rd and 3 not be able to get a first down and would settle for a field goal attempt. Sixty minutes of football is a simple thing to think about, but I have not seen it from the Bills in a long time. There are often offensive series where it is 3-and-out that didn’t have any reason or logic to it. I am hoping in the 2nd year of the offense this will no longer be an issue. A complete 60-minute game each week is what I want this year.
Brad Andrews, Editor: I don’t really have a set standard, but the Bills do need to improve this season. Another 4-12 season might get Chan Gailey fired. If Buffalo’s defense is improved, the young guys come around some, and the team is competitive week-to-week, I think you can be all right with that. If you’re looking for something concrete, finishing ahead of the Dolphins and being around the .500 mark would be good steps. Year three will be the true litmus test. Playoffs or bust in 2012 for the Gailey/Nix regime.
Joe Harris, Staff Writer: I see 2011 as the culmination of the Chix project. The pieces have been chosen, and they have found a few diamonds in the rough, Stevie and Kyle top that list. This year should be used by them to expose every weakness the team has. A successful season to be would depend on what shape the roster is like at the end of the year. I need a definite answer to if Fitz can be a franchise QB, I need to know if we have a true OL and I need to know if our defense is going to be dependable. If the answer to two of those questions is a yes, then I will consider the season a success.