With the free agency period winding down (most free agents have been signed and are allowed to practice today), it’s time to really assess if NFL teams have succeeded in strengthening their rosters. So how did our Bills do in that regard?
Lord knows the Bills had plenty of weak spots on this roster. Did the (relatively few) moves the Bills made make any sort of difference? Let’s check out Buffalo’s free agency report card:
ILB Nick Barnett – A talented linebacker who’s been a productive member of some very good teams. Still young enough (30) to have some good years. Very reasonable price (3 years – $4M per season). Fills some big needs as an everydown 3-4 inside linebacker who can defend the run and pass. Will instantly command respect in the locker room. Only real concern here is his injury history (missed large parts of two of past three seasons). All in all, an excellent signing. Grade: A-
QB Tyler Thigpen: Thigpen also fills a pretty big need for a team that really needed a trustworthy #2 QB. Thigpen’s a lot like Ryan Fitzpatrick in a lot of ways and it shouldn’t be too terrifying for the team if he has to play. His familiarity with Chan Gailey is a big plus. My real question for him is really…is this guy actually any good? He’s 1-11 as an NFL starter and his numbers won’t exactly blow you away. I really don’t know how good he is – and let’s hope Fitz is so good this year we won’t have to find out. Grade: B
QB/RB/WR/?? Brad Smith: This will either be a brilliant signing or one Bills fans complain about for years. Is he an overpaid kick returner that the Bills didn’t need or is he the big-play threat the Bills DESPERATELY need? There’s no denying Smith’s talent – but is there a way to get him $15 million of effective touches over the next four years? Gailey apparently views him as the next Kordell Stewart, which is interesting. Is he going to take several snaps at QB a game? Is this “Slash” talk just a pre-season ruse? I don’t think we’ll have any real idea until Sept. 11 in Kansas City. Grade: a very tenative B+, but a final grade anywhere between A + and F- wouldn’t be a shock
OLB Shawne Merriman: I’ll count him as a free agent since he signed a contract before the lockout and has never actually played for the Bills before. Now, I’ve been as skeptical about Merriman’s prospects for a comeback as anyone, but I’ve also been a huge supporter of the chance the Bills are taking on him. Seriously, what’s the risk? A few million bucks? For even the possibility that Merriman can be three-quarters of the player he was during his first few NFL seasons, it’s a risk well worth taking. Now, I don’t want to jinx it, but early reports from training camp are that Merriman has looked fantastic so far. If he can somehow, some way actually stay healthy and it turns out he has some juice left…the Bills may have lucked into a great player with an ENORMOUS desire to prove his doubters wrong. Grade: A
CB Drayton Florence: A re-signing, but an important one. The Bills now have a deep and talented (not elite, but talented) group of corners with Florence, Terrence McGee, rookie Aaron Williams, Leodis McKelvin, Reggie Corner, and a few others battling for playing time. That depth will be tested against the talented receivers of the AFC East, and Florence’s steady hand is a big boost. Grade: A
Losing LB Paul Posluszny: There’s no real way to spin this as a good thing, at least in the short term. Poz was easily the team’s leading tackler and best linebacker last season. However, there’s also no way to justify beating Jacksonville’s offer for him. For all of Poz’s strengths, he is a not truly an elite linebacker and wasn’t comfortable in the 3-4. Therefore, spending over $7 million a season on him just didn’t make a ton of sense in the long run. It’ll hurt this year, however, especially if Barnett gets hurt and/or Kelvin Sheppard doesn’t pan out. Grade: C- (this year) B+ (long term)
Losing the rest of the clowns Buffalo didn’t re-sign: It should tell you a lot about last year’s roster that Poz and Florence are the only two Buffalo free agents to sign anywhere yet. Buffalo’s other free agents – which includes a lot of young guys and/or guys who played significant time last season like TE Jonathan Stupar, LB Akin Ayodele, DL John McCargo, CB Ashton Youboty, LB Keith Ellison, and QB Brian Brohm – haven’t attracted a lick of interest thus far from other teams. Buffalo’s front office…not so good in recent years.
Losing S Donte Whitner:
I understand the Bills front office was tired of Whitner’s public antics, but man…I think he’s worth $2 million a season. I just don’t think George Wilson and Bryan Scott are anything more than adequate at strong safety, while Whitner’s is above-average to very good. I’m not a fan of letting him go so cheaply. Screw what I wrote earlier, the Bills were smart to let this guy go, especially at nearly $4 million a season. Wilson and Scott will be good enough, and certainly won’t cost the Bills many games back there. Grade: B+
No help at need positions: I’ve been pretty positive to this point, but now here comes Negative Nancy. In their trademark baffling Bills style, the Bills stood pat at some positions that really could have used a boost. For instance, no help along the offensive line at all? I really don’t know if there’s an NFL-quality tackle on this roster right now, so I don’t understand not making a stronger play for Tyson Clabo. Also, bringing in someone who has proven he can rush the passer would have been nice. Or someone who resembles an NFL-caliber tight end. Ignoring these spots, especially OT, could be something that bites the Bills all season long. Grade: D-
Overall: I actually liked every signing the Bills made…there just wasn’t enough done. The offensive tackle thing really concerns me, as does the situation at linebacker. There’s a lot of faith being shown in guys who haven’t shown a lot at the NFL level. It could end up being brilliant, but for now I can’t give the Bills a grade any higher than this for free agency. Grade: C
Agree/disagree? Let me know in the comments.
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