With an easy schedule and a revamped defense, the Bills were a popular sleeper team heading into the season. The defense looked good and as limited as Ryan Fitzpatrick is, their stellar offensive line and strong running game would be able to support him enough against an easy schedule. Well, that was about half true. Fitzpatrick held up the “limited” part of the bargain and the offensive line and running game played well. After ranking 1st in 2011, the Bills ranked 4th in pass block efficiency this season, while CJ Spiller had a major breakout year, averaging 6.0 YPC. He held the NFL record for yards per carry going into week 17.
The defense didn’t hold up its end of the bargain, however, allowing 27.2 points per game, 26th in the NFL. Much of the blame can fall on terrible defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, who won’t be back next season. That’s the case with the entirety of the coaching staff as Head Coach Chan Gailey was fired, replaced by former Syracuse Head Coach Doug Marrone. GM Buddy Nix remains, but you could argue he doesn’t deserve to. His crowning “achievement” as GM of the Bills was a 62.2 million dollar 7-year contract he gave to Ryan Fitzpatrick before he had even started 16 games for the team. Fitzpatrick predictably flopped. Even Nix seems to admit it.
Nix, who is normally open with these types of things, hinted at adding a quarterback through the draft recently, saying “I don’t want to leave here without a franchise guy [at quarterback] for the future in place. I have not said that before but I’m saying it now because it’s fact.” It sounds like someone has soured on Fitzpatrick, who is owed a non-guaranteed 7.25 million in 2013 and does not come with a huge cap hit. Fitzpatrick has also lost his biggest supporter, Gailey, and Marrone will probably want to bring in his own guy.
Nix also discussed potentially moving up for a quarterback, presumably Geno Smith if the Chiefs were to pass, saying “Let me say this: I think there’s a time that in the era that you’re in and the development of your team, there’s a time when you can move up a round to take a quarterback. And I think the time’s now for us. We need a good, young quarterback, and we’re going to do our best to get him.”
I detailed the Bills’ quarterback situation above. Assuming the Chiefs take Smith and the Bills stay put, they may have their choice between second tier quarterbacks Matt Barkley, Tyler Wilson, and Mike Glennon at 8th overall. They may also opt to wait until the 2nd round to grab Ryan Nassib. Nassib was recruited to Syracuse and coached all 4 years there by new Bills Head Coach Doug Marrone, so a fit would seem natural. However, there’s no guarantee that Marrone sees Nassib, widely regarded as a 2nd day pick, as a starting quarterback in the NFL, so he won’t be married to him or anything. Either way, it sounds like there will be a new signal caller under center for the Bills in 2013.
The Bills have tried two different starters opposite Steve Johnson in the last two years, David Nelson and Donald Jones. Neither impressed and the former will be coming off a major injury next season. Meanwhile, 2012 3rd round pick TJ Graham projects more as a slot receiver long term. They need a true #2 receiver opposite Johnson.
The Bills made a big splash in free agency, signing Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to boost their pass rush. The former played well, but the latter didn’t, struggling mightily until going down with a knee injury after week 5. Owed 3.9 million in 2013, non-guaranteed, the inconsistent and injury prone pass rusher might not be brought back and even if he is, they need some competition. Shawne Merriman, Chris Kelsay, and Kyle Moore all struggled in his absence.
Bills’ safety Jairus Byrd and Chargers’ safety Eric Weddle have a chance to be what Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu once were at safety in the NFL. However, Byrd is a free agent and will need to be re-signed. Even if he is re-signed, this position is still somewhat of a need, as other starter George Wilson, while he’s coming off a solid season, will be a free agent heading into his age 33 season in 2014.
Like Jairus Byrd, guard Andy Levitre is among the best in the league at his position and will need to be re-signed or replaced if he goes elsewhere. Not worth the offensive line franchise tag as an interior lineman and with the Bills’ franchise tag likely going to Byrd, there’s a stronger possibility that Levitre won’t be back than Byrd.
There’s still time for him to turn it around, but 2011 2nd round pick Aaron Williams has really struggled in his first two years in the league. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Leodis McKelvin last season, who played much better, but now he’s a free agent. They need to at least bring in some competition for Williams. Re-signing McKelvin would suffice.
Here’s another reason why re-signing McKelvin would be a smart move. The Bills were first in the NFL in punt return average with McKelvin as the primary punt returner. If they don’t re-sign him, they’ll have to find someone else to take care of punts.