At quarterback, starter Ryan Fitzpatrick was obviously a lock, as was backup Tarvaris Jackson, who they just traded for. Jackson’s 2012 salary became guaranteed when they asked him to take a paycut, so they weren’t cutting him less than a week after trading for him. Brad Smith, their wildcat quarterback, who also plays wide receiver and special teams, was safe as a jack of all trades type player.
That’s three quarterbacks and teams don’t normally carry more than that, so the writing seemed to be on the wall for Tyler Thigpen, especially after they cut Vince Young, who reportedly pulled ahead of Thigpen this preseason. Thigpen was owed 2.5 million, way too much for a 3rd string quarterback. Instead, they kept him as a 3rd quarterback at a reduced rate of 1.5 million. Smith will technically be the 4th string and wildcat quarterback, but he’ll also provide some depth at wide receiver, where the team is thin at their final cuts.
Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller were obvious locks at running back. Behind them, Tashard Choice, a Chadn Gailey favorite, between out Johnny White, a 2011 5th round pick, and Zach Brown, an undrafted free agent, for the 3rd running back job. At fullback, Corey McIntyre remains the starter, but the Bills also kept Dorin Dickerson, a swiss army knife type player. Dickerson will play fullback, some h-back, and some tight end for them and practiced with the 1st team in special packages this offseason. He’ll also contribute on special teams.
The Bills had a bunch of players competing for the starting wide receiver job opposite Steve Johnson and one of those players, Derek Hagan was cut as the Bills opted to go with 4 wide receivers (though Brad Smith can also play there). Steve Johnson and 3rd round pick TJ Graham were the only locks, but David Nelson and Donald Jones won the slot receiver job and the starting job respectively in the preseason and Training Camp and made the roster.
Graham will start the season as the 4th receiver and could see more playing time as the season goes on given how thin the receiving corps is, even though Graham is very raw with just one year of starting experience in college at NC State. Naaman Roosevelt, who saw significant playing time last year was cut, as was Marcus Easley, a 2010 4th round pick. It’s unclear why they didn’t keep at least one of those guys. They needed a 5th receiver and any of those guys would have been qualified. If a roster spot opens up, they could use it to add a wide receiver or bring back one of those guys. At tight end, starter Scott Chandler remains and blocking specialist Lee Smith also remains. Dorin Dickerson, as I mentioned, could see time here as well as a “move tight end” behind Scott Chandler, a big blocker and end zone threat.
Starters Cordy Glenn (left tackle), Andy Levitre (left guard), Eric Wood (center), Kraig Urbik (right guard), and Erik Pears (right tackle) were locks as they from one of the most underrated offensive lines in all of football, especially in pass protection. Chad Rinehart was still a lock for the roster, even after losing the starting job to Urbik, because of his versatility and how well he played last season when injuries struck. Chris Hairston, who also had to start when injuries struck last year, was a lock to be kept as well as the swing tackle.
That figured to leave two more spots on the line, since teams normally keep 9 offensive linemen, one on the inside and one on the outside. These guys would likely be game day inactives because teams normally just keep 7 offensive linemen active for game day. Sam Young returned as the reserve right tackle, while Colin Brown beat out 6th round pick Mark Asper, a collegiate tackle, who was trying and apparently failing to convert to center.
Starters Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Kyle Williams, and Marcell Dareus, were obviously the locks, but the Bills had 4 veteran backups who were being paid like starters, Shawne Merriman (4 million), Dwan Edwards (3.8 million), Spencer Johnson (3 million), and Chris Kelsay (3.5 million). Merriman was cut earlier this month and Edwards was a final cut, but Johnson and Kelsay were not.
This makes some sense. They are overpaid, but the Bills aren’t backed up against the cap and back will provide valuable depth on a line that otherwise wouldn’t have really had any. Kelsay will be a nickel rusher, while Johnson was rotate in occasionally at defensive tackle. 2010 3rd round pick Alex Carrington stayed on the roster as well. He’s been a disappointed, but he was good enough to beat out Jarron Gilbert and Kellen Heard for the 4th defensive tackle spot. Kyle Moore, likewise, won the 4th defensive end spot over Robert Eddins.
Every down linebackers Nick Barnett and Kelvin Sheppard were obviously safe, as was Arthur Moats, who beat out Kirk Morrison to be the two-down running stuff linebacker. Morrison, even though he lost that job, was kept, as expected, as valuable depth across the board. He’ll also probably see a fairly big special teams role. Veteran Bryan Scott was also kept. The surprising move was the release of Tank Carder, a 5th round rookie. He lost out to a 4th round rookie Nigel Bradham and, more surprisingly, 2011 6th round pick Chris White, who stuck as a 6th linebacker. He’ll frequently be a game day inactive.
Aaron Williams and Stephon Gilmore were locks at cornerback as the starters, as was Leodis McKelvin, who recently won the nickel cornerback job. He also is their 1st string punt returner and backup kick returner. Ron Brooks was a lock because of his draft position, as a 4th round rookie, while Justin Rogers looked like a lock because he was their starting return man.
That didn’t seem to leave room for Terrence McGee and his 1.35 million dollar salary, after missing 22 games in the last 3 seasons. However, an injury to Ron Brooks opened up the door for him. Brooks had surgery on his foot and could be put on IR. For now, the Bills are keeping 6 cornerbacks, with McGee actually listed as the dime back ahead of Rogers, but if they put Brooks on IR, that will open up a roster spot for a receiver like Marcus Easley, who was added to the practice squad.
At safety, George Wilson and Jairus Byrd were locks as starters and Da’Norris Searcy earned another year on the team, possibly added by his status as a 4th round pick last year. Undrafted free agent Delano Howell won the 4th spot at a thin position over Isaiah Green and Nick Saenz. Howell’s special teams ability earned him the edge and he could be on the game day roster for his special teams prowess.
Brian Moorman and Rian Lindell made the roster once again as punter and place kicker, but the Bills also kept a 3rd kicker, backup place kicker and kickoff specialist John Potter, their 7th round pick. We’ll see if he proves to be worth a roster spot just for kickoffs. Lindell did fine on kickoffs last year. The Bills held their opponent’s to the lowest average per kickoff return in the league and Lindell’s yards per kickoff was at 66.5, 23rd in the league out of 37 eligible players. Not great, but not bad enough to use a roster spot on a specialist to replace him.
Leodis McKelvin will return punts, while Justin Rogers will return kicks. CJ Spiller will backup McKelvin as punt returner, while McKelvin will back up Rogers as kick returner and come in when they put two returns in. Brad Smith will also provide depth there. Garrison Sanborn will once again be their long snapper.
WR Marcus Easley
C David Snow
DT Jarron Gilbert
S Isaiah Green
WR Kamar Aiken