Bills Offseason In Review

By PFC Writer Jay Kommuru

With the majority of the offseason activity having concluded for 2009, this might be a good time to look at what the Bills have accomplished in the past 5 months. In a two-part series, I will cover both the free agent signings and the draft with the offense up first. Overall, the Bills made some significant additions to their offense, and also traded away a premier LT in Jason Peters to the Eagles. The Bills are clearly in “win-now” mode and they made some uncharacteristic big splashes, and clearly the roster could be entirely purged along with the coaching staff if the moves don’t pay off.

OFFENSE

TRADES

LT – Jason Peters: The Bills traded Peters to the Eagles for a 2009 1st and 4th round pick and a late round pick in 2010 (rumored to be a 6th round pick).  There is a league-wide perception that the Eagles got the better end of the deal, but let’s break this down further shall we? Peters was charged with 11.5 sacks last year – most for any LT in the NFL – and he accomplished that in 15 games. Part of the reason why his play suffered, especially in the early part of the season, was because of his long off-season holdout last year which was bound to continue this year.  Can he be a dominant LT? Absolutely. But let’s not forget that he was an undrafted free-agent signee out of college that came into the NFL as an overweight, inconsistent TE that the Bills signed and molded into a very good LT. I agree with the fans who felt that Peters was severely underpaid and should have been given a raise, however there were also rumors that Buffalo had presented him with an offer that was at least the same as what he received from Philly, if not more. ($10M per year)

In the end, it is not clear whether Peters actually wanted to stay in Buffalo, especially with the departure of his favorite OL coach – Jim McNally.  The Bills desperately wanted to avoid another long holdout from their star LT, and when it was clear that Peters wanted to be the highest paid offensive lineman in the league the front office figured they’d be better off trading him while his value is at the highest point (two consecutive pro bowls in 2007 and 2008), than handing off such a contract to a player who is known to be lazy and inconsistent, especially with no incentive to play for such as a new contract. Whether his replacement – Langston Walker – can handle 16 games at LT is yet to be seen, however he did perform well in his start last year while he was filling in for Peters.

FREE AGENT SIGNINGS

Starters

C – Geoff Hangartner: The Bills made Hangartner their #1 priority heading into free agency. While many fans were hoping for a big name receiver such as T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the Bills front office declined to get into a bidding war over a #2 WR. Hangartner was a 5th round pick in 2005 out of Texas A&M by the Carolina Panthers and has 27 career starts under his belt. The Bills rightly noticed that the interior line was the weakest spot on the offense and addressed that right away in free agency. 2008 starters Duke Preston and Melvin Fowler were both weak at the point of attack and got pushed around by the bigger 3-4 tackles they faced (especially their AFC East foes).

Overall the Bills were 22nd in the league for sacks allowed with 38, and 16th in the NFL for rushing average with 4.2 ypc. Looking closer at the offensive line performance, and more specifically against their division opponents, the Bills struggled mightily in their first 3 divisional games with a rush average of 3.4 ypc and improved immensely in the second go-around against their division opponents with a 5.1 rush avg. Clearly, they needed more consistent play at the pivot, and they went out and addressed that with Hangartner. While he was a backup C in Carolina, he is more than capable of manning the starting job and he is exactly the type of player that the Bills try to target – young, underrated, and can be signed for a cheaper contract.

WR – Terrell Owens: He is a future hall of famer and we all know this. We also know that he can still play with the best of them, even if the rumors of him having lost a step or two are true.  The million dollar question is, will he be the player that puts this team over the hump, or will he be the guy that destroys the locker room as he was on all three of his teams. Here’s what I love about this signing – It’s a 1 year deal: T.O. rarely takes on his bad guy role in year 1, and he’ll be playing for one last big contract after 2009 so he will be extra motivated to prove his doubters wrong. He will put this offense on top and he will help QB Trent Edwards take that next step forward, as long as he stays healthy.

Backups

QB – Ryan Fitzpatrick: Smart player who got extensive starting experience last year in Cincinnati when Carson Palmer went down. He will certainly be an upgrade over JP Losman, at least in the turnover department. Trent has been somewhat injury-prone during his time in Buffalo, and unless that changes this year Fitzpatrick is bound to see some playing time. It helps that he is more in the mold of Edwards – smart and accurate passer, as opposed to Losman.

OT – Kirk Chambers (re-signed): Quality reserve that will man the swing-tackle spot and with no Jason Peters, he might be counted on for a few spot starts throughout the season.

OG – Seth McKinney: Experienced reserve interior lineman, and will provide great depth and a veteran presence in an otherwise young and raw offensive interior.

RB – Dominic Rhodes: Solid veteran, and will take on an extended role for the first three games while Marshawn Lynch serves his suspension. With Jackson and Rhodes, the Bills now become one of the deepest backfields in the NFL.

DRAFT

OG – Eric Wood (6’4”, 310) Scouting Report: While he was a center in college, Wood will most probably man the starting RG spot on this line. He is a tough, gritty player that gives a 110% every play and has a very high football IQ and exactly what the Bills were lacking in their interior offensive line last year.

OG – Andy Levitre (6’3”, 305) Scouting Report: Another player that the Bills front office were very high on, Levitre is made in a similar mold of their first round pick Eric Wood. He’s strong, physical, and very versatile as he played LT in college.  With this pick, the Bills have solidified their interior offensive line for years to come and with the challenge of facing the big NTs at least six times every year, they needed to get some size and toughness inside.

TE – Shawn Nelson (6’5”, 240) Scouting Report: The Bills got an absolute steal in the 4th round when they were on the clock and found TE Shawn Nelson still sitting on their board. Predicted to go as high as 2nd round, Nelson is an absolute threat in the passing game. And while he wasn’t asked to block much in college, he surprised many during the Senior Bowl practices and game with his willingness to block. He will likely be sprinkled in as a situational TE on passing downs and he might even be split out wide in a few formations which will allow him to use his excellent size and leaping ability against smaller defensive backs and linebackers.

2009 PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP

QB – Trent Edwards

FB – Corey McIntyre

RB – Marshawn Lynch

WR – Lee Evans

WR – Terrell Owens

TE – Derek Fine

LT – Langston Walker

LG – Andy Levitre

C – Geoff Hangartner

RG – Eric Wood

RT – Brad Butler