This offseason, the Bills find themselves in the fortunate position of only having a few truly key contributors up for free agency. The Bills also find themselves in a position to spend up to $35.4 million on free agents and rookie contracts after rolling over $21 million in left over cap space from last season. Hopefully, the usually tight-fisted Ralph Wilson will let GM Buddy Nix use all the space to plug a few holes on this roster.
Unrestricted Free Agents: WR Stevie Johnson, OT Demetrius Bell, TE Scott Chandler, WR Roscoe Parrish, LB Kirk Morrision, LB Andra Davis, LB Reggie Torbor, WR Derek Hagan, RB Tashard Choice, S Bryan Scott, K Dave Rayner
Restricted Free Agents: OG KraigUrbik, OG Chad Rinehart, RB Bruce Hall (exclusive rights free agent)
Already Re-Signed: K RianLindell, LS Garrison Sanborn
This list will obviously change as the Bills sign players and free agency opens in March, so check here for a complete up-to-date list of Bills free agents.
Should Re-Sign: Johnson, Chandler, Morrison, Urbik, Hagan
Star WR Stevie Johnson is Buffalo’s top priority this offseason. Frankly, the Bills really need him back. He’s the only proven starting-caliber WR on the roster. Johnson’s put up back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons despite constant double teams and facing everyone’s top corner each week. Fortunately, the Bills and Johnson seem to be making good progress on his contract talks, so I’d be surprised if he hits the open market.
TE Scott Chandler was revelation in 2011, hauling in 38 catches and six touchdowns despite missing several games due to injury. That doesn’t sound like a ton of production, but the Bills have gotten nothing from their tight ends in recent seasons, so Chandler was a huge step up. The Bills want him back, so hopefully it will get worked out.
LB Kirk Morrison didn’t play much in 2011, but he could provide valuable, but inexpensive, veteran depth at MLB and OLB as the Bills switch back to a 4-3 front in 2012.
Kraig Urbik can play guard or center and played both pretty well in 2011. The Steelers cast-off really found his game last season, and fits in very well with Buffalo’s young, physical offensive line. He’ll be back.
WR Derek Hagan was a street free agent who signed late in 2011 after Buffalo’s whole receiving corps got injured, but he really impressed in his late-season appearances. I hope the Bills retain him.
Might Re-sign: Scott, Bell, Rinehart
S Bryan Scott has played well since coming to Buffalo, but the Bills have two excellent young safeties in Jairus Byrd and George Wilson plus a promising young third safety in Da’Norris Searcy. Not sure if Scott’s worth the money and roster spot at this point.
OT Demetrius Bell is an NFL-quality left tackle…when he’s healthy. The problem? He’s NEVER healthy. If he’ll agree to come back very cheap, he’ll be back. If not, he’s gone.
OG Chad Rinehart would be a nice fit as a backup guard, and very well might be back in 2012.
Probably Gone: Parrish, Davis, Torbor, Choice, Rayner, Hall
WR Roscoe Parrish is very talented, but simply can’t stay healthy. The Bills seem to be out of patience with him. LBs Reggie Torbor and Andra Davis are old, slow, and likely gone. RBs Tashard Choice and Bruce Hall play Buffalo’s deepest position, and K Dave Rayner is a goner since the Bills re-signed RianLindell.
Positions of Need:
Linebacker – With the exception of the Eagles, no team was worse at LB than Buffalo in 2011. Free agent signee Nick Barnett played well, and rookie Kelvin Sheppard came on late in the season, but everyone else was a disaster. (To be fair, guys like Chris Kelsay and Spencer Johnson should never have been playing linebacker in the first place. With the switch to the 4-3, those guys can go back to the defensive line.) Sheppard will man the middle in 2012, with Barnett and possiblyShawne Merriman starting on the outside. When Merriman inevitably blows out his Achilles again or tears his patella in half or shatters his femur in Week 2, the Bills will need someone who can step in on the outside. A veteran backup for Sheppard in the middle would also help.
Wide Receiver – If the Bills don’t re-sign Johnson, this jumps to the top of the list. After Johnson, the Bills have a solid #3/slot receiver type in David Nelson…and then a whole bunch of question marks. Some sort of outside deep threat (even if Johnson comes back) would help tremendously.
Tight End – If the Bills don’t re-sign Chandler, this is also a huge need. Ryan Fitzpatrick could really use a safety net in a tight end with good hands.
Defensive End – As stated earlier, the Bills are going back to a 4-3. At tackle, the Bills will start the very talented duo of Kyle Williams and MarcellDareus. End is more of a question mark, so if the team can bring in someone who can set the edge against the run and get to the QB once in a while, I’d feel better.