Bills Look to Make a Splash in Free Agency

Bills Look to Make a Splash in Free Agency
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Buffalo Bills GM Buddy Nix will have a lot of salary cap room to operate with as his team prepares to sign some significant upgrades from the 2012 free agency class
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Steve Johnson was the Bills’ top priority heading into the offseason and the Bills rewarded him with a five-year, $36.25 million contract extension. Now the Bills will look to find a wide receiver to complement him.

In 2011, the Buffalo Bills started their season winning five of their first seven games and had the whole city believing that this might be the first time since Music City Miracle that the Bills would make the playoffs.

However, the Bills disappointed their fans and finished the season 6-10 as injuries began to pile up and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick became inconsistent the rest of the year.

Some of the blame can be credited to Fitzpatrick, but he lost two of his most important offensive linemen due to injury in left tackle Demetrius Bell and center Eric Wood. He also lost starting running back Fred Jackson and wide receiver Donald Jones, who periodically struggled to overcome ankle sprains and never made a big impact in the offense. Jones ended the season with 23 receptions for 231 yards and a touchdown.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bills couldn’t generate a pass rush and when they couldn’t force turnovers in games, opposing offenses went to work on them. The Bills allowed their opponents 31.9 points-per-game in their last nine games of the season.

Heading into the 2012 free agency, the Bills will have only a few holes to fill and it’s obvious that they need another weapon for Fitzpatrick to throw to. They also need a pass rusher who can help take pressure off the Bills’ cornerbacks who were exposed last season as a result of opposing quarterbacks having all day to sit back in the pocket.

The Bills went into 2011 with a 3-4 defense, banking on the injury-prone Shawne Merriman and the inconsistent Chris Kelsay to fulfill their pass rush desires with Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus responsible for stopping the run and taking on double teams. Both Merriman and Williams suffered Achilles injuries though and were placed on the injured reserve. The defense allowed a franchise-worst 5,938 yards and 434 points, the second most in team history.

In order to address some of those issues, the Bills have already made some moves this offseason by getting rid of defensive coordinator George Edwards and promoting Dave Wannstedt in his place. Wannstedt will be in charge of bringing back the 4-3 defense as he looks to improve upon the struggles of last season.

The Bills’ current projected starting front seven figures to look like this: Chris Kelsay and Shawne Merriman at defensive end, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams at defensive tackle, Nick Barnett at weak side linebacker, Kelvin Sheppard at middle linebacker and Kirk Morrison at strong side linebacker.

The Bills’ defense appears to be set at linebacker and defensive tackle, but in order to have a solid 4-3 defense, a team has to have a good pass rush and the Bills’ currently don’t have that.

The free agent market for quality pass-rushing defensive ends isn’t that deep though.

Mario Williams is the player getting all the hype and attention, but the Bills aren’t the type of team to over pay for a player. Other options they might consider include: John Abraham, Andre Carter, Jeremy Mincey and Mark Anderson.

Aside from Williams, the market is pretty scarce, so look for the Bills to go with a defensive end in the first round of the NFL Draft instead.

The Bills have plenty of cap room though and due to the post-lockout rules the Bills have to spend accordingly. Look for that money to go to a proven wide receiver since that appears to be the Bills’ next biggest need.

Options at wide receiver include: Vincent Jackson, Marques Colston, Brandon Lloyd, Reggie Wayne, Mario Manningham, Pierre Garcon, Laurent Robinson and Robert Meachem.

It should be safe to assume that the Bills will find an upgrade at their wide receiver position to complement Steve Johnson, who recently resigned with the Bills after posting back-to-back 1,000 yards receiving

If you trust Bills’ general manager Buddy Nix, who has kept true to his word so far, the Bills should make some sort of splash in free agency.

“Our philosophy, or mine, or ours is that those big money guys that hit the market at 12:01 or midnight, the way it used to be, if you’re not careful you’ll overspend on those guys and not get what you pay for,” said Nix. “We’ve been one to think you can pick up good players later on in free agency, and I’m talking about guys like Nick Barnett, and receivers that we’ve picked up. They’re out there, and they’ll be out there and that’s kind of been our philosophy along with building through the draft.”