Reviewing the Buffalo Bills’ 2012 End-of-Year Wish List From a Fan’s Perspective

4. Cut Chris Kelsay – The contract of pass-rusher Chris Kelsay compared to his production on the field made him a source of rage for me over the past few years. 

Kelsay signed a four-year, $24 million contract extension in 2010, but only had 10.5 sacks over the past three seasons. Kelsay has since retired due to a neck injury. I’m going to count this as a wish granted. Wish No. 4: granted.

5. Give Stevie Johnson some help! – The Bills’ wide receiver group from last year was in a major need of an upgrade. Losing David Nelson to a season-ending knee injury left the Bills without a second wideout, outside of Stevie Johnson, who could consistently make plays downfield. That made the defensive game plan for playing the Bills pretty simple. Donald Jones, while a serviceable receiver, is not a No. 2 NFL wideout.

This wish was granted in a big way. The Bills drafted Robert Woods from USC in Round 2, and Marquise Goodwin from Texas in Round 3. Combining Goodwin with second-year wideout T.J. Graham, the Bills now have two deep threats to stretch the field. Robert Woods’ ability to run crisp routes makes him a perfect complement to Johnson.

The Bills also signed undrafted free agent Da’Rick Rogers. The troubled wide receiver from Tennessee Tech (via Tennessee, prior to his suspension from the Volunteers in August) has drawn a comparison to Bills great Eric Moulds from Bills scout Tom Roth, according to Rogers could potentially be the steal of this year’s undrafted rookie class.

Following the 2013 NFL Draft, the Bills’ once-seemingly-weak wide receiver group may have morphed into one of the team’s strengths. Wish No. 5: granted.

6. Address the Linebacker Position – The Bills needed help at linebacker at the end of last year. Nigel Bradham stepped in and did a capable job for a rookie. Kelvin Sheppard? Not so much. The Bills gave up hectares of yardage against the run, and needed to find a run-stuffing linebacker who can also cover tight ends.

One solution to this could be signing outside linebacker Manny Lawson from the Bengals. Lawson does well in coverage and fits nicely into Pettine’s scheme. Another solution could be second-round draft pick Kiko Alonso. Alonso is an inside linebacker who has size, speed, toughness and can cover tight ends.

Lastly, while not on my list at the time, Kelvin Sheppard was shipped off to Indianapolis for pass-rusher Jerry Hughes from TCU. Hughes is a former first-round pick who has been deemed a major bust by Colts fans, but comes to Buffalo having had his best season as an outside linebacker in the Colts’ switch to a 3-4 defense. These moves by the Bills, while representing change at the position, will need time before I can consider this wish granted. Wish No. 6: TBD.

7. Re-sign Andy Levitre and Jairus Byrd – This one is more than self-explanatory. While the Bills franchise-tagged free safety Jairus Byrd, guard Andy Levitre signed with the Titans as an unrestricted free agent for a boat-load of money ($46.8 million over six years, according to Spotrac).

In hindsight, many may argue Levitre’s contract was far too rich for a guard. But at the end of last season, two of the bright spots on the Bills were the play of both Byrd and Levitre.

The offensive line was considered a strength of the team, and Levitre was a rock at left guard. Wanting him signed was an obvious wish. The Bills decided that the price was too high.

I respect the business decision, but no alternative has been brought in to date to replace Levitre. Neither a free agent nor a draft pick was made at guard. One possibility is for Zebrie Sanders, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, to step in for Andy Levitre at left guard.

Replacing Levitre alone means that this wish was not granted.

Dear Bills, please sign Jarius. Wish No. 7: not granted.


Other Items

That was my list at the end of 2012. Can you believe that the Bills have done even more?

This has been a historic offseason for the Bills. Owner Ralph Wilson stepped aside and handed day-to-day football operations over to team CEO Russ Brandon, who the Bills promoted to team president and CEO (Brandon already was the team’s CEO). Many Bills fans felt that Wilson, who is now 94 years old, was a reason why the Bills have been floundering around the AFC East basement for the last decade. Some fans may have had Wilson’s exodus from football operations with the Bills as something on the top of their list. That wish was granted!

The Bills then went on a quasi-exhaustive coaching search and hired new coach Doug Marrone.  Marrone turned the Syracuse program around, and brings an interesting blend of NFL and collegiate experience. The youth movement continued, as Marrone brought 33-year-old offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett with him from Syracuse. The coup d’état of the off season seems to be defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who the Bills hired away from the Jets.

The Bills made some quiet free-agency selections that seem to fit our new defense, including Lawson and defensive tackle Alan Branch. While we will have to wait to see if these additions (and subtractions) pan out, optimism does seem to be the general feeling.

Finally, the youth movement was completed when 73-year-old general manager Buddy Nix stepped aside, making way for the promotion of 40-year-old assistant general manager Doug Whaley. While Nix will stay on as a special assistant, Whaley is now the general manager of the Buffalo Bills.

This combination of offseason moves can be seen as sweeping changes to the Bills organization, especially among the team’s brain trust. We will have to wait to see the final product on the field, but for the first time in a long time, I have a feeling the Buffalo Bills ship is heading in the right direction.

We will review this wish list next year to see if the changes did in fact prove positive.

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Tags: Andy Levitre, C.J. Spiller, Chris Kelsay, Dave Wannstedt, EJ Manuel, Jairus Byrd, Kiko Alonso, Manny Lawson, Marquise Goodwin, Mike Pettine, Robert Woods, Ryan Fitzpatrick

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