By: Michael Ginnitti
One of the most surprising teams out of the gate in 2011, the Buffalo Bills fell back down to earth hard and fast, finishing a dismal 6-10, and once again generating more questions than answers heading into the off season. The Bills had all the right cards through the month of October, signing Ryan Fitzpatrick to a 6 year extension to be their short-term franchise quarterback, running an exciting offense through tailback Fred Jackson (signed through 2012), and wide receiver Stevie Johnson (Free Agent). But injuries to Jackson, nose tackle Kyle Williams, wide receivers David Nelson and Donald Jones, and most of the offensive line, quickly made November a disaster in Orchard Park, NY.
The Bills stand to draft 10th in the upcoming 2012 NFL draft, and it’s a bit of a crap shoot at this stage exactly how they’re thinking positionally. Buffalo stands in fairly decent shape in terms of free agency and salary cap. Notable players with expiring contracts include:
WR Steve Johnson
is far and away the most crucial free agent this offseason and it seems likely that the Bills will make a major play at keeping him. He’s shown signs of a lack in character, including a 3-quarter benching in the final regular season game for celebration antics. In light of this, Buffalo may be inclined to franchise their #1 receiver. The estimated franchise tag for a 2012 wide receiver is $9.5 million. Johnson made a base salary of $1.2 million in 2011.
LT Demetrius Bell
With a draft deep in offensive lineman being projected, Bell may be expendable. But he’s shown he can play multiple positions, and he shouldn’t cost in excess, so the Bills may consider this a safe signing.
K Rian Lindell
Lindell has been a solid and reliable kicker for Buffalo since 2003, and all signs had pointed to him garnering another contract with the team. But a late season injury to his shoulder may have the Bills thinking twice, as the 34 year old kicker may be showing signs of breaking down.
Cornerbacks Reggie Corner, and Bryan Scott are both unrestricted free agents for a secondary that was average if not bad for the majority of the season. The Bills will most certainly be looking to improve in this department, with little to no production from Leodis McKelvin (signed through 2012), and the injury-prone Terrence McGee (signed through 2013).
Outside of a fluke shutout in Toronto against the Washington Redskins, the Bills were unable to generate any pass rush in 2011. Veteran Shawn Merriman teased the fan-base with a dominating preseason effort, but was ineffective right up until re-injuring his left knee and being shut down for the season. The middle of the line has promise with 1st-round pick Marcel Dareus, and pro-bowler Kyle Williams plugging holes, but the Bills lack a true inside or outside linebacker with an eye for finding the backfield.
WR, Roscoe Parrish - before injuring an ankle early in 2011, Parrish showed signs of breaking out in this offensive scheme. He was a long-shot to be re-signed with the Bills prior to 2011, but the organization may be mulling a new contract, especially with the risk of losing Steve Johnson.
TE Scott Chandler – exploded as a viable red-zone option for Fitzpatrick and the Bills’ offense in 2011 after joining the team quietly in the off season. Buffalo has been looking for consistency at this position for quite some years, so bringing him back in hopes of a repeat performance makes sense.