Editor’s note: Please welcome Dustin Haefele, the newest blogger at BillsMafia.com. Dustin is going to share with us his thoughts on free agency, which begins next week and how it could affect the Bills’ plans for the NFL Draft at the end of April.
It’s an exciting time of the year for all of us Bills Mafia members. Stevie signed a 5 year deal, franchise tags are all in place, and free agency opens on Tuesday. So now it’s time to evaluate what the Bills should/will do in Free Agency, and how this affects the moves that Buddy and his staff will make in the draft.
We all know that we need some help on defense this year. More specifically someone who can get to the QB. I mean, we made Andy Dalton look like Drew Brees. Since the season ended we have been begging for someone to fill that void such as Mario Williams, Quinton Coples, or Melvin Ingram. Don’t get me wrong, I would love any one of those three to play in the Ralph, but this isn’t our only area of need.
There are actually four major holes that we need to plug this offseason: DE (Pass rusher), WR, LT, and CB. Let’s start at the top and work our way down.
Free Agency: Who’s Tagged, and Who’s Left?
DE (Pass Rusher)
Now that Franchise Tag season is over we can rule out a few of the guys that were near the top of my wish list. Detroit has tagged Cliff Avril, Calais Campbell has been tagged by Arizona, and Robert Mathis was tagged by Indy. With these three out of the picture, here are some more to hope for.
Mario Williams (HOU)
Not only is Williams the best pass rusher on the market, he’s the best defender on the market this year. He had the injury last year that shortened his season, but I see no reason why he wouldn’t come out and put on another strong performance like he has in previous seasons. Williams would undoubtedly be a great addition for any team, if they are willing to pay him around $20 Million a year, as he made over $18 million last year in Houston.
John Abraham (ATL)
Abraham is a productive veteran DE; he has been in the league for 12 years. Over the past five years he has averaged almost 11 sacks a season. He knows how to get to the QB, and would definitely add the pass rushing ability that we need from a 4-3 DE. The only knock on Abraham is that he is definitely a short term fix, as the number of years he has left in the league are running thin.
Jeremy Mincey (JAC)
Mincey is an interesting prospect. He was a 6th round pick for New England in 2006 but ended up on the Jaguars in the middle of that same season. He played in 9 games in 2007, and 2008 before getting injured and sitting out the 2009 season. In 2010 he stepped back in and played in 15 games, started in 8, and began to show some ability to get after the passer. In 2011 he started all 16 games, and got 8 sacks. He’s 28 years old and seems to be still improving. He could add the pressure from the edge that Buffalo so desperately needs.
Other Players to look for: Israel Idonije (CHI) and Mark Anderson (NE).
There is a deep class of WR talent in free agency this year. Desean Jackson, and Dwayne Bowe have been tagged, and Mike Wallace has been tendered at a first round pick, so he is also out of the picture, but there are still plenty to be desired in this class. The Bills seem to be in dire need of a deep threat receiver so let’s take a look at look at two stats to help gauge the free agent class as deep threats. The first is yards per catch, and the second is number of receptions in a season where the ball was thrown over 20 yards (Deep Balls Caught).
Laurent Robinson (DAL)
Robinson bounced around a couple times before landing on the Cowboys last season. He had a great season hauling in 54 receptions for 858 yards in the 14 games that he started after the injury to Miles Austin gave him his big break. He’s a good possession receiver and has the ability to get open down field.
Yards per catch: 15.9 (2nd)
Deep balls caught: 9 (3rd)
Marques Colston (NO)
Colston is a 28 year old 6 year veteran, who has great size at 6’4” and 225 lb. He may not burn defenses with straight speed as often as some of the other guys on this list, but he has a great size/speed combination that allows him to come down with a lot of receptions, and a lot of yardage. He has shown this with his back to back to back 1000+ yard seasons from 2009-2011. Some are questioning whether Colston can succeed outside of the New Orleans offensive system, but I think with Chan’s offensive expertise, another 1000+ yard season wouldn’t be out of the question.
Yards per catch: 13.9 (4th)
Deep balls caught: 7 (4th)
Reggie Wayne (IND)
Wayne is an 11 year veteran, who had 7 consecutive 1000+ yard seasons until this last season derailed his streak with 960 yards. Reggie Wayne is a skilled veteran who will find open space no matter where he is playing, but he is another guy who doesn’t have very many years left in the league, and surely doesn’t fit into the youth movement that Buddy and Chan have started.
Yards per catch: 13.6 (5th)
Deep balls caught: 4 (5th)
Mario Manningham (NYG)
Manningham is only 25 years old which is a positive, as he has plenty of good years left in him. He isn’t a big receiver at 6’0” and 185 lbs., but as he showed in the post season, he has great down field speed to make up for it. I mean no one has forgotten about his crazy sideline catch in the Super Bowl that set the Giants up to take down New England.
Yards per catch: 14.5 (3rd)
Deep balls caught: 10 (2nd)
Vincent Jackson (SD)
Jackson is exactly what any team is looking for in a deep threat wide receiver. He is not only fast, but at 6’5” and 230 lbs. he has elite size to go with it; he is the total package. He definitely fits the description of “open even when he is being covered.”
In the past four years he has had three 1000+ yard seasons; it would have been all four if 2010 wasn’t cut short by injury. If the Bills could somehow get a hold of him, he will be worth every dime of the $12-13 million a year that they will have to pay him.
Who knows, maybe Shawne Merriman can talk him into giving Buffalo a chance.
Yards per catch: 15.9 (1st)
Deep balls caught: 9 (1st)
Other Players to look for: Pierre Garcon (IND) and Brandon Lloyd (STL).
Just like wide receivers, this free agent class has a few good options hitting the market, and only one received a franchise tag (Brent Grimes, ATL). With the Bills taking a stab at Stanford Routt earlier this offseason, it makes you wonder if this is the direction that they will go in free agency. Signing a shutdown corner would be a big move, but seemingly one that Nix is willing to make.
Brandon Carr (KC)
The Chiefs may have signed Routt, but in doing so they could be allowing a top notch corner to slip away. I don’t think that Carr will choose to battle for a spot on an already deep Chiefs’ secondary, when he can step in almost anywhere and be the number one CB. Carr will probably opt to test the market when it opens, and become the top free agent corner available.
Cortland Finnegan (TEN)
Cortland Finnegan is another shutdown corner who will check out free agency. The Titans decided to use their tag on safety Michael Griffin allowing Finnegan to look into other teams come next Tuesday. Reports now say that the Titans will not be in the mix for Finnegan’s services next year. Finnegan told a local news reporter “They wanted to move on, honestly. I don’t know why…” Originally it was thought that the Titans would be the team to beat as Finnegan had said his goal was to retire there, but now he will be moving on, hopefully to One Bills Drive!
Carlos Rogers (SF)
Rogers is another great corner who is eligible to become an Unrestricted Free Agent. He will probably turn a lot of heads if he decides to shop around, but for now he has said he wants to get something worked out with the 49ers, and I think he will end up back there. If he doesn’t sign with San Francisco, don’t be surprised if he hops a plane to Buffalo, at least for a visit.
Other players to look for: Terrell Thomas (NYG), Richard Marshall (ARI), and Rashean Mathis (JAC).
This is a very shallow class. You basically have two options if you are looking for a solid LT this offseason: Jared Gaither (SD), and Demetrius Bell (BUF). Obviously it would be nice to get Bell back as he played very well when he was healthy, but since the options are so few at LT he could demand a higher price tag than he is worth. If this is the case you can bet that he won’t be playing in Western New York next season, as I don’t see the Bills paying top dollar for a Left Tackle unless they can miraculously pull in Gaither, or they elect to take one with their first round pick.
3 Free Agent Scenarios and how they affect the draft…
Number 1: We get a CB in free agency (Finnegan or Carr)
Picking up a corner in free agency wouldn’t address the most pressing need but it would free up the first three rounds of the draft to fill bigger holes. If we don’t resign Bell, the biggest area of need instantly becomes LT.
1st Round Pick: Riley Reiff OT, Iowa
2nd Round Pick: Vinny Curry DE, Marshall
3rd Round Pick: Nick Toon WR, Wisconsin
Reiff is a ridiculous talent, and if we can’t keep Bell we are going to have to take an OT first round to fill the void. Vinny Curry is a solid second round pick who came in fifth in the nation in sacks last year with 12. Nick Toon is a big physical receiver out of the Big 10, at 6’2” and 215 lbs. he would add great physicality and hopefully take some pressure away from Stevie’s side of the ball.
Number 2: We retain Bell, and sign a WR (Robinson, Colston, or Jackson)
Retaining Bell allows the Bills to focus elsewhere with their first round pick, and signing a big wide receiver eliminates that need in the early draft entirely.
1st Round Pick: Melvin Ingram DE, South Carolina
2nd Round Pick: Alfonzo Dennard CB, Nebraska
3rd Round Pick: Brandon Mosley OT, Auburn
Ingram is a pass rushing beast! He will be sacking Quarterbacks on Sundays, and if we retain Bell it allows us to take add him as the much needed pass rusher with the 10th overall pick. I think Dennard could slip into the 2nd round and hopefully to the Bills pick. He doesn’t have elite size at 5’10” and 204 lbs., but he makes up for it with his physical play, and ability to jam receivers at the line. Brandon Mosley won’t be a day one starter, but could work his way into that starting lineup, and at least be a solid backup if Bell goes down again.
Number 3: Sign a DE in free agency (Mincey)
I wanted to put Mario Williams name there so bad, but I just don’t think it is realistic. I would love to see him throwing Tom Brady to the ground two games out of the year, but he just demands too much of an investment with multiple holes to fill.
1st Round Pick: Riley Reiff OT, Iowa
2nd Round Pick: Stephen Hill WR, Georgia Tech
3rd Round Pick: Leonard Johnson CB, Iowa State
I’m skipping Reiff as I mentioned him above.
Stephen Hill is a risk I admit it, he wasn’t super productive in college, but he also played for Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech runs a triple option type offense, and doesn’t go to the pass nearly as often as most other teams which takes away a lot of targets from a talented guy like Hill. Hill bolstered his draft stock with a ridiculous 4.36 40 yard dash, and would give the Bills a deep threat to keep safeties from cheating up, or double covering Stevie.
Leonard Johnson is also a risky pick with his small size, but in the third round he could add some much needed depth to the Bills secondary, and is still one of the top 10 corners in this year’s draft.