Applying “Moneyball” to the Buffalo Bills’ Free Agency: Offense Edition

(Photo by USA Today Sports)
Photo by USA Today Sports

When Russ Brandon took over as President of the Buffalo Bills on January 1, he made the subtle announcement that the team would be employing an analytics department to complement the scouting staff. With the variety of resources available to common fans, with websites such as ProFootballFocus.com, SmartFootball.com, and AdvancedNFLStats.com, there have been various “advanced stats” that have shown that some under-the-radar players could contribute given the opportunity.

“Moneyball” was the term coined when the Oakland Athletics’ General Manager Billy Beane, who had limited financial resources, found outlier statistics to put together a roster of undervalued players after losing superstars like Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi. Instead of looking for “traditional” statistics (i.e. Home Runs, Batting Average, RBI’s), he dug deeper, finding now-common statistics such as on-base and slugging percentage.

With a salary cap in place in the National Football League, teams can’t follow the exact model Beane did while re-vamping his roster, but there’s still is a way to add valuable, relatively inexpensive players that fit specific roles.

In the National Football League, a “Moneyball” concept would be applied as such:

  • Retain your own free agents, only when contract is equal to value of player
  • Build primarily through the draft, and scout well
  • Make minor free agent signings to fill roles (Tier 2/3 Free Agents)
  • Always keep an eye on the trade block

This edition of the Buffalo Bills’ Moneyball Primer focuses on the offensive side of the ball, and lists players at positions that need to be addressed.

Mike Cox: FB, Atlanta Falcons (AP Photo/Stephen Morton)
Mike Cox: FB, Atlanta Falcons (AP Photo/Stephen Morton)

Position: Fullback
Role: Compete For Starting Job
Player: Mike Cox (Atlanta Falcons)
Projected Contract (2 years/$1.950MM)

The Bills tendered Dorin Dickerson, which pretty much tells us that Corey McIntyre is leaving in free agency. McIntyre was a solid lead blocker and added exceptional special teams ability. Dickerson is strictly an upside player that doesn’t really offer much in terms of lead blocking, but he does offer versatility as an H-Back/tight end option in certain situations.

Doug Marrone’s offense featured the fullback at Syracuse, which means that the Bills’ new offense most likely will as well. Cox is a productive lead blocker and graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 16th best overall fullback. He will take over McIntyre’s role as the lead blocker for C.J. Spiller and provide some assistance on special teams coverage.

Isaac Redman: RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)
Isaac Redman: RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)

Position: Running Back
Role: Third Down/ Goal Line Back
Player: Isaac Redman (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Projected Contract (2 years/$2.150MM)

Isaac Redman is a 28-year old bruising running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Undrafted out of Bowie State in 2009, he signed with the Steelers and has been slowly brought along. He’s a powerful man at 6’0” 230 pounds, and can take a beating running between the tackles.

He was Pittsburgh’s second leading rusher, gaining 410 yards and two touchdowns on 110 carries in 2012. Despite being 28 years old, Redman has fresh legs, as he’s only rushed the ball 272 times in his three seasons in the NFL.

After Fred Jackson’s notable fumbling issues at the goal-line in 2012, the Bills need that big, powerful back to move the chains and find the endzone in short-yardage situations. Out of his 272 career carries, 82 have either gone for a first down or a touchdown, a 30.1% rate.

Brandon Gibson: WR, St. Louis Rams (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Brandon Gibson: WR, St. Louis Rams (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Position: Wide Receiver
Role: No. 2 Receiver
Player: Brandon Gibson (St. Louis Rams)
Projected Contract (4 years/ $10.750MM)

With Dwayne Bowe off the market, Brandon Gibson should be the primary target for the Bills’ wide receiver need in Free Agency. Far from a household name, the St. Louis wide receiver has begun to show that he’s a capable outside receiving option.

According to ProFootballFocus, Gibson was the 23rd-best receiver in the passing game (Stevie Johnson was 22nd, Dwayne Bowe was 29th). He also posted a 108.3 Wide Receiver Rating (Passer Rating when Targeted), good for 18th overall among wide receivers.

Standing 6’0 and weighing 210 pounds, the former sixth round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles had a quality 2012 season, catching 51 passes for 691 yards and five scores. The former Washington State standout is just 25-years old, and has decent speed, running a 4.49 second 40-yard dash. In his 38 career starts, Gibson has made 174 receptions for 2,090 yards, and nine touchdowns.

Fred Davis: TE, Washington Redskins (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Fred Davis: TE, Washington Redskins (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Position: Tight End
Role: Starting Tight End/ Receiving Threat
Player: Fred Davis (Washington Redskins)
Projected Contract (2 years/$5.750MM)

Fred Davis was one of the hottest tight ends in the league during the 2011 seasons after snagging the Redskins’ starting tight end role away from Chris Cooley. However, suspensions and a torn ACL have made him a non-factor over the past year-and-a-half.  In 2011, he caught 59 passes for 796 yards and three scores, despite missing four games due to a suspension. At 6’4” 247 pounder should command some interest on the open market.

In 2011, Davis was ProFootballFocus’ 6th ranked receiving tight end, but graded out 60th out of a possible 64 players (Scott Chandler was 63rd) in run blocking. Buddy Nix said that he wanted to upgrade the position, and giving Fred Davis a reasonable “Prove It” contract could work out in the Bills’ favor.

Chad Rinehart: G, Buffalo Bills (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Chad Rinehart: G, Buffalo Bills (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Position: Guard
Role: Starting Left Guard
Player: Chad Rinehart (Buffalo Bills)
Projected Contract (2 years/$4MM)

Hey, part of Moneyball is retaining your own quality talent, right? Chad Rinehart played 11 games and 868 snaps in 2011, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ No. 9 overall ranked guard. However, in 2012 he was relegated to a swing role, where he only saw limited playing time. With Andy Levitre set to hit the free agent market, Rinehart is a quality player that fans greatly overlook.

In 2012, Rinehart participated in 97 pass blocking attempts, and surrendered just two quarterback pressures.

Stay Tuned For My Defense Edition Coming Soon!

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