In recent years, the Buffalo Bills have not been the kind of team to go out, and spend a lot of money on a big name during free agency. However, that changed two years ago, when the Bills brought in Mario Williams, a player who had the credentials to back up how much he would be getting paid in the Queens City.
Looking at this year, the Bills didn't go out and make the type of singing like they did two years ago. As a matter of fact, what they did was spend a limited amount of money, on players that can immediately come in and help the team. That doesn't go without saying, that the Bills actually did try to make a splash by bringing in Desean Jackson, but ultimately lost the bidding to the Washington Redskins. At first glance, the Bills additions don't immediately stand out, but at closer look, the Bills have quietly put together a great off-season.
Before we get down and dirty, with some good old fashioned grading, let's take a look at who the Bills managed to bring in this off-season.
- Chris Williams-G
- Corey Graham-CB
- Brandon Spikes-ILB
- Anthony Dixon-RB
- Keith Rivers-OLB
- Mike Williams-WR
- Jarius Wynn-DL
- Jim Schwartz- DC
Heading into this off-season, everyone among the "Bills Mafia" all but knew that Mike Pettine would be on his way out. No, not because of a poor season, but because he made the Bills one of the most feared D's in the league. He realized how to get the most out of his players, and it quickly became a resounding success. Entering last year, Pettine was faced with the tough task of finding the right puzzle, that was able to fit pieces, or in this case players, that were either meant for a 4-3, or a 3-4. Pettine was more then up for the challenge, and we all know the result. The Bills relied on the D on more then one occasion, to bail them out, or force a big turnover, and every time, they answered. It's kind of fun to imagine how good they could have been as an overall team, if they had consistent quarterback play. None the less, after the season, Pettine was pegged as the Cleveland Browns next head coach, and like that, the Bills were once again tasked with finding another defensive coordinator. While Pettine was celebrating his new job, a former head coach was just being let go from his. Ironically, that former coach, would become the Bills next defensive coordinator, and his name was Jim Schwartz. Sure, Schwartz may not have been the best head coach in the world, but when it comes to the defensive side of things, there may not be a better coach to have on your sidelines. Before Schwartz was the head coach of the Lions, he paved his way as the defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans. Schwartz has the pedigree to build on Pettine proved to be successful. With Schwartz, expect him to bring a more intense demeanor, and a passion for his group to succeed. With Schwartz has the new coordinator, expect the Bills to once again be one of the best units in the league. Hey, it also helps that he learned under Belichick and Jeff Fisher, right?
Before he was ultimately signed by the Bills, most fans absolutely could not stand Brandon Spikes. He was a player who fans had to see twice ever year, and it was something they did not look forward too. Obviously, you can see why Bills fans were very happy with his addition to the team. Spikes is an old-school player, and their is no disputing that. Spikes will fit nicely into Schwartz's scheme, as he he is the perfect player that Schwartz wants playing for him. Spikes is one of the most physical, hard hitting linebackers in the league, and when he hits you, you remember it. (Just ask Ryan Fitzpatrick). Spikes was only given a one year contract with the Bills, so expect Spikes to come out and play with a chip on his shoulder. Spikes was brought in for one reason, and one reason only...to stop the run. Spikes will immediately step into a starting role with the Bills, and expect them to improve against run, with him being out there.Bills fans are happy Spikes will be doing this to opposing quarterbacks, and not their own.
Corey Graham was another nice, quiet signing by the Bills. It was kind of a surprise as well, since Graham plays the same role as Nikell Robey, a player who shined last year. However, in a division where you go against the Patriots twice a year, adding another solid coverage option, isn't necessarily a bad thing. Since Robey did indeed play so well last year, Graham may have been brought in more for his ability on special teams. That's where he first made his money in the league, as he was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2011. Expect Graham to come in and make more of an impact there, then in the passing game early on. That's what makes the Graham signing a great one. He has the ability to be a playmaker in multiple aspects, and gives the Bills much needed depth in secondary, which is something they didn't have much of last year.
Mike Williams has the chance to be the best addition of this years free-agency class for the Bills. With that being said, he also has the chance to burn out pretty quick. That isn't said because Williams doesn't have talent, that's something he clearly possess, it's said because of his off the field issues. This is a guy who quit on the Syracuse football team, when he had the ability to go in the first round. That decision ended up costing him, as he was taken in the 4th round of the draft. It got better for Williams during his rookie year, but since then, he has troubled to find his footing. The off the field issues have still followed him around, which is the main reason why the Bills made the move for him. This is a team that is not afraid to give a second chance to a player, and that is something to be thankful for. With Williams now in a Bills uniform, he adds another weapon in the arsenal of E.J. Manuel. Williams now can forge a great tandem with Manuel if he is able to keep his head on straight. Seriously though, this is a guy who just recently got stabbed by his brother. Williams is from Buffalo, so hopefully him returning home can help him get his focus back. If he does, it can be a scary thing, if not, the Bills can let him go after this year, and won't have to pay a hefty price for it.
Chris Williams is a former first round pick, who has struggled to get his feet on the ground in the N.F.L. He was pegged as being the Bears next great tackle, but was quickly moved to the guard position. After being cut by the Bears, Williams signed with the Rams last year, but was cut after just one year. The Bills decided to see if Williams could find his footing, by bringing him to Buffalo. Even though Williams doesn't bring much to the table, he is an improvement from what the Bills had last year. He is no Andy Levitre, but expect Marrone to spend a lot of time on improving the o-line this year, so they can keep Manuel healthy.
Like Williams, Rivers was a former first round pick who has struggled at the next level. He has struggled with injury over the years, but has shown when healthy, he is able to be a solid role player. Rivers may not have been a big name signing, but expect him to come in and start on the outside, along side Kiko Alonzo. Rivers has the potential to be a great linebacker in the N.F.L., and maybe under a great coach, he can finally realize it, and make a name for himself.
Dixon may be one of my favorite signings the Bills made this year. He is a hard hitting running back, and with Fred Jackson not getting any younger, that's a valuable thing to have. He provides a safety blanket for players who have not been able to shake the injury bug in recent years, so he provides a much needed depth. He brings a hard hitting style that all Bills fans will appreciate, and in a year where C.J Spiller has a lot to prove, expect Dixon to make as much noise as possible when given the chance.
In an off-season where the Bills let Alex Carrington walk, it was a smart move to find a player to replace him. That player just happened to be Jarius Wynn who was signed from the Dallas Cowboys. Wynn has been a solid backup, but has bounced around in the league, and is hoping to find a nice home in Buffalo. With all the emphasis that Bills have put on the defense this year, it may be hard for Wynn to make the team. If he does, expect him to have a small, reduced role on the team.
Like I said earlier, the Bills are quietly putting together a great team. They went out and brought in players who will help this team improve, and that's always a good thing. They also were able to resign TE Scott Chandler, and kicker, Dan Carpenter. After these solid additions, it will only put more pressure on E.J. Manuel to lead this team back to the playoffs, a place the Bills haven't seen since 1999. Hey, this could be the year Bills fans! Actually, come to think of it, I say that every year, but for once, the Bills are finally going up.