The lockout has ended and the Buffalo Bills are ready to play some football. The Bills come out of the gates faster than a v10 engine with a 3-0 start including a win against the bullies of the AFC East the Patriots. A tough loss against the Bengals put them at 3-1 but they were able to rebound against the Eagles to improve to 4-1 to start of the 2011 season the right way.
The Bills improve to 5-2 by week 9 and match up to face the New York Jets a team they will have to overcome if they have any playoff aspirations. At this point Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing as well as any QB in the league and is rewarded as such with a fat contract extension.
However not everything can last forever, at least not for the Bills. The ultimate reality check started in week 8 with a loss to the Jets and continued to loom large as the Bills would drop their next 8 of 9 games finishing with a 6-10 record. This is not the first time the Bills have attempted to fool us as in 2008 they started 4-0 and also fell back to reality finishing 7-9.
Early season coach of the year option Chan Gailey also has had a little reality check as he has gone from being praised to abused by the Buffalo media. The coaching seat should be very hot this season in Buffalo.
In fairness to Gailey the Bills did lose Fred Jackson, Erik Wood (their best linemen), Shawn Merriman (who had picked up his game this year) and Kyle Williams (their best defensive player). Gailey was also able to finally get CJ Spiller to start producing as he enjoyed his best year as a pro this year and most likely earned more playing time next year.
Like with any franchise the first place you look to improve is at the QB position. In Buffalo despite Fitzpatrick’s late season struggles, Gailey remains optimistic he is the right guy in Buffalo. The Bills will probably look to draft a QB in between 4-7th round to groom should Fitzpatrick not pan out.
The Bills went all in on defense last year drafting a DT, 2 linebackers and a corner with their first four picks. Buffalo most likely will go with the same approach this off season in the draft looking for a talented pass rusher.
Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina and Courtney Upshaw OLB, Alabama are the two names that have continually been connected to Buffalo. Quinton Coples surely would be in the discussion should he drop to them at 10. The Bills have not been able to successfully rush the passer for years and are hoping to find the right guy this off season. Free agent Mario Williams would also make a nice fit in Buffalo however the Bills aren’t likely to cough up the dollars to bring him in.
The big off season question that surrounds the Bills is what to do with WR Stevie Johnson. Stevie set a franchise mark as the only receiver in Bills history to record two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. No other Bills receiver had reached this accomplishment despite a pretty impressive list of receivers in the team’s history.
Johnson has been very successful on the field but is known as much for his strong play as his immaturity. Johnson has made a fool of himself time and time again on the field whether it was the Plaxico TD celebration or dropping a game winning touchdown catch preventing an upset against the Steelers. Johnson however is one of very few electric playmakers in Buffalo and would be very hard to replace his production.
There are other free agent options this year including Marques Colston, Vincent Jackson and DeSean Jackson. That being said it is hard to lure a wide receiver into going to Buffalo. All 3 big name WR’s are likely to get solid offers around the league to most likely better situation and cities ( no offense) then Buffalo.
Johnson wants to return to Buffalo and at the point most logical decision would be for the Bills to sign Johnson to a long term deal with perhaps adding some behavior clauses to his contract. Johnson has also had success in his career against Darrell Revis, not something many receivers can say.
Johnson said of his situation, “Of course I’m hoping Buffalo will step up,” said Johnson, who will officially become a free agent on March 13. “But if not and I hit the market in free agency, then Buffalo is in the picture no matter what. But to be in free agency to see what other teams are saying, that’s also good.” Johnson’s agent C.J. Laboy is optimistic that they can get a deal done. “We all know where Stevie’s heart is and that’s a big reason why he’s ingrained himself in the Buffalo community as much as he has,” Laboy said.
The Bills will most likely also look to add a piece on the offensive line either via the draft or free agency or perhaps even both.
While the Bills have a couple of holes that can be filled by big name free agents (Mario Williams) , I expect it to be another fairly quiet off season in Buffalo.
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