The Buffalo Bills are in another transitional phase after the hiring of new head coach Doug Marrone and his staff.
The team has to begin assessing its offseason strategy quickly, because there are a lot of decisions to be made and a lot of needs to be filled.
Which needs are biggest? Which pending free agents are most important? How much money does the team have to work with in bringing those guys back and other guys in?
Here's a complete offseason guide to the team's needs, free agents and salary cap.
It's no secret: quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick didn't play well on a consistent basis in 2012. As a result, his job security should be very much in question. This is a big freefall for a man who, just over 12 months ago, signed a six-year extension.
Bills general manager Buddy Nix has repeatedly iterated his desire to find the team's franchise quarterback this offseason.
Bryan Scott and Nigel Bradham were part of an underachieving group of linebackers last season. Both struggled mightily against the run, earning negative grades from ProFootballFocus.com for their run defense in 2012.
This could be where defensive coordinator Mike Pettine makes his imprint felt. If the Bills are going to run multiple defensive schemes the way the Jets did under Pettine, they'll need better linebackers.
Stephon Gilmore makes a nice addition to the Bills' secondary. With Gilmore and Jairus Byrd, the Bills have the foundation for good things on the back end.
Beyond those two, though, the pickings are slim. Second-year corners Aaron Williams and Justin Rogers have been abject disappointments thus far, while Ron Brooks hasn't played enough to pass judgment just yet. From inside or out, the Bills will need to find some solid man corners to execute Pettine's scheme.
Of the names on the list of pending free agents, only a couple really jump off the page as must-haves: Jairus Byrd and Andy Levitre.
Byrd is one of the top safeties in the NFL right now, and top-end safeties are hard to come by. That could make the market for his services very heavy, but Byrd has a great reason to stay in Buffalo: Mike Pettine. The former Jets defensive coordinator has a system that is great for a young, ball-hawking safety like Byrd with elite sideline-to-sideline speed.
The value of talented defensive backs is high, especially in Pettine's system, so the Bills should spare no expense in bringing Byrd back.
Levitre graded out as the best offensive lineman on the team and the second-best offensive player according to ProFootballFocus.com. Not only is he supremely important, he's also a supreme talent at guard. Levitre graded out as one of the 10-best guards in the game last season.
There's always a market for offensive linemen, and Levitre has not yet received a formal offer from the Bills. He has not missed a snap for the Bills since Week 3 in 2010 and has only played less than 100 percent of the snaps in three games since 2009. That kind of consistency would be hard to replace.
Salary Cap Info
As always, the info for 2013 varies depending on who you ask. It will only vary more depending on the moves the Bills make.
ESPN's John Clayton says the Bills currently have just over $20 million in cap space to work with, which would make them (by his calculations) the team with the second-most cap space in the AFC East behind the Miami Dolphins ($35 million).
NYJetsCap.com is almost right in lockstep with Clayton, listing the Bills with just over $109 million in salaries for 2013, which would give them over $20 million to work with on the cap.
There are only a couple of key free agents the Bills must lock up, and the combined salaries for Byrd and Levitre won't be much higher than $10 million (assuming market value for both).
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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