Buffalo Bills: State of Franchise at the Start of the 2014 Offseason
With the Super Bowl in the books, the 2013 season is officially over and the offseason for the 2014 season is officially underway. This in no way means the Buffalo Bills have been sitting around waiting for this day. They have spent roughly the past month preparing for free agency and the NFL Draft on May 8.
There was a great deal of turmoil last offseason with the Bills naming Russ Brandon as president, Doug Whaley as GM and Doug Marrone as head coach. Now that the Bills have had the key personnel in position for a full NFL season, they should be much more prepared for this upcoming offseason.
The following slides will take a look at where the Buffalo Bills currently are as the offseason begins.
Salary Cap Situation
Est. Cap Space: $18,967,482
According to Overthecap.com, the Buffalo Bills are expected to have the 12th most cap space in the NFL this offseason. This definitely helps the Bills who will need cap space to sign their key free agent, safety Jairus Byrd, and still allow them to address other positions in free agency.
Even though they have a great deal of cap space, the Bills could still look to cut some players to free up even more money. Mike Rodak at ESPN.com breaks down some potential cuts including players like Steve Johnson and Erik Pears who have been some of the more popular candidates.
One name that is surprising though is outside linebacker Manny Lawson, who played pretty well this past season. The Bills may decide to go in another direction because Lawson may not be the best fit for the new defensive scheme under Jim Schwartz.
Impending Free Agent
The Bills did not wait until Feb. 3 to start signing their impending free agents. Back in September the team locked up center Eric Wood to a long-term deal and more recently signed Alan Branch and Brian Moorman to contract extensions.
The big move the Bills must focus on now is finding a way to reach a long-term contract with Jairus Byrd, who is currently looking to become the highest paid safety. It is hard to make a case against a long-term deal with him having another stellar season capped off with a Pro Bowl selection.
The other key free agents the Bills have this year include tight end Scott Chandler and kicker Dan Carpenter. Both players had good seasons with Chandler leading the team in receptions and receiving yards and Carpenter setting a number of team records.
For the full list of the Bills free agents, click here.
With defensive coordinator Mike Pettine heading to Cleveland and a number of defensive assistants following him, the Bills coaching staff was looking thin. However, the Bills deserve a great deal of credit for putting together an impressive group of coaches to replace Pettine and his assistants.
The Bills went out and brought in former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz to take over a defense that improved tremendously this year. The team didn't stop there with two impressive hires in Fred Pagac (who will coach the linebackers) and Pepper Johnson (who will coach the defensive line). Johnson has spent the past 14 seasons with the New England Patriots, including eight seasons as their defensive line coach.
Offensively, the Bills decided to add a quarterback coach to their staff with the signing of Todd Downing, who has already worked with EJ Manuel. The two worked together at last season's Senior Bowl, which EJ Manuel was named MVP. There is still one position open on the offensive staff as the Bills continue to look for a wide receiver coach.
2014 Draft Preview
The past couple of years the Bills have done a good job finding impact players at all points of the draft. Last year, the Bills drafted four players who saw significant playing time as rookies (EJ Manuel, Kiko Alonso, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin).
With the ninth overall pick this year, the Bills will have an opportunity to bring in another player who should have an immediate impact. One player who makes sense if available is tackle Greg Robinson, who would really help an offensive line that struggled in 2013. This would allow EJ Manuel more time in the pocket to find the weapons on the outside as well as create room for running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
On the defensive side of the ball, Buffalo could look at a local product in linebacker Khalil Mack from the University of Buffalo. The linebacker position was the weak spot for the Bills defense and it was apparent that Kiko Alonso needed help. The Bills struggled against the run, giving up over 120 yards per game, and the team could use a player like Mack to help Alonso.
No matter what direction the Bills decide to go in the first round, one thing that is certain is if the team has a draft like they did last year this group will be very competitive in 2014.
Sadly, it seems to be the same question since Jim Kelly left: Do the Bills have their franchise quarterback? The team hoped to have this question answered already by drafting EJ Manuel in the first round last year. However, three knee injuries this past year and only ten starts leaves some concern.
Manuel had flashes last year that showed he has the potential to be that guy, particularly the game-winning drive against Carolina in Week 2. But the knee injuries raise concerns about durability and unfortunately the only way to answer that question is with time.
The Bills will need to address the offensive line this offseason, either through the draft or free agency, to help Manuel's development. Last year, the Bills allowed 48 sacks, which was the fourth highest total, and an increase of 18 from the previous season.