Buffalo Bills' Most Under and Overrated Offseason Additions
The Buffalo Bills have been extremely busy this offseason.
They brought in several free agents who could make a big impact right away, and general manager Doug Whaley made a splash during the draft, moving up to draft Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins.
The Bills have made so many moves, it's hard to keep track of them all. They brought in free agents, inked some of their own players to new deals and hired a few new coaches.
Naturally, some moves are going to have more of an impact than others. Let's take a look at a few moves that aren't as meaningful as they appear, as well as some that aren't getting as much attention as they deserve.
Overrated: Letting Jairus Byrd Walk
I'm calling this overrated in the sense that people are making a bigger deal out of it than it is.
Sure, Jairus Byrd was a Pro Bowl player and one of the best players the Bills had on defense, but he also became a headache for the team toward the end of his stay in Buffalo. And he promptly had back surgery after signing his lucrative deal in New Orleans.
Also, it's not like the cupboard is bare at safety with Byrd gone. Aaron Williams got some of the money the Bills didn't give Byrd, and per Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, Whaley said Williams has "grown into a key playmaker" for the Bills defense.
In addition to Williams, the Bills have Da'Norris Searcy, who worked with the first team during Bills minicamp. The Bills also brought in Corey Graham during free agency, who is a Super Bowl champion and could get some run at safety.
Aside from the veterans, there are some young players who could turn into valuable contributors in the defensive backfield. Second-year safety Duke Williams is ready to take the next step in his career, and undrafted rookie Kenny Ladler could prove to be a steal for the Bills.
The loss of Byrd will definitely be felt. But the Bills seem to have the pieces in place to replace Byrd's production.
Underrated: Hiring Pepper Johnson
After ranking 28th in the league against the run last season, the Bills looked for ways this offseason to improve their ability to stop the ground game.
We know about the additions of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and middle linebacker Brandon Spikes. Schwartz's defenses in the past have been known for their stoutness against the run, and Spikes is a noted run-stuffing specialist.
But another offseason addition that has flown under the radar is the hiring of defensive line coach Pepper Johnson. Like Spikes, Johnson came to Buffalo from New England.
Not only does poaching Johnson potentially weaken a division foe, it should boost the play of an already emerging defensive line. Spikes told Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com he "can't wait" to see his teammates put Johnson's coaching to use on the field.
Spikes also said Johnson's experience playing and coaching is what makes him an effective teacher. "I think he has stuff that some coaches don’t get because he’s seen it in the past with the helmet on," Spikes said.
The Bills have three starters on the defensive line who went to the Pro Bowl last season. With Johnson's tutelage, the Bills front four should be one of the most dominant units in the league going forward.
Overrated: Standing Pat at Tight End
Here's another offseason move that is overrated in the sense that it isn't as big a deal as it appears at first glance.
Heading into the draft, some crazy Bills writers were calling for the team to aggressively upgrade the tight end position in the first round. That didn't turn out to be the direction the Bills went in, but that doesn't mean the team will be lost at tight end in 2014.
After all, Scott Chandler was the team's leading receiver last year, but that has as much to do with the revolving door at quarterback as it does with Chandler's level of play. Nevertheless, Chandler was a reliable target for whomever was under center last year.
Considering the team overhauled the wide receiver position and brought in more playmakers, the reliance on Chandler should be diminished a little bit. However, his 6'7" frame will still be a dangerous weapon in the red zone.
And there is another tight end who is emerging as a threat. According to Joe Buscaglia at WGR, Tony Moeaki got a lot of time with the first team during OTAs and was performing well. Buscaglia said Moeaki "created a bit of a rapport with EJ Manuel," which will help when the regular season rolls around. Buscaglia also predicted the Bills will use more two-tight end formations with both players in 2014.
Even though the Bills didn't make any splashy moves regarding their tight ends, the position can still be a key piece of the Bills offense.
Underrated: Signing Anthony Dixon
All the focus in the Bills backfield is on C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, but one of the newcomers at the position could also make his presence felt.
The Bills' inability to convert in the red zone left them attempting short field goals far too often in 2013. Per Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com, the Bills ranked 24th in the league last year in third-down success in the red zone, converting just 31 percent of their tries.
Enter Anthony Dixon, who was a short-yardage specialist during his time in San Francisco. Brown described Dixon as "both nimble and a load," standing 6'1" and weighing 233 pounds.
Dixon told Brown he is "definitely capable of fixing that problem" for the Bills. Having Dixon available to come in and push the pile to convert short third downs or punch it into the end zone should give the Bills offense a boost that isn't as flashy as a wide receiver addition but is just as important.
In addition, Dixon should be able to contribute on special teams considering his athleticism for his size. Doug Marrone and special teams coordinator Danny Crossman wanted the performance of the special teams to improve in 2014. The addition of Dixon should help on that front as well as with the offense.
Overrated: Re-Signing Dan Carpenter
There is no denying Dan Carpenter had an outstanding year in 2013.
In fact, Carpenter had a career year by all accounts. He set career bests in percentage of field goals made (91.7) and field goals made (33). That performance led to the Bills re-signing Carpenter to a four-year deal in March.
But if I were a betting man, I wouldn't wager on Carpenter finishing out that contract. First of all, his deal schedules him to make $2.125 million in 2017 (the last year of the deal), per Spotrac.
In addition, the Bills still have Dustin Hopkins, who had won the kicking job last training camp before going down with a season-ending groin injury. Hopkins is on the Bills bubble watch, according to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com, but Rodak noted Hopkins is healthy and "booming his kickoffs."
Rodak said there is a chance the Bills could keep both kickers on the final roster, but it isn't likely. But Hopkins has looked solid in minicamp, setting up what could be an exiting competition in training camp.
And you never know if Carpenter's performance will fall off. There was a reason he got cut by the Dolphins. In 2010, Carpenter missed 11 of his 41 field-goal attempts and five of his 27 attempts in 2012. If he wins the job, but misses some big field goals during the regular season, the Bills could look to Hopkins, who is a much cheaper option.
Underrated: Hiring Todd Downing
We all know the level of success the Bills can achieve rests mostly on EJ Manuel's shoulders.
With the help of a healthy offseason and his new quarterback coach, Manuel will have every opportunity to improve his game in 2014. That new coach is Todd Downing, who held the same position with the Detroit Lions before coming to Buffalo.
Per BuffaloBills.com, Downing has worked with both Manuel and Thad Lewis in the past. He worked with Lewis in Detroit and Manuel during the 2013 Senior Bowl. That experience gives both coach and player a head start in getting to work in the offseason.
You may be familiar with some of Downing's work. During his time in the Motor City, Downing helped Lions quarterback Matt Stafford become the franchise's all-time leading passer. In his first two years with the team, Downing helped Stafford rack up 10,005 yards, which is the fourth-most in NFL history during a two-year window, according to the BuffaloBills.com report.
Bills fans are hoping Downing can have the same success with Manuel. According to Manuel's offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, Manuel is "really starting to get it" and his confidence has "absolutely" gone up. That has to have at least a little bit to do with the help from Downing.
He probably won't obliterate franchise records like Stafford did, but if Manuel can at least improve his level of play and play more consistently, it will do wonders for the Bills as a whole.