There’s been so many things going on with this team over the past few weeks that I simply haven’t been able to keep up with it all – hopefully, this piece is comprehensive enough to whet your Bills whistle.
Before I go much further, I’ve got to thank each and every one of you for all of the continued support that you bring to the blog. We set all-time highs for traffic in October and folks seem to really be enjoying what you are all sharing. I appreciate every single one of you and offer my deepest thanks.
Prior to the Washington game, when I was taking notes on what to discuss here, the most prevalent thing I had down was the atrocious defensive playcalling. Now, with ten sacks and two turnovers it looks, on the surface, like that’s a non-factor now but I’ll need to see them against a legitimate team that isn’t starting guys that couldn’t have cut it on the 2008 Bills. Still, this game showed us that we have guys that can rush the passer, regardless of the level of competition they were up against. It’s up to Edwards and Wannstedt to keep putting blitz packages on the field and make things even easier for our defensive backs. To be completely honest, that bend-but-don’t-break defense that we’ve employed all year only looks relatively sufficient if your offense is putting up buckets of points. When they aren’t, the weaknesses and downfalls of the defensive unit become wholly obvious and teams learn to take advantage – something that had been happening to us for weeks. Hopefully that’s getting remedied now.
The biggest story of our bye week was the extension signed by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick – 14’s deal will keep him here for a potential six more seasons and will pay him close to ten million dollars in each of those years, on average. This was a necessary contract to complete early for the team for a multitude of reasons. First, it gives them something to build around. I can guarantee you that they will have a much easier time negotiating a deal with their other offensive weapons with Fitz in the fold, and it shows their confidence in him, essentially naming him their franchise quarterback. I love the move and truly think he’ll be able to be a competent starter so long as they keep him paired up with Gailey.
Along with Fitz, there are a number of other contract situations that need to be addressed, preferably before the end of the season. The obvious target, wideout Steve Johnson, has nine games left on his contract with the team and would like to be paid as one of the top receivers in the game. I guarantee you that if we don’t give him that money, someone will, and that’s not a good thing for us. They need to work on and negotiate a deal with him soon or risk having to use the franchise tag on him, which could cost us in excess of ten million dollars for the one year it’d be applied to him. Past him, you’re looking at guys like Scott Chandler, Lindell, Erik Pears, Chad Rinehart, Garrison Sanborn, and Bryan Scott that they absolutely need to get back under contract. There’s also the notion that league MVP candidate Fred Jackson wants a new deal, but the 30-year old tailback with another year still left on his deal has said recently that he fully expects the two sides to work something out soon. Other players who expire this year include Demetrius Bell, Kraig Urbik, Andra Davis, Kirk Morrison, Roscoe Parrish, Reggie Torbor, Bruce Hall, and Ruvell Martin. Besides Urbik, Morrison, and Parrish I don’t foresee any of those guys even getting consideration from the team this spring, including Bell. I have a feeling that 77 will command too high of a salary on the open market when they get similar (if not better) production out of both Chris Hairston and Andy Levitre at left tackle. For an offensive line that has been playing outstanding this year both with and without him, I highly doubt the team will offer Bell the big money that he’ll be looking for.
Some major news that’s only minor because of the timing is that the team has hired an outside firm to build financial figures for a stadium renovation and upgrade plan. It’s a great sign, showing a commitment to Orchard Park and Ralph Wilson Stadium for the long haul. As of now, the plan includes no additional seating or boxes, but rumored improvements come in the areas of parking, concessions, ‘fan experience’ areas such as a potential hall of fame and history area perchance (something to that effect is already in the field house, but it’s very simple and not that interesting), and most importantly of all, new bathroom facilities. As someone who has attended loads of games in this stadium and many others I can honestly express that the restrooms at the Ralph are some of the worst and most outdated in professional sports. They’re all too small, too hard to navigate, and have fixtures that likely haven’t been updated since the eighties. I’m an advocate of the troughs, but just about everything else in one of those slime kitchens is ridiculously old and dirty, even before kickoff. That’ll be a welcome change.
Over the past couple of weeks the team has had a few roster moves, none too major but still a few worth mentioning. The only one of merit was linebacker Shawne Merriman electing to undergo emergency Achilles surgery and being placed on the injured reserve, which all but locked Arthur Moats back into the depth chart as an outside linebacker, where I believe he is leagues more effective than anywhere else the team places him. Merriman’s loss isn’t one that anyone is going to be crying over, as he offered literally nothing throughout the first half of the season and his only sack registered wasn’t even a sack (chased Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton out-of-bounds) and I like the opportunities available to Moats and Danny Batten now to develop as pass rushers opposite Chris Kelsay, who may return from injury this week. Though he’s under contract for more, I’ve got to wonder if this spells the end of Merriman’s uneventful career as a Bill, and maybe even as a professional football player. If the team does keep him around next year, I doubt it’s for long as I have a strong feeling that outside linebacker is one of the two positions that they’ll primarily be targeting atop April’s rookie draft, along with wide receiver, and I can’t see 56 coming out on top of a competition with a younger, healthier version of himself at this point in his career.
This week’s matchup with the Jets is one of the biggest games of this Bills season and definitely will have early playoff implications for both teams. The Jets, essentially, need this game to keep their hopes alive. The Bills need this game to keep atop the East and pass the litmus test for those who still don’t believe. To date, Buffalo is undefeated at home this year but has only played one divisional game, something that’s routinely the concern with them. They did win the game (who could forget the amazing victory over New England a few weeks back?) but the questions still persist. With Miami set to line the bottom of the division’s cat pan for the rest of the year, it’s a three-way race for positioning in the AFC East standings now, and every one of these games mean so much more than they normally would to a team that is usually all but eliminated from contention by this point. No matter what happens in this one, the team better get tough and quick with a three-game road stretch immediately following (at Dallas, Miami, and the Jets again) before returning home in December to play the Tennessee Titans. I legitimately think that the team can come back to the Ralph in five weeks with nine wins under their belt, splitting with New York and topping the other two with ease. To me, right now, Tennessee is still a bit of a wildcard in the way that they’re playing so that’ll be something that can be evaluated closer to the game, but after playing them we fly to San Diego to face an extremely underwhelming and mistake prone Chargers team, return home to face the Dolphins and Broncos (two games that are also entirely winnable, barring injuries) and then travel to Foxboro to round off the season with a (potentially) huge divisional contest with New England. It’s not beyond reasonable thought to expect twelve wins out of the Bills this year, judging by the way they’ve played and these upcoming opponents. No matter what, it’ll be an exciting winter for this team, something that we haven’t been able to say for quite some time.
This certainly doesn’t do the man justice (and truly, not much could), but recently former Bills center and wall-of-famer Kent Hull passed away at the age of 51 due to a health condition he had been battling for years. Hull was a great man off the field and undoubtedly was one of the main cogs in the success of the teams that he played on from 1986-96 in Orchard Park, being cited as the reason that the K-Gun offense was able to be so dominating by Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. Hull was extremely intelligent, which helped him to make the right line calls and keep track of the adjustments that his friend and signal caller would make, and was quicker than most under center, which made the wear-defenses-down tempo of that scheme so effective. Hull was well respected by the players, the fans, and the media alike – providing some of the best words post-game to local writers and always keeping on good rapport with everyone. For these and many other reasons, Kent Hull will forever be remembered and missed as a member of this family.
That’s all for this time – I’ll see you all right back here later in the week after the big showdown in the East. If you’re attending the game, follow the players’ wishes and wear white – show that we’ve got the best fans in the league and support the white out. Until then, Go Bills.