It’s been quite some time since I’ve had the mindspace and subject matter to sit down at my computer and crank out my thoughts on the Buffalo Bills, something I really enjoy doing.
While I do feel a bit guilty about my lack of writing, I’ve justified it to myself in a number of ways. Hey – I’m a busy guy and outside of my work and family life I don’t have time to do much of anything. Besides being busy, there’s not much football to report this time of year. Sure, there’s early season baseball, NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, Golf and NASCAR, but not much football. The closest thing I see to friendly crowds gathering around to watch sports and socialize has been footage of Barack Obama bowling and Hillary Clinton doing shots with union workers in Pennsylvania – trust me when I tell you that these are not exactly Sports Center highlights.
But the no football news is a cop out. There is football news. In fact, if you’re one of the football fanatics (their numbers seem to grow ever year), there’s plenty to talk about – free agency, release of the NFL schedule, the upcoming draft. If you’ve taken Bills football to a scary and unhealthy level you can add the owners meetings to the list of hot topics (although if this is you you’ve long stopped analyzing rule changes and are now on your fourth 7 round mock draft and asking others for comments).
So, here are my thoughts on all the NFL and Bills news since I last wrote.
The Super Bowl
Wow – could anything have been sweeter than watching the Pats choke and NOT win the Super Bowl? The sense of entitlement and the outcome being a forgone conclusion by the organization and the fans (remember – I live in suburban Boston) was amazing. Watching these folks being forced to eat crow, and more importantly, just shut the hell up, was great. I took the AP photowire picture of poor children in Guatemala wearing the surplus “19-0 Pats Perfect Season” t-shirts and made it my Windows wallpaper. My co-workers hate me.
From the high of the Super Bowl to the lows of the Bills’ future. So the Bills are going to be playing some games in Toronto. That announcement put a pang into my stomach. Yes, Buffalo is a small market and needs to expand their fan base. Yes, it would be nice to reward our Canadian fans with a game in their home country. Yes the game will be a major goodwill and marketing event. But does anyone really think that the Bills aren’t already starting to pack their bags for newer a more economically viable digs up north? Unless something big happens, the Bills will not be in Buffalo 10 years from now – God that’s depressing to think about.
The Bills were pretty limited in free agency, but I believe they made some promising moves. They picked up Kawika Mitchell to solidify the linebacking corps – I guess the Bills were impressed with the 2 sacks and an INT for a touchdown he put up in Buffalo in week 16. $3.5M a year for 5 years is a bit pricey, but how many solid starting linebackers play for less? The Marcus Stroud trade was key to a defense that needed a big tackle in the middle and the Bills got him for the going rate – 3rd and 5th round draft picks. The guy is a Pro Bowler but he’s coming off an injury – if he can return to form the Bills have a great player, if he takes time to get back to 100% (or he gets another drug suspension) the Bills once again have all sorts of questions about how to plug up the middle and stop the run. Time will tell. William James could be a starter at corner, but unless he surprises the Bills still have need at this spot. Other signings probably aren’t going to produce starting players – as badly as the Bills need help at the TE position I can’t imagine Courtney Anderson or Teyo Johnson are going to be some sort of magical answer. Spencer Johnson will provide depth on the defensive line but his high salary shows what teams have to pay for defensive linemen even if they will play reserve roles.
The Owners Meetings
Well, well, well – who’s happy about the new collective bargaining agreement, now? Ralph Wilson was ridiculed for voting against the CBA last year, but it now appears he has plenty of company as other owners realize that it not a good deal. If owners opt out of the deal it could lead to the demise of the salary cap and this could be another nail in the coffin of the Bills. Being a small market team the Bills have enough trouble staying competitive against big market teams even with revenue sharing – can you imagine what will happen if owners like Bob Kraft and Jerry Jones no longer have any constraints on their checkbooks? Holy signing bonuses Batman – even the Redskins could be a great team (nahh – they just continue to pay big bucks for players who don’t produce). Are there any decent players for whom they wouldn’t be able to outbid teams like the Bills? If the cap goes the NFL becomes major league baseball and the Bills become the Kansas City Royals. While bad for small market teams, it may be even worse for the NFL – parity (or at least the opportunity for parity) keeps fans interested. If you always lose and there is no light at the end of the tunnel your fan base starts to erode. Will increased sales in Cowboys merchandise offset the loss of Bengals merchandise?
The abolishment of the “force out” rule will certainly have an impact on the way the game is played – there’s going to be much more physical play at the corner position down the sidelines. The jump ball in the end zone will also be impacted. I’m not sure if this helps or hurts the Bills, but the game will be different this season.
Buffalo got a pretty good schedule this year. According to last year’s records, the Bills have the 6th easiest schedule, not that there was much choice in their mix of opponents. The first part of the schedule contains a number of winnable games which is just what the Bills need. In years past the team has racked up early losses from which they could not recover. They can’t afford another slow start – that’s just deadly. If they win some early games they could be in a position to control their own destiny later in the season when they’ve typically been able to pull together and win. And for the first time in years the Bills don’t have to face a New England team coming off their bye – I think the NFL finally realized the Pats don’t need 2 weeks of preparation to beat the Bills. A Monday night game is nice, but let’s face it – MNF is not what it used to – the big game was moved to Sunday night. Perhaps one Tuesday morning people will be talking about the amazing win the Bills had rather than the utterly devastating loss they took the night before. Some fans are upset that the Miami game was move to Toronto, citing its premiere status on the schedule. Folks, the Miami game hasn’t been the big game on the schedule for years. Thinking Miami is still our biggest rivalry is sort of like thinking Germany and Japan are still our biggest enemies – it was once true, but times have changed (but hey – Zubaz are making a comeback, so the rivalry could rekindle).
The biggest topic of discussion going right now and one that I will detail in another article. There are some definite patterns emerging from recent Bills drafts that make the tea leaves a bit easier to read.