Four games into the 2010 season and you know it’s going to look an awful lot like the past 10 seasons – just plain awful. Unless you are one of those delusional optimists who truly believed the Bills were in a position to turn things around this year, you were probably expecting to see a plethora of losses but potentially some forward progress.
There was much excitement when Buddy Nix was elevated to General Manager and brought in Chan Gailey as head coach. There was a feeling that the Bills were finally going to turn the page on the past and that a new day was upon us. Given the size of the task required to pull the Bills out of mediocrity and into competitiveness, many anticipated 2010 as a rebuilding year.
Despite my general pessimism towards the post Super Bowl Bills, I really wanted to believe that the changes the organization made would put the team on the right track. Sure, it would take time, but as they say, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. The question really is, are the Bills heading in the right direction?
Given the unending cycle of futility and failure of the past decade I was really taken aback by how many Bills fans were willing to take at face value that Nix and Gailey were the right men for their jobs and that the organization was finally on the right track. I know Bills fans have been starved for good news, but to be so optimistic in the absence of any real results was shocking. I wanted (and still want) Nix and Gailey to succeed, but I wasn’t about to give them the benefit of the doubt based on an unsupported sense of optimism – they had to show me something first.
The past week has me more concerned about the Bills than I have been in a long time. On the field the game against the Jets marked a low point in being totally dominated. Sure the Bills have lost plenty of bad games in previous years, but have you ever seen a game where the Bills showed so little in any aspect of the game? Offensively the Bills couldn’t move the ball – nothing new there. The offensive line was terrible, the receivers dropped balls, there were no holes for the running backs and yet again the big names on offense were invisible – Lee Evans, Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller.
Defensively I don’t even know where to begin. The Bills defensive front were pushed around at will by the Jets. Besides getting no pressure on the quarterback they couldn’t stop the run at all. Defensive backs were burnt time and time again. Play was just sloppy – guys looked as if they had never played in the NFL – they bit on every play fake and missed assignments that left Mark Sanchez with his choice of targets.
As degrading as this week’s loss is, what concerns me more are the off field moves the organization made in the past 7 days. The Jets loss can be explained, quite simply, by a tremendous lack of talent faced by the Bills. Looking at the starting offensive and defensive lineups you begin to wonder just how many of these players would be starting for other NFL teams – not many. If consider that the Bills starting lineup are mostly NFL backups you can see why Sundays are so painful as a fan. How the Bills got into this mess is something we all saw unfold over the past years, but frankly I am willing to focus on how the team is going to move forward rather than dwell on the past. As long as the Bills have really done something to move the team forward I'll try and be patient – hard to do when your loyalty to the team has been rewarded with a decade of soul-crushing debacles.
I’m finally starting to see some moves by the new Bills regime and sadly they look a lot like the moves previous failed regimes have made. I am very nervous that the “new” Bills are the same as the old Bills and that the new brain trust is either as dysfunctional as their predecessors or unable to positively affect the deep-rooted problems of the organization.
The week started with the puzzling move to release quarterback Trent Edwards. While the move to bench Edwards was certainly welcome, most observers seemed to understand it did not mark a tremendous upgrade at the position. To put it bluntly, many are right to question whether Buffalo has any NFL starter caliber quarterback on the roster. With poor offensive line play it is completely reasonable to assume injury would force further changes at quarterback at some point in the season – surely the folks who underwrite Ryan Fitzpatrick’s life insurance know his risk has gone up given that he no longer holds the clipboard. Given the lack of quality depth on the roster, the marginal incremental upgrade in talent between players, the likelihood of turnover at the quarterback position and lack of available quarteback free agents I’m at a loss to explain why Edwards was cut loose.
The only reason I can see where it makes any sense to get rid of Trent Edwards was if there was a real fear that his demotion would lead to behavior detrimental to the team. I don’t know Edwards personally, but I find it hard to believe that he was the type of guy who would have caused real problems for the team if he was retained on the roster. Why not keep Edwards for depth? He knows the system and players and could step right in if Fitzpatrick were to go down. I know the Bills no longer saw him as their signal caller, but could it have hurt to have a guy to play quarterback in the event of catastrophe? Was Edwards released to allow him the opportunity to catch on with another team this year? If the answer is yes, that’s great for Edwards, but what on earth does it do for the Bills? I know Edwards was not in the long term future of the Bills and certainly could understand that he would not return to the team in 2011, but not having him on the roster past week 3 of the 2010 season makes no sense to me.
What’s further troubling about the move to demote and ultimately cut Edwards is that the organization seemed so sure that Edwards was the best the team had in the preseason. Good enough to not make any quarterback acquisitions outside of a long shot 7th round draft pick. Good enough to monopolize almost all the first team snaps in training camp and preseason games. That nobody in the Bills organization seemed to realize Edwards would perform as poorly as he did in the first two weeks of the season is pretty scary – are the professional coaches and talent evaluators for the Bills the only people in the world who didn’t realize that Trent Edwards really wasn’t a guy with the skills to start in the NFL? This reminds me of the move the Bills made prior to the start of the 2009 season when they went through the entire preseason only to realize days before the start of the season that they didn’t have a viable offensive coordinator – is there any other organization out there that makes moves this ridiculous and embarrassing?
Fresh off the Edwards release the Bills made another move that made you want to punch a wall or jam an ice pick into your ear when they extended linebacker Chris Kelsay for the next 4 years. Drafted as a defensive end in the second round of the 2003 draft, Kelsay has never lived up to that draft position. His best statistical year was in 2006 when he registered 5.5 sacks and 41 tackles as a defensive end. As a man who will turn 31 in a few short weeks, Kelsay is now an outside linebacker who has proven to be a liability in pass coverage, especially on tight ends and speedy receivers going over the middle. His run stopping ability is mediocre at best, but as a multi-year defensive captain the organization likes his leadership in the locker room.
Given his age and his suspect play it is very curious that the Bills felt the need to lock Kelsay into a 4 year deal, especially with his role as a linebacker so new. Did the Bills learn nothing from extending Dick Jauron? You do not, repeat, do not, sign a guy to an extension until you’re damn sure he’s going to provide you with quality over the length of that extension and not just because you’ve taken a quick look and seen a glimpse of what you think he can do.
What’s really difficult to understand is why the Bills shelled out a reported $24 million to make this turd of a deal. Even if you value Kelsay’s contributions to the Bills as highly as the Bills do (nobody does) and see his importance to the team going forward, why on earth do you need to pay him $6 million a year? Who are the Bills bidding against? How do you spend that kind of money on that type of production? You’re certainly not getting a great return based on on-field performance and if it’s leadership you’re looking for couldn’t you find a better way to bring that into the organization? Hell, I bet you could get Tony Robbins to hang out in your locker room and motivate guys for 16 games a year for less than $6 million – he’d probably also throw in a set of tapes to listen to in the car.
Once again the Bills seem to have fallen in love with a player for reasons known only to them. That the Bills can be so taken by a player with such pedestrian contributions on the field and throw that sort of money his way is a hallmark of the past failures of the organization – if things have changed why is this still happening? This isn’t baseball where you can just pay players whatever you want – in football every dollar you pay player A is a dollar less you can pay player B, especially in Buffalo’s cash-to-cap accounting scheme. Spending money stupidly is one of the things that has killed the Bills recently, yet they continue to do it with players like Kelsay and Cornell Green – where does it end?
Judging from fan reactions, support for the Bills organization is rapidly eroding. Bills fans are loyal, enthusiastic and knowledgeable (if they weren’t nobody would be left after the past decade), and they know when bad moves are made. The Kelsay move has hit the fan base like a punch in the gut – I’ve never seen a move so universally panned by the fans. Where Buddy Nix had been seen as a man to solve the Bills’ problems, he is now seen as a holdover from the last failed regime. Chan Gailey, hailed as a guy to get the most out his players, is now seen as a guy who has failed to see just how little talent he has and who fails to utilize the talent he does have (he has 3 solid running backs – why are they not being used?). Indeed, the honeymoon is over and a few more moves like we’ve seen this past week may bring about yet another fan mutiny.
So while I’m dejected after Sunday’s humiliating loss and lack of really any positive takaways, the thing that is really going to keep me awake at night is the realization that nothing seems to have changed. The Bills stand absolutely no chance of getting any better if they continue to replicate the mistakes of their past, and that looks just like what they are doing. One wonders how much more loyal fans can take.