I wrote last season, after their 5-2 start, that it was finally time to take the Buffalo Bills seriously. They rewarded that little piece of writing by losing eight of their next nine ballgames to finish up 6-10 and miss the playoffs for the twelfth straight season. A streak that is currently the longest drought in the NFL.
So was I wrong about them early last year? Maybe, maybe not. They did lose some key players to injury, but I don’t usually use that excuse short of losing your quarterback. But the erratic play of Ryan Fitzpatrick over the second half of the season was, at times, unbearable to watch. But even when Fitz played well, the defense usually let the team down. Their lack of a pass rush and underwhelming secondary play led them to having the 26th ranked defense in the league.
With this as an obvious need for an upgrade headed into the offseason, they only went out and signed the best pass rusher on the market in Mario Williams away from the Texans. At only 27 years old, a player of Williams’ talent was worth the risk among his injury red flags of the past two season. Making him the highest paid defensive player in NFL history could come back to bite them, but again, at least they’re finally doing something big in free agency.
In the past, Buffalo would sit on their hands and wait until all the big fish were gone in free agency, then sign the stragglers who were desperate for a new team. But owner Ralph Wilson must have liked what he saw out of his young team in 2011, as he decided to open up his wallet and keep his nucleus together.
Both Stevie Johnson and Fred Jackson were given new deals to keep them in Buffalo for the foreseeable future. While there have been questions the past few days about giving a running back in his 30′s a new deal, it was only a two year extension at roughly $4 million per. That’s not bad for a guy who was being discussed as one of the premiere backs in the league prior to his injury. The old Bills would have either given him nothing and let him walk. It certainly seems like things have changed and this move tells me that Buffalo is now doing it right.
Adding to Mario Williams, the team signed New England free agent Mark Anderson to further improve the stagnant pass rush. To address their secondary concerns, they looked to the draft and added cornerback Stephon Gilmore in the first round. For a guy who was considered the second best at his position in the draft, it was hard to be against the pick. They also picked up LSU’s Ron Brooks, another corner who had a high grade but slipped to them in the fourth. I realize that you never want to put your secondary hopes all on rookies, but with the improved pass rush, they may not have to. Nothing makes a secondary look better than a front seven that gets after the quarterback.
In short, it’s hard not to like the way that Buffalo is building their team right now. The Jets are still in turmoil and set to be an even bigger media circus this year, Miami is in transition with a new quarterback, and some are already writing Buffalo in as the number one contender to take on the Patriots in the AFC East this year. Much like Houston last year, it may be time for Buffalo to end the postseason drought. They’re certainly going about things the right way.