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Bills avoid major lockout impact

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Recent posts by Kevin Fishbain

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Posted July 22, 2011 @ 4:29 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

The Bills are sitting pretty. Relatively speaking, of course.

The lockout has hurt a lot of teams, through the cancellation of minicamps and OTAs, and keeping coaches from working with rookies.

Nestled in the group of 2010's last-place teams that have a lot of work to do when the doors open are the Bills. There's no question at starting quarterback. The only big coaching move was adding Dave Wannstedt to assist Chan Gailey and coach the inside linebackers. There were shake-ups in the personnel department, but nothing that will impact the Bills as they prepare for the season.

That's a cozy position to be in compared to the Bills' counterparts around the league. Here's a look at what last season's other last-place teams have to deal with.

Bengals: Plenty of questions at quarterback and wide receiver.

Titans: New head coach and a rookie quarterback without a veteran mentor.

Broncos: New coaching staff, questions at quarterback.

Redskins: Questions at quarterback, bound to be a host of moving parts via free agency.

Vikings: New coaches, no starting QB.

Panthers: New coaching staff, potentially new starting QB, high-profile free agents that could leave Carolina.

Cardinals: Quarterback, anyone?

The constant for these teams, as detailed in this issue's NFList on page 31, is changes where it matters most — quarterback and/or head coach. The Bills don't have that problem. Ryan Fitzpatrick is not a Pro-Bowl QB, but he threw 23 touchdown passes last season, and had a 382-yard, four-TD game against the Ravens.

Fitzpatrick gets his starting running backs and wide receivers back as well, with no change in the offensive scheme.

And Gailey is not on the hot seat — heck, there are teams better than the Bills with head coaches on the hot seat.

In terms of free agents, the two biggest ones for the Bills are S Donte Whitner and ILB Paul Posluszny. There's a good chance they keep "Poz," but he is replaceable, as they drafted two inside 'backers. Whitner is also expendable. The Bills drafted three defensive backs to bolster the depth of what is already their strongest unit. Thus, the team should avoid having to deal with big changes during free agency.

Where the lockout does hurt the Bills is the lost time to get rookies acclimated. Their draft picks, especially DL Marcell Dareus and DB Aaron Williams, don't have as much time to learn the playbook.

OK, I'll address the elephant in the room, the "relatively speaking" part. Despite a lesser impact from the lockout, the Bills still lack the on-field talent necessary to compete in the AFC East with the Patriots and Jets, and to a lesser extent, the Dolphins. Plus, they are a candidate to bring football back to Los Angeles.

It has been a brutal 12-year playoff drought for the Bills and their fans, the longest such drought in the league.

When training camps finally begin, some teams will be scrambling to find quarterbacks and learn new schemes.

While all that's going on, Gailey, Fitzpatrick and the Bills will be getting down to business, without having to incorporate too many new faces into the fold. The Bills aren't a playoff team, yet, but they get to begin 2011 with a big head start compared to their cellar-dwelling brethren.

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