When the numbers were crunched in the middle of July, the Bills appeared to be entering free agency with a fair amount of money to work with as one of the teams well below the salary cap. Reports had them around $38 million under the number.
This news, however, was not greeted with enthusiasm from the Buffalo faithful, a fan base used to a reluctance to spend, or worse yet, overspending on busts.
Reading articles in the Buffalo media about the Bills' cap situation, many of the comments were along the lines of, "Good. More money for the Bills not to spend." I'm paraphrasing here.
As I've written before, the Bills were sitting pretty, relatively speaking, as they entered training camp with the same quarterback and head coach. The team made solid additions in the draft, mainly to improve a woeful defense. And with so much salary-cap space to work with, optimists could think, "hey, maybe this is the year the Bills make a calculated splash."
But free agency was a reminder that the Bills are not the Eagles, and regardless of how much salary-cap space they have to work with, no big moves were made. All you need to know about the Bills' moves in free agency is this: their second most expensive addition was the epitome of a luxury signing, adding WR-KR-QB Brad Smith. Smith is a playmaker, but far from a "team need." The Bills have a logjam at wide receiver and a couple electric kickoff returners. You can bet that head coach Chan Gailey has a plan to make Smith an impact player, but that four-year, $15 million contract was a luxury signing for a team that finished 4-12 in 2010.
When MLB Paul Posluszny decided to sign with the Jaguars, leaving the Bills without their top free-agent priority, the optimists might have gotten excited, thinking the team had even more room to work with. The Bills' pessimists knew, though, that no splash was going to be made.
The Bills signed Smith, QB Tyler Thigpen and MLB Nick Barnett. They swung and missed in an attempt to sign Falcons ORT Tyson Clabo, who would have been a big upgrade to the offensive line. They did not add a pass rusher. They did not add an offensive lineman. They did not add a tight end. Essentially, they signed one starter — the injury-prone Barnett.
Buffalo is no South Beach or New York City. It's not Boston or Philadelphia. Gailey is liked by his players, but he's no Rex Ryan, Bill Belichick or Mike Tomlin. Simply put, players aren't itching to ship off to Buffalo, especially when the team has the longest playoff drought in the NFL.
It's nothing against the fans or the tradition — the Bills have both. And they certainly are not lacking for young talent. But in a crucial, free agency frenzy in which the Bills could have made big improvements, they lived up to the expectations of their fans by not making a splash.
It should be noted that, despite the lack of free-agent additions, the Bills are better than they were in January. Marcell Dareus was a key addition in the draft, and expect Aaron Williams and Kelvin Sheppard to help improve the defense. Thigpen was a serious upgrade at backup quarterback. If Barnett stays healthy, his abilities in coverage could make him an upgrade over Posluszny. And considering how excited Gailey seems about utilizing Smith as a gadget in the offense, the former Missouri star QB provides an improvement on that side of the ball, as well as in special teams.
However, none of that is good enough when you are in the same division as the Patriots and Jets and have almost $40 million to spend.
The Bills still need an upgrade at both OT positions, which is why losing out on Clabo stung so much (even if he was simply using Buffalo to drive up his value in Atlanta), and unless Shawne Merriman shocks everyone and returns to the form we saw a few years ago, they still need a pass rusher.
Bills fans can find solace in the fact that the new faces will improve the team's talent level, unfortunately it's not the type of improvement they need. Once again, the Bills couldn't lure any free agent to Buffalo good enough to make the impact that would make them a serious playoff contender.
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