Breaking Down the Bills’ Head Coaching Candidates

This year’s Bills head coaching search seems to be a lot more fluid compared to the search 4 years ago.  They only conducted 4 interviews in total last time and one was a sham interview that Mike Shanahan used to leverage a higher price from Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.  This time around they’ve already got 5 interviews lined up only 2 days after firing former coach Gailey and more rumored as well.  Russ Brandon went to work quickly after his introductory press conference as Bills Team President yesterday, catching a plane to Arizona along with GM Buddy Nix, assistant GM Doug Whaley, and VP Jim Overdorf to start conducting interviews.  Here is a primer of who’s interviewed, who will interview, and who’s on the radar.


Former Cardinals HC Ken Whisenhunt

Former Cardinals HC Ken Whisenhunt

Former Cardinals HC Ken Whisenhunt – Whisenhunt has a pretty good resume.  He’s won a Super Bowl as the offensive coordinator of the Steelers and then lost one against his former team as the head coach of the Cardinals.  Whisenhunt has ties to Buffalo’s GM-in-waiting in Doug Whaley from their time together in Pittsburgh.  The concern with Whisenhunt is that in the last 3 seasons his record in AZ was only 18-30 which is just 2 games better than the recently fired Chan Gailey.  He’s also struggled to groom a young QB after he lost veteran Kurt Warner to retirement.  On the positive side he could presumably bring in good experienced assistants and implement a similar system to the Steelers.  There is said to be strong mutual interest between the two parties but the Bills have set up several interviews behind him so they’ll have to go back to him if he’s the guy.  This front office has been high on experience so he has that going for him.

Cardinals DC Ray Horton – Horton is a veteran of the Cardinals and Steelers staffs.  He is a candidate for the Cardinals head coaching job but may be running behind Andy Reid for that spot.  Horton is well-regarded as an up-and-coming assistant.  His young Arizona Cardinals defense was the catalyst for the team’s 4-1 start before the bottom fell out.  As a matter of fact Horton and his entire defensive staff were retained after Whisenhunt and his offensive staff was let go on Monday.  Horton will give you what Whisenhunt will as far as that Pittsburgh philosophy goes but you get a fresh face in Horton.  The only drawback to Horton is that he has been a career 3-4 coach and that would mean moving from the 3-4 to the 4-3 back to the 3-4 in a 4-year span.


Oregon HC Chip Kelly

Oregon HC Chip Kelly

Oregon HC Chip Kelly – Kelly is considered the “holy grail” of potential head coaches this off-season.  He was rumored for months to be interested in a job in the NFL and has already set up three interviews for after his bowl game tomorrow night in Arizona.  The Bills will meet up with him on Friday.  When Brandon talked about being a forward thinking, progressive organization Kelly was the first name that came to mind.  Kelly would be the big splash that the Bills desperately seek to become relevant.  Kelly would also represent great risk, as would any college coach taking his first crack at the pros.  Running back C.J. Spiller would be a superstar in a Chip Kelly offense.  The Bills will face stiff competition from Philadelphia and Cleveland for his services.

Broncos OC Mike McCoy – McCoy was a hot name last season after he brought the Tim Tebow-led Broncos offense to the divisional round of the playoffs.  He’s done it again this season albeit he doesn’t get as much credit with Peyton Manning as the QB this time around.  He’s still considered one of the premiere young offensive coordinators in the league and with Josh McDaniels staying in New England he is getting lots of looks.  The main concern with McCoy would be his ability to put together an experienced veteran coaching staff which is a must for the Bills.

Syracuse HC Doug Marrone

Syracuse HC Doug Marrone

Syracuse HC Doug Marrone – Marrone is one of those guys with success as a coordinator in the NFL and then as a head coach in college.  It could be the perfect mix for a team looking for someone with a lot of experience but not someone who would be considered a retread.  He worked with Sean Payton in New Orleans and helped turn around a downtrodden Syracuse program.  The success that he had in Western New York could attract him to the job but, again, the Bills will face competition for him from the Eagles and Browns as well.


Former Bears HC Lovie Smith – Smith is said to be interested in the Bills head coaching job and it sounds like he may get an interview.  Smith is exactly what the Bills have been looking for in a head coach – a guy with a track record of success and lots of experience.  He finished 18 games over .500 in his 8 seasons in Chicago.  He’d also be able to put a good coaching staff together although his Achilles heel at the end of his Chicago tenure was the lack of a productive offensive coordinator.  He also missed the playoffs in 5 of the last 6 years.  Still he has a wealth of experience and would probably love a chance to coach the front 4 of the Bills defense.

Former Cardinals OL Coach Russ Grimm – Grimm was rumored to be on the Bills list in Arizona but it doesn’t sound like an interview has been set up yet.  Grimm turned down the Bills 3 years ago and his stock hasn’t exactly risen since then.  It would be surprising to see Grimm get the job ahead of either Whisenhunt or Horton but it could be conceivable that he would be part of a staff if one of them was hired.

Bengals DB Coach Hue Jackson – Jackson actually did a hell of a job last season with the Raiders, going 8-8 with a dismal team.  He did however give up the farm for Carson Palmer.  He will be hampered by the fact that he won’t be able to interview while the Bengals are in the playoffs.

There have been other names such as Redskins DC Jim Haslett but I’d be shocked if the Bills went too much further from the above list.  There are certainly some good names to choose from and if Russ Brandon wants to make a splash he can go all in for Kelly.  I think Smith or Whisenhunt end up in the roll if Brandon can’t woo Kelly.  It will still be a thorough process.  I don’t think they have a coach by the end of the weekend but I don’t see it going to far into next week either.

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Ralph Wilson Steps Down As Bills Team President

Ralph Wilson will step down from an active role in the Bills organization

Ralph Wilson will step down from an active role in the Bills organization

For the first time in the history of the Buffalo Bills franchise Ralph Wilson will hold no title other than owner and will not be involved in the decision making process as the franchise turns its eyes to 2013.  It was an inevitable move for the 94-year old owner, new Team President Russ Brandon had represented the Bills at the last few NFL owner meetings, but it is still a monumental step for a guy who was involved in the decision making process as recently as this Monday when the team decided to fire head coach Chan Gailey.

Wilson will go down as one of the better owners in NFL history.  He was instrumental in getting the AFL off the ground in the late 50’s and even helped fund the Raiders and the Patriots to prevent them from going out of business before the AFL took off.  His team went to 4 straight Super Bowls in the 90’s and were the winningest team in the AFC during that decade.  Wilson already has a spot in the NFL Hall Of Fame in Canton, Ohio, elected in 2009.  Things haven’t gone so well over the past decade however.  Wilson drove former coach Mike Mularkey out of town when he continually meddled in the business of Mularkey and former GM Tom Donahoe.  He also made the ill-advised mistake of bringing former Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy back as GM in a move that set the Bills back for several years as a result.

New Bills President Russ Brandon will try to take the Bills in a new direction

New Bills President Russ Brandon will try to take the Bills in a new direction

Russ Brandon has been heavily involved as Bills CEO since 2010 but now he is the man in charge and the buck stops with him.  You can tell that the shackles have come off as Brandon has already made plans to take the Bills in a different direction.  He is making plans to install a new “analytical team” into the front office which is basically the football version of sabre-metrics.  He also has made Assistant GM Doug Whaley the ‘GM-in-waiting” and rumor around Buffalo is that the weight for Whaley could end as early as this April after the draft.  Whaley will also be involved in all of the pending coaching interviews.

The course is clear in Buffalo – there is a new team president and it will be followed by a new General Manager and a new Head Coach.  The head coaching search is already shaping up to be very interesting – I’ll get into that tomorrow.  One thing is for sure is that coaches aren’t running away from the opportunity to coach the Bills which is progress from 3 years ago.  There has been a lot of broken promises and false hope presented to Bills fans over the years and the only way they win the trust back is to win more games but one thing is for certain.  For the first time in the franchise history Ralph Wilson is nothing more than a figurehead.

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NFL Week 3 Review – Bills At Browns

The Bills won their first road game in over a calendar year on Sunday when they defeated the Browns in Cleveland by a score of 24-14.  The victory may have come with a price however as running back C.J. Spiller appeared to suffer a shoulder injury in the game.  While Spiller’s injury doesn’t seem to be as bad as it originally appeared to be, the Bills may have to play a crucial division game against the Patriots this week without him.  Here are some thoughts on the game on Sunday:

  • Fitzpatrick has thrown 8 TDs since his last INT

    Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a different quarterback since the Cromartie interception.  Fitzpatrick capped off a nightmare day against the Jets in week 1 with an interception to open the 3rd quarter that Jets CB Antonio Cromartie returned for a touchdown.  He’s been a changed man since that play.  Fitzpatrick was a workman-like 22 of 35 for 208 yards and 3 TDs on Sunday.  Fitzpatrick has thrown 8 touchdowns without an interception since that Cromartie pick.  He’s also only been sacked once and he wasn’t even touched on the play.  He lost the ball in the rain and fumbled which qualifies as an official sack.  A team that’s built to produce in the trenches simply needs a game manager at quarterback and Fitzpatrick has been exactly that over the last two games.

  • The Bills offensive line is very, very good.  Obviously C.J. Spiller is a special talent and nobody works as hard as Fred Jackson.  But even when both of those guys were lost Tashard Choice stepped up and ran for 91 yards on 21 carries.  Choice isn’t the home run hitter that Spiller and Jackson are but the line gave him a hole pretty much every time that he touched the ball to generate a solid 4 or 5 yards on every carry.  As I mentioned earlier the line technically didn’t give up a sack again either.  Cordy Glenn has been a revelation at left tackle.
  • T.J. Graham celebrated his 1st career TD on Sunday

    The Bills receiving corps is a work in progress but it’s getting better.  Stevie Johnson had his best game of the year thus far with 61 yards and a touchdown on 7 catches.  Rookie T.J. Graham had the most productive day of his young career with 3 catches for 24 yards and his 1st career touchdown.  Donald Jones bounced back from being in the red last week with 5 catches for 42 yards.  The unit as a whole isn’t very deep without primary slot man David Nelson but this unit will have to do at least until Spiller and Jackson are back healthy.  These guys did their jobs on Sunday.

  • Mario Williams is quelling those early concerns by the week.  A huge red flag went up when big ticket free agent Mario Williams was basically a no-show against the Jets on opening day.  Williams got more involved last week against the Chiefs with some pressure and a fumble recovery.  This week he finally got on the board with a sack and a half.  Williams has put some pretty consistent pressure over the past few weeks and is starting to look comfortable in the Bills defense.  Maybe he wasn’t such a waste of money after all.
  • Kyle Williams is back to form.  During the off-season Kyle Williams said that he was feeling the best he had since he was playing at L.S.U.  That certainly seemed like hyperbole at the time but Williams has looked like the Pro Bowl player he was in 2010 before he lost most of 2011 to injury.  Williams is showing that explosive first step that has made him so difficult to block early in his career.  He has already recorded 3 sacks from the inside so far this season.
  • Arthur Moats and crew were active in the run game on Sunday

    The linebackers had their best game of the season on Sunday.  Nick Barnett, Arthur Moats and Kelvin Sheppard were all active in the run game on Sunday.  They took advantage of the lack of options that the line was giving the Browns running backs and didn’t let them get to the outside.  All of these guys are playing a new position in the Bills revamped 4-3 defense and it looks like they are getting more comfortable.

  • Chan Gailey has had two good weeks of excellent play-calling.  Gailey has been out-coaching his defensive counterpart over the past two weeks and it’s paid dividends for the Bills, particularly at a time when their depth is weak at the skill positions.  It must have been especially sweet for Bills fans to see Gailey run circles around Browns defensive coordinator and former Bills head coach Dick Jauron early in the game on Sunday.  Gailey will have to pull another rabbit out of his hat this week in New England.

This week’s game against the Patriots is obviously a huge game that will determine just how much of a contender the Bills really are.  This is not a prediction by any means but I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller out there.  All news has been optimistic for Fred Jackson over the past few weeks so I expect at least he will be in the lineup.  I expect it to be a raucous crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium.  I’ll be there myself in what should be quite the atmosphere in Orchard Park.

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It’s Go Time

There probably isn’t a better weekend in America year in and year out the NFL’s opening Sunday.  Every team goes into that first week tied for 1st place.  Then teams spend the next 16 weeks trying to make the playoffs for a shot at the Lombardi trophy.  What makes the NFL so unique and exciting is that every game is an event.  There is a week of build up to the game and then the game itself.  It’s the only sport like this and that’s what makes it so popular.

Ready for liftoff…

If you are a Buffalo Bills fan, which I have been since I was 7 years old, today is a more exciting opening day than we’ve had for the better part of a decade.  It’s not just about the prospect of having a better team.  It’s not just that the Bills went out and spent big money on Mario Williams.  My fellow Red Sox fans can now relate to having to root for that unlikable team.  Well Bills fans have been doing that for over a decade.  Even their last playoff team was marred by a quarterback controversy between two unlikable guys.  The previous opening day starters before the current one, J.P. Losman and Trent Edwards were, for the lack of a better term, a couple of stiffs.  Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Harvard educated man who looks like a lumberjack, is an easy guy to root for.  Picked in the 7th round of the 2005 draft he played for 2 teams before settling in Buffalo as the starter.

Starting receiver Stevie Johnson was a 7th round pick.  The other two starting receivers, David Nelson and Donald Jones, went undrafted.  Running back Fred Jackson was undrafted out of Division III Coe College.  His other stops before finally making it to the NFL included the Arena League and NFL Europe.  These are the type of guys that you love to root for as a sports fan.  Even the high draft picks like Marcell Dareus, Eric Wood,  C.J. Spiller, and Aaron Williams are likable players.  Good ‘ole southern boy Chan Gailey is a likable coach.  This team is different from the team in years passed.  Maybe it’s because the team has finally invested in keeping it’s own players.  Maybe they just finally “get it” up in Western New York.

Of course the games still need to be played but something can be said for hope.  In years passed Bills fans were excited by opening day but it was more blind faith that drove them.  Now there is finally substance to the hope in early September.

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Buffalo Bills Pre-Season Game 1 – 5 Things To Watch

The Bills kick off their preseason slate of games tonight when they host Robert Griffith III and the Washington Redskins.  It’s been a long off-season for Bills fans who were given hope in the wake of their late season collapse with the high profile free agent signing of star defensive end Mario Williams as well as a push to retain their own key players, a philosophy that had been lost on the organization in the decade prior.  The Bills will begin their push to return to the playoffs in earnest tonight with their first tune-up.  The starters will likely be on the field for roughly 12 plays before giving way to the backups who will be fighting for a roster spot.  Here are 5 things to watch in tonight’s game:

Rookie 2nd rounder Glenn will start at left tackle tonight

1. Who will be the left tackle?  This one will be interesting to watch tonight.  Both candidates for starting left tackle, rookie 2nd round pick Cordy Glenn and second year player Chris Hairston, will be in the starting lineup as incumbent starting right tackle Erik Pears is out with an injury.  In a perfect world the Bills will have Glenn as their starting left tackle and Hairston the starting right tackle in the long term but they still have the veteran Pears on the roster and both of the younger guys need to gain experience.  Glenn seems to have the edge so far at left tackle and he will get the chance to prove it with the start tonight.  Hairston played well in spurts last year but he did suffer several injuries.  Both guys will be going up against starting defensive ends at the beginning of the game which will help in evaluation.  Expect to see both guys at left tackle at certain points tonight with both the 1st and 2nd units.

2. Who will step up at wide receiver?  The Bills have two spots locked up at receiver – they have a bonafide #1 receiver in Stevie Johnson who just signed a 5-year extension in the off-season and a mainstay at slot receiver in David Nelson who has caught 92 balls over his first two seasons in the league.  Donald Jones is the #2 right now, as he was at the beginning of last season.  Jones is dependable enough when he’s healthy but he’s missed 9 games to injury over his first two seasons.  Of note to watch are two young receivers who will be jockeying for playing time – 3rd round pick T.J. Graham, a burner who can get behind a defense quickly, and 3rd year man Marcus Easley, who has yet to play a down in the NFL.  After losing his rookie season to a knee injury Easley had a good camp last year before hitting injured reserve right before the start of the season with a heart ailment.  Easley is purportedly back to 100% and is a big target with plus speed so any contribution from him will be an added bonus.  Veteran Derek Hagan, who showed good chemistry with Ryan Fitzpatrick late last season, also figures to be in the mix.  Nelson won’t play after tweaking his knee in camp last week so it should give some of the otehr guys some time with Fitz tonight.

Young has struggled in his attempt to become Fitz’s backup and may be playing for his job already in game 1

3. Will Vince Young make it to preseason week 2?  There has been rumblings out of training camp that the Bills coaching staff is already prepared to cut ties with quarterback Vince Young who has been slow to catch on to the Bills offense.  That says a lot about Young when you consider that the Bills thought so much about Young’s competition for back-up QB, Tyler Thigpen, that they let Ryan Fitzpatrick play the last 9 games of last season with cracked ribs rather than inserting Thigpen into the lineup.  It seems like a make-or-break game tonight for Young who will get to prove himself in game action before the Bills make any decision on him.  If I were Thigpen I wouldn’t rest in my laurels without Young as there is plenty of time to get someone else into practice and throw them into the competition if Young bows out this early.  Despite the reports of Young’s demise GM Buddy Nix told’s Steve Wyche this morning that he expects the battle to go down to Week 4 of the preseason so we’ll see how it goes.

4. How will the defensive line’s second unit shape up?  We know about Mario-Kyle-Dareus-Anderson but what about the guys coming up behind them?  Chris Kelsay is an everyman who is as solid as any 3rd DE in the league.  Shawne Merriman can be a huge asset if he is healthy but he hasn’t been healthy in 4 years.  The keys to the 2nd unit are the two 3rd year men – Alex Carrington and Torell Troup.  Carrington has shown flashes in his first two years and if he continues to develop he can be molded into a Chris Canty-type player on this stacked defensive line.  Troup on the other hand has shown very little in his first two seasons  A lot of it is due to injury but again you’ve got to stay healthy to produce.  Troup played in the 4-3 in college and he said in the off-season that he would be more comfortable as an attacking d-tackle in Dave Wannstedt’s new 4-3.  Now is the time for him to show it.

2nd year man Williams has a leg up on the competition for 2nd CB spot

5. How will the cornerback unit shape up?  So far in training camp Stephon Gilmore has lived up to the hype and appears to be a lock for one of the starters jobs.  2nd year man Aaron Williams has been playing the #2 spot to mixed results, one day Gailey and Wannstedt will criticize his play and the next they will praise him.  He definitely played well as a rookie.  Leodis McKelvin has been working in the slot and that might be the best spot for him.  He struggles mightily against bigger receivers and gets beat along the sidelines often so the middle of the field might be the best place for him.  Terrence McGee is coming back from injury and looking to make one last run with the Bills in his 9th season with the team.  He will be pushed by youngsters Justin Rogers, who was a revelation as a 7th round pick last season, and Ron Brooks, who played behind two All-Americans at LSU.

That’s the 5 biggest things to look for in this game tonight.  There are of course larger issues such as how Wannstedt’s new 4-3 defense acclimates but that is something better reviewed over the long haul of the full preseason schedule rather than after 1 game.  The 1st game will really be about young guys jockeying for position and fringe roster players fighting to live another week.  It will be interesting to see how conservative RG3 is in his first NFL preseason game, particularly against the Bills’ revamped and revved-up defensive front.  One thing is for sure – it’s great to see some NFL action again after a long off-season.  Enjoy the game.

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Bills brass changing the culture in Buffalo

I wrote back in November during the midst of a 7-game losing streak that the Bills organization desperately needed a culture change.  Since then the Bills have re-signed 6 of their own players, including star wide receiver Stevie Johnson, and signed defensive end Mario Williams who was the biggest free agent on the market.  I’d say that it is far from business as usual this off season at One Bills Drive.  The Bills talked about being aggressive right before the free agent market opened on Tuesday afternoon but not even their staunchest supporters could have predicted that they would successfully woe Williams to Buffalo for the next 6 seasons.

Bills WR Stevie Johnson with CEO Russ Brandon and GM Buddy Nix

Buddy Nix said in his introductory press conference as Bills GM on New Year’s Eve in 2009 that his goal would be to draft and develop players and them sign them long term.  People may have been skeptical after seeing the likes of Nate Clements, Antoine Winfield, Jason Peters, Jabari Greer, Willis McGahee, Peerless Price, Marcellus Wiley, and Sam Cowart, among others, all traded away or allowed to walk in free agency rather than signed to long term contracts.  Nix was true to his word starting last off season when he re-signed versatile safety George Wilson right before the NFL lockout started.  He re-signed Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kyle Williams to a 6 year deal last August.  He signed starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a 6 year contract extension during the season.  Since the season ended he has re-upped tackle Erik Pears, long snapper Garrison Sanborn, kicker Rian Lindell, wide receiver Stevie Johnson, wide receiver Ruvell Martin, tight end Scott Chandler, and linebacker Kirk Morrison in that order.  Rather than using their assets in free agency and the draft to fill the holes that they had opened by letting players walk, as they had in previous off-seasons, they were left to simply fill in the holes that were already there and add depth.

Bills DE Mario Williams with GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey

The Bills most glaring weakness last season was pass rush.  Sometimes opposing quarterbacks would have 6, 7, 8 seconds to throw the ball in the backfield.  That in turn weakens your secondary who can’t be expected to cover the receivers for that long.  The Bills brass identified this early and were aggressive to correct it.  Their plain was simple – sign Mario Williams, a guy that could not only get to the quarterback on his own but enhance the talent of the players around him.  They did their due diligence and they knew that an interior line that featured Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus would be a strong selling point to Williams.  They knew that Mario was more of a small time guy and he wouldn’t be turned off by the small market nature of the Buffalo area.  But they were still the Buffalo Bills and they had to convince Mario that they were the best fit.  They flew down on a private jet to meet him in North Carolina and bring him back to Buffalo at the very start of the free agency period.  They put the hard sell on him for parts of three days at their facilities in Orchard Park and in the end they closed the deal.  They made the biggest deal in NFL history for a defensive player because they felt that they had to.  Is he the one missing piece?  No but they felt that they brought him close.  Now they will push forward with drafting and trying to re-sign their own guys and hope that it all adds up to a contender.

Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt woes Mario Williams during his visit to Buffalo

For those who still may be skeptical after re-singing their own and landing a big fish there is one more thing to consider.  One of the things the detractors have criticized the Bills for over the years is spending the money to make competent coaching hires.  The Bills attempted to woe former Super Bowl winning head coaches Bill Cowher and Mike Shanahan to Buffalo to no avail and settled for Chan Gailey, a veteran who had coached under Cowher in Pittsburgh.  Gailey surrounded himself with mostly inexperienced coaches in his first season and it looked like more of the same from the Bills front office.  But remember this – if the Bills do turn this thing around here in the near future the biggest transaction may not have come on the day Mario Williams signed, or the day that Stevie Johnson re-signed but on the day that the Bills hired Dave Wannstedt, a Super Bowl winning defensive coordinator, onto the coaching staff.  Wannstedt has been instrumental in recruiting not only Williams but guys like Nick Barnett and Kirk Morrison as well.  Now he will instill his championship winning 4-3 defense next season.  The Bills also hired highly sought coaching veteran David Lee to coach the QBs this season.

You can no longer say that the Bills front office, from owner Ralph Wilson to CEO Russ Brandon to GM Buddy Nix and all of his staff, are not committing to win.  They are and they’ve shown it in how they’ve built the team.  Now it’s up to the players on the field to deliver.

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Bills’, Johnson’s poorly crafted gamesmanship coming to a head

Since the end of the season the Buffalo Bills’ brass and impending free agent wide receiver Stevie Johnson’s representation have been saying all of the right things.  Johnson’s agent C.J. Laboy has expressed interest to get a deal done while at the same time acknowledging that the Bills have been slow to engage in serious negotiations.  Bills’ GM Buddy Nix has reiterated all along that the Bills want Stevie back, that the issues regarding his benching in the season finale are behind both him and coach Chan Gailey, and that they plan on negotiating with Johnson in good faith.  Both sides are saying what they need to in order to keep their leverage while making it known that both sides have an interest in getting a deal done.  It turns out the negotiations have begun to turn fruitful.  Per Rodney McKissic of the Buffalo News both sides have exchanged new contract proposals and talks are primed to heat up at next week’s NFL scouting combine.

It may be a Happy New Year after all for Johnson if he signs an extension with the Bills

There could be several reasons for the sudden increase in dialogue between the Bills and Johnson’s camp.  The first is that the wide receiver market may be beginning to work itself out with the dialogue, or lack thereof, between other impending free agent wide receivers and their current teams.  Recent reports suggest that both Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson and Saints receiver Marques Colston will hit the open market.  Other potential free agent receivers that could possibly be hit with the franchise tag are the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson, the Patriots’ Wes Welker, the Chiefs’ Dwayne Bowe, and the Colts’ Pierre Garcon.  If one of the teams that need a #1 receiver fill their slot without Johnson teams that are looking for a complement could opt for a free agent who would take less money such as the Giants’ Mario Manningham, the Saints’ Robert Meachem, or the Rams’ Brandon Lloyd.  There are also veterans such as the Colts’ Reggie Wayne, the Packers’ Donald Driver, and the Steelers’ Hines Ward that could hit the open market as well.  All in all the receiver market is looking like it is about to get flooded and that was before Randy Moss announced his return to the NFL this week.

GM Buddy Nix has made it a priority to re-sign his own guys

The other reason is the realization that the Bills and Johnson are the best fit for each other.  Despite the week 17 benching Johnson has a good relationship with coach Gailey.  He also has a good relationship and great chemistry with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who himself just signed a 6-year contract extension.  He has also taken a leadership role with younger receivers David Nelson and Donald Jones.  Johnson also seems to be comfortable in Buffalo and has already become the first receiver in Bills’ history to have back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons.  At the age of 25 Johnson is already 16th on the Bills’ all-time receptions list with 170.  He only needs 108 catches to crack the top 10 which would take less than two healthy years to attain.  He’s also 19th on the Bills’ all-time receiving yardage list and is a third straight 1,000-yard season away from cracking the top 10 there as well.  Say he signs a 6-year extension, he would likely be at or near the top of all of the Bills’ receiving categories by the end of the contract.  He could carve out his own legacy in Buffalo and if the team turns into a winner he would be a key component, something that seems to be weighing on the mind of Johnson.  The bottom line is that Johnson was a 7th round pick out of Kentucky in 2008 and bid his time while he played behind the likes of Lee Evans, Terrell Owens, and Josh Reed and it was Gailey who had the confidence to make Johnson the offense’s primary aerial weapon when he took over before the 2010 season.  None of that is lost on neither Johnson’s camp nor the Bills.

If Johnson was re-signed it would be the 8th starting or key special teams player to be re-upped by Buddy Nix and co.  At this point with momentum firmly on their side things look optimistic for a deal to be struck.  Still things can go wrong in any negotiation and the process is far from over but both sides seem to want it.  With motivation and momentum now on their side however its hard to see this thing going south.  I’d say that it this point I expect Stevie Johnson to be a Buffalo Bill next year and likely many more to come.

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Dave Wannstedt will try to fix the Bills defense in 2012

The Buffalo Bills today fired their defensive coordinator George Edwards after two subpar years of coaching Chan Gailey’s revamped 3-4 defense.  After finishing 24th in total defense last year, giving up 361.6 yards per game the Bills defense regressed in their second season, finishing 26th in defense, giving up 371.1 yards per game.  Edwards’ new 3-4 defense was supposed to be bigger and better at stopping its opponents than the smallish Tampa 2 4-3 defense that former coach Dick Jauron ran but the defense was soft on the edges against the run and susceptible to big plays down the field in the passing game, particularly to tight ends and bigger receiver targets.  The safeties and linebackers in coverage often seemed to be out of position which would point to a fallacy in the coaching scheme.   After having two years to improve the Bills defense Edwards was met with his walking papers today when he was unable to do so.

Dave Wannstedt was named defensive coordinator for the Bills only a day after the season ended

In steps Dave Wannstedt, who was hired by the Bills as Assistant Head Coach and Inside Linebackers Coach back in January right before the NFL Lockout began.  Wannstedt had joined the staff after he resigned as coach of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers after 6 seasons at the helm.  He had the most success of his career as defensive coordinator to Jimmy Johnson, serving under him in Dallas for four years from 1989-1992 and again in Miami in 1999 before he took over for him as the head coach when he retired.  Wannstedt was the Cowboys defensive coordinator in the 52-17 Cowboys win over the Bills in Super Bowl XXVII.  He had the #1 overall defense in 1992 with the Cowboys and the #6 defense in the NFL in 1999 when he was coordinator of the Dolphins.  Wannstedt traditionally ran the 4-3 scheme with his defenses so it will be interesting to see whether or not the Bills make the switch back to the 4-3 after just two years in the 3-4.  Chan Gailey has said that they will evaluate and make the decision.  While their two big studs up front, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, would fit in both the 4-3 or the 3-4 the Bills seem to be lacking the linebackers for the 4-3 although that is an area that needs significant upgrading anyhow so personnel changes there are likely inevitable regardless of the scheme they run.  Remember that Wannstedt came onto the Bills staff in January and did not have the luxury of going through minicamps, OTAs, or even being able to communicate with any of his players after his hiring which may have made his influence on the defense to be minimal in his first season with the Bills.  Still, George Edwards was given a year to rebuild the defense with Wannstedt working beneath him but he failed miserably and will be replaced by the experienced Wannstedt.  Word is their might still be more changes to the Bills coaching staff but with the crucial 3rd year of Gailey’s tenure approaching and the perpetually muddled ownership situation to maneuver around Gailey acted quickly to make what he hopes will be a positive change to his coaching staff for 2012.

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Thoughts on Bills/Titans

Well, it was fun while it lasted.  What started out as a fun and exciting season had it’s legs officially cut out from under it this Sunday with a 23-17 loss to the Titans and a 5th straight loss.  The Bills dim playoff hopes were put out and if the Lions and Texans can both qualify for the playoffs than the Bills will have the longest playoff drought of any team in three sports (the MLB has a handful of teams that have gone longer).  Either way it’s a disappointment and you need to wonder, once again, what exactly is next for this organization.  Here are my thoughts on the disappointing game 12:

  • I know Ryan Fitzpatrick has taken a lot of flak for his performance since he signed his contract extension but I think he is making the best of a bad situation.  He’s trying to get everyone involved and he plays his ass off, whether he is playing poorly or playing well.  The Bills just need to keep building around this guy.
  • I remember a playmaker on the Jets named Brad Smith who used to make all of these plays when he played the Bills.  I was wondering what happened to him.  Good to see that guy show up in the last couple of weeks.
  • C.J. Spiller had his best game as a pro yesterday.  By far.  Of course there was not much to go against but he really play and ran hard.  You have to wonder what could have been had Corey McIntyre not been called for a hold on his TD run that was called back.  Having 3 carries in the 2nd half didn’t help either.
  • The offensive line hasn’t been terrible but they haven’t been as good with Eric Wood out of the lineup.  Kraig Urbik tries hard but he’s just not as good.
  • Another poor defensive effort in the first half by the Bills but a light seemed to go off in the second half.  I’m hoping that it’s something that they can build on because it would be nice for these young guys to get some experience at being a good, solid unit before the re-group with the injured guys for next season.
  • In the spirit of the above, Kelvin Sheppard looked to continue his brutal play from last week in the first half but seemed to play real strong in the 2nd half.  He’s been inconsistent but his development is key to the future success of this defense.  If he and Nick Barnett can make a formidable duo in the middle they can build out from there.
  • Aaron Williams played well again before his injury.  He’s going to be a player.  I hope he can make it back before the end of the season.  I think Justin Rogers has a lot of potential too.  That news is welcome to Bills fans who are sick of the Bills drafting cornerbacks.
  • Jairus Byrd is a beast.  If the Bills can ever re-build this defense he might just be the centerpiece.  He sets the pace for the whole defense.
  • Chan Gailey had another day as inconsistent as the rest of the team.  His play-calling has been sporadic.  I think that they shy away from the run too much (seems like it’s been a trend for years for the Bills) and I can’ help but feel that the guys are not always in the best position to succeed.  He gets a half of a pass to because the personnel is not exactly what he expected it to be but still we need to see a better game plan from Chan.

I haven’t got much more to add…I’m just hoping for a 7-9 season…8 would be nice but they way they are going it’s a long shot.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

Thoughts on Bills/Jets

Well, the whiteout didn’t produce the results that the Bills had hoped for.  The Jets took the crowd right out of the game early and they never fully recovered as the Jets were prepared for everything that the Bills threw at them.  Rex Ryan took advantage of the extra week he had to prepare for the Bills and by the time Chan Gailey found the adjusttments he needed it was too little, too late.  It’s going to be a crazy second half of the season in the AFC East, I’ll get to the Pats later, but obviously there are three teams at 5-3 halfway through the season.  It doesn’t get closer than that.  Here are some thoughts on the game.

  • I’m not sure that Donald Jones should have come off of a three week absence and thrown right into the fire across from Antonio Cromartie.  He was no match for his coverage skills and was unable to strecth the field.  You have to wonder if it would have been more wise to use CJ Spiller in that role for another week.
  • No touches on offense for Brad Smith this week.  I’m not sure that I understand that one.
  • While there were problems with the Bills offense, they didn’t come from the offensive line.  The line was exceptional again, opening big holes for Fred Jackson and keeping Ryan Fitzpatrick upright.  Fitzpatrick wasn’t sacked and generally had time to throw, he just couldn’t find anyone open.
  • You know that you’re having a great season when people see a line of 82 rushing yards and 38 receiving yards as disappointing.  Those were Fred Jackson’s numbers on Sunday.
  • I think Chan Gailey needs to work Scott Chandler more into the gameplan.  He is reliable and I can’t recall a mistake that he’s made all year in the passing game.
  • I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating – Darrelle Revis may be the best player in the NFL.  Not the best cornerback, the best player over all.  That being said Stevie Johnson found a way to beat him down the field later in the game, if only Gailey and the Bills tried to run the deep routes earlier the Bills may have had more success against Revis.
  • Defensively the Bills play wasn’t overly offensive but they caught some bad breaks (Wilson non-INT, questionable PI on McKelvin).  They didn’t give up as many yards on the ground as they did in the previous four games against the Jets but it was still too many.
  • Marcell Dareus was handled pretty well by Nick Mangold but that’s alright.  A kid like that needs growing pains and it’s always good to learn on the fly.  That being said he did show some flashes yesterday and I see a huge second half for the big rookie.
  • Chris Kelsay may be one of the more maligned members of the Bills for the past decade but the Bills defense really misses him when he’s not out there.  It will be another struggle to control the line of scrimmage next week against Dallas when he’s out again.
  • Brian Moorman had a great day punting the ball yesterday.  He’s quietly put together a great season.
  • For the first time this season Chan Gailey was severely out-coached.  It’s disappointing after what’s he’s done so far this season but it’s important to remember that Rex Ryan had two weeks to prepare.  It won’t get much easier for the re-match in three weeks when Ryan has 10 days to prepare, coming off of a Thursday nighter in Denver the week prior.  It’s what makes these next two road games so important for the Bills.

I’ll recap the Pats/Giants game later but that game compared with this one was a possible game-changer in the AFC East.  The three teams are tied at the top of the AFC East.  On the outset the Jets look to have the best opportunity to get a leg up going into the second half of the season as the only one playing at home next week.  The Bills draw the Cowboys in Dallas.  It feels like it could be the beginning of the end, or it could be another chapter in the story of the resilient Buffalo Bills of 2011.


Twitter @ErikVenskus