The Buffalo Bills signing the bottom of the barrel, left over free agents in Madden, along with the selection of a pass rusher that needed shoulder surgery that’ll sideline him for likely the first half of the season led Rex Ryan to state that the team had indeed won the offseason. Training camp is just around the corner and we’ll see the team’s roster shrink from 90 names down to 53 by the end of preseason. It’s a huge year for Rex Ryan & Company and a scary one for fans—at least myself. On paper, the Bills have one of the more talented rosters in the National Football League but there’s also some looming questions surrounding a few of the team’s key players.
This offseason was full of headlines and coach/GM speak like every other year, but I decided to put together an easy to read “Do’s” and “Don’t’s” list of things for the Buffalo Bills to pay attention to in 2016.
DO: Continue Feeding Sammy Watkins
After catching just 11 passes on 19 targets for 148 yards and two scores in the Bills’ first four games of the 2015 season, he publicly stated that he wanted to see the ball more—that he should be getting 10 targets per game. The comments were met with the typical bashing you’d expect from those who hate the millennial athlete, but Watkins stepped up to the plate and delivered. In his final nine games, Watkins hauled in 49 catches on 78 targets for 899 yards and seven touchdowns. With every passing game, you could visually see his improvement—the subtle head fakes to trick a defensive back, the ridiculous footwork to get a defensive back turned around, as well as the ability to sell a route to the top of it’s stem before stopping on a dime and breaking it inside. The “was he worth it?” argument will live on forever, but one thing is certain, and that’s the fact that Sammy Watkins is on the cusp of being one of the NFL’s great wideouts. So please, Buffalo Bills, continue to let Sammy eat. Early.
DON’T: Release EJ Manuel
Have to lower my head here and get the oven mitts ready, but there’s absolutely no reason for the Buffalo Bills to release EJ Manuel. I know how fascinated we all are with Cardale Jones, but Manuel is in the final year of his rookie contract that will pay him $2.827 million this season. If the Bills were to cut him, they wouldn’t save a penny. Additionally, Jones was selected with the intention of not stepping foot on a field in live action until the raw, yet talented passer out of Ohio State becomes more consistent and works on the nuances of his game. Many won’t agree with this, but if Tyrod Taylor were to suffer an injury, I’m completely content letting EJ soil the bed for the sole sake of Cardale Jones’ development.
DO: Release Marquise Goodwin
It’s clear that Marquise Goodwin loves track and field. There isn’t anything wrong with wanting to perform in the Olympics, representing your country on one of the biggest stages on earth. However, when you’re under contract for a team that’s paid you $2.14 million dollars to make one start and catch 20 passes for 349 yards and three touchdowns in three seasons, I believe it’s time for this grown man to make a decision on which passion he chooses to pursue. Goodwin has already been paid $107,193.80 per career reception thus far, and has dealt with a broken hand, an elbow injury, a calf injury, a knee injury, a concussion, three hamstring injuries and three rib injuries. Releasing Goodwin would save the Bills $710k in salary cap space and allow Goodwin to pursue his real dream of being an Olympian.
DON’T: Force Jim Dray on Us
Greg Roman’s offense is centered around a ground-and-pound rushing attack that requires a “blocking” tight end. Jim Dray was brought in as an unrestricted free agent and is familiar with Roman from his collegiate days at Stanford. However, the veteran offers nothing in the passing game and he isn’t quite the world class blocking specialist either. Chris Gragg is more of an H-Back, but I’d like to see what Nick O’Leary and Blake Annen can do before just handing the job to the “veteran who knows the system.”
DO: Extend Stephon Gilmore
Stephon Gilmore is a key component to the Buffalo Bills’ defense and secondary. He’s been nothing but a class act since the team selected him and his level of play has elevated with each passing season. With the rate the NFL’s salary cap is going up, the team needs to get an extension done, and soon. While Gilmore’s agents reportedly want the $15 million average-per-year deal that Josh Norman received, if you look at the cornerback market, a five-year, $65-68 million deal with a $16 million signing bonus and about $28 million in full guarantees should make sense for both sides. Otherwise, the Bills have leverage both this year as he plays under his fifth-year option, and potentially next season as well if they choose to use the franchise tag. Those situations tend to get messy and for a player who’s been a major part in the improvement of the franchise, just pay the man.
DON’T: Make Patriots References at Every Press Conference
Yes, Rex. We all want to beat New England. It’s June and you’re already bringing up the idea of putting Ed Reed in the game. Just relax and enjoy the summer for a bit. You turned last year’s week two matchup from me being about as excited as I’ve ever been to go to a game into a joke when I left in disgust after Brady threw his third touchdown, putting them up 34-13 in the third. The game you guaranteed and convinced fans into a week 2 Super Bowl resulted in Brady hanging 466 yards and three touchowns on the defense you proclaimed had the potential to be the best in history. Oh, and four Patriots pass-catchers gained at least 87 yards. At least your buddy Mario Williams got you on the stat sheet with a sack. So, please Rex. Don’t call out New England anymore until you’ve earned the right to do so.
DO: Move Marcell Dareus Around
Last season Marcell Dareus primarily played as the Bills’ nose tackle or three-technique, where he consistently faced double teams and wasn’t asked to penetrate the backfield often. With the transition to Rex Ryan’s hybrid 3-4 scheme, I’m looking forward to see the various ways Marcell Dareus is used. He’s got the size, athleticism and strength to play anywhere from zero-technique to the five-technique defensive end position, so here’s to hoping that Rex and Rob Ryan let Dareus go back to being more of a one-gap disruptor than a two-gapping space eater in 2016.
DON’T: Rush Shaq Lawson Back From Injury
The media went absolutely insane when they learned Doug Whaley hadn’t been honest with them about Shaq Lawson’s nagging shoulder problem that required surgery that will likely cause him to miss several games this year. I understand the disappointment. I wanted to see him run out of the tunnel on opening day and make plays right off the bat. However, I’m glad the team opted to get the surgery done now, rather than hoping no further damage would be done. After all, for a pass rusher like Lawson that relies on a speed-to-power rush, shoulders are pretty important. Shaq’s under contract for four seasons, so we’ll see him soon enough. The last thing we need is another first-round bust due to the negligence of this franchise’s medical staff and trying to get him back on the field as quickly as possible.