Wrapping up the Bills
Lots of subjects to touch on in regards to the Bills, so let’s get to it. We’ll start with the easy ones first. - The Bills will have the 12th pick in the draft this year. So I guess there is something to be said for losing those last two games. - The Bills get visits from Baltimore, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, and the Giants next year. It’s the rustbelt roadtrip as they travel to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philly, Washington, and Jacksonville. Hmmm, I’ve never been to J’Ville before, but the proximity of those road games makes for some tempting trips as well. - I think in looking at the inactive list for the Bills against the Ravens we got a glimpse at who may very well not be a Bill next season. Defensive tackle Tim Anderson was inactive, which just goes to show you what wrestling Tim Krumrie really means. Two offseason free agent signees, Matt Bowen and Tutan Reyes, were inactive as well. Something tells me that both are gone next year and I know that Bowen had signed a two-year deal. Shaud Williams was also inactive, and I don’t see how he fits in on this team. - Jeepers, Jerry Sullivan really hammered Willis, didn’t he? He’s right that his performance doesn’t warrant the sort of extension we suspect he’s looking for. He’s also right that you could at least wait until after the final game to go whining about your contract, but Willis hasn’t been known historically for his common sense and his nuanced approach. The sycophantic Jeremy White took up his defense for Willis this morning, unfurling the flag of “Mac Nation.” As painful as it is to listen to White when he gets on his self-rightous rants, brushing aside all legitimate criticism because it intereferes with his singular point, he did make a valid arguement when he asked who replaces Willis if you give him the boot. You could hear the air moving in the background from the vigorous nodding of Howard Simon’s head as he gave himself whiplash in an attempt to agree with White. My response is, frankly, just about anybody. It’s so easy to want to fall in love with the players on your own teams, but if you look at McGahee’s performance objectively you need some serious beer-goggles to defend him. McGahee finished 24th in the league in rushing yards, but we’ll be kind and bump him up to 23rd because one of those ahead of him was quaterback Mike Vick. So 22 running backs had more yards than he did, as McGahee came up just shy of 1,000 yards on the season. The reasons I heard on the radio this morning as to why he didn’t do better? Injuries: bologna. Half the running backs ahead of him didn’t play in all 16 games this season, and Willis started 14 games. Granted, the top-six rushers played every game, but you have to in order to rack up 1,500 yards. We’re not asking for 1,500 however. Shoot, Ronnie Brown from Miami finished ahead of him and he started two fewer games than Willis. The Line: Yep, the Bills OL had some issues for much of the year. They were awful in the first half of the year and became serviceable in the second half. You know who else had pretty bad lines? Miami (Brown), Green Bay (Green), and Arizona (James), to name three. Those backs all outgained Willis. Who is really elite these days? That’s what Captain Milquetoast asked today, and their response was that there is only one elite back in football and that is Tomlinson. And that’s OK if you want to carve out a class of his own for LT, so let’s just make a category of near-elite backs consisting of Larry Johnson, Shaun Alexander, Frank Gore, Tiki Barber and Stephen Jackson. No arguements about Willis not making that list, right? Let’s try another level called, oh, backs we really like. It would include Willie Parker, Rudi Johnson, Brian Westbrook, Ladell Betts, Joseph Addai, and Maurice Jones-Drew. Anybody on there you wouldn’t trade McGahee for straight-up? So where does McGahee belong? How about in the group with Travis Henry, Fred Taylor, Warrick Dunn, Julius Jones, and the like. All are decent backs, and all are interchangeable. Sometimes, it’s just hard to face reality and admit that there isn’t anything special about McGahee. Yes, he is a decent running back, but the league is filled with decent running backs. When the Bills drafted him I loved the move. It showed courage but we knew it came with a high risk/reward factor. It turns out it wasn’t that big of a risk, nor was it that big of a reward. Simply put, we got rid of one decent running back in Travis Henry and replaced him with another in Willis McGahee. That doesn’t make Willis bad, nor does it mean he shouldn’t be the starting running back next year. But when he comes in and asks for a long-term extension at premier running back rates, that’s when the Bills have to politely decline. And obviously, if a player who can replace him is out there in the draft this year, you take him. - London Fletcher is a classy guy. At least he kept his mouth shut for the good of the team when he could have been bitching about not getting an extension. Now that the season is over, though, he’s letting it all hang out. I’m fine with that. He says he was unhappy all year, but it sure didn’t show up in his play. The Bills have a difficult decision to make with Fletcher. He will be 32 next year, and a four-year deal may not be in the Bills best interest. Also, Angelo Crowell will be back from season-ending surgery next year, and the Bills have to be thrilled with the play of Keith Ellison. However, the Bills are a young team, and Fletcher has a great work ethic and provides solid leadership. Also, the only other player we have who can play the middle in the 4-3 is John DiGiorgio. - As for the biggest story of the year, I still have my doubts about JP Losman. He certainly did play well enough after the bye week to establish himself as the starting quarterback, and there is no doubt it is his team headed into next season. But we all know the flaws, and make no mistake; Losman has plenty of flaws. The question becomes if he can continue the learning process and become above average, or will he remain “serviceable”? Oh, and correct me if I am wrong but isn’t next year the last year of his contract as well? Now that’s going to be a difficult contract to figure out. - Other Bills free agents (after the “Big” three of Fletcher, Clements and Kelsay) include Andre Davis, Kiwaukee Thomas, Anthony Thomas, Daimon Shelton, Mike Gandy, and Coy Wire. Wire is a very interesting case now that he can play linebacker in the Bills new defensive scheme. Davis brings huge value to special teams, Thomas is a good backup corner who may be needed for depth if Clements goes, and Thomas was a solid second back. Everyone knows the interior of the Bills line needs to take a jump up in quality, so Gandy may well lose his spot there and Daimon Shelton was fairly useless all season and could likely be replaced on the cheap. - All in all, it was an acceptable season for the Bills. While nobody is ever going to be happy with 7-9, I think a 7-9 record for this team is an improvement. With a core group of young players, some of whom are signed long-term (Peters, Crowell, McGee), the Bills have something going into this season that they haven’t had in three years: stability. Marv Levy is the GM, Dick Jauron is the head coach, and there should be very few changes at the positional coach level. That will allow them to continue to build an organizational philosophy. They also have hope and optimism, which haven’t been seen around these parts in a while.