Five Areas the Buffalo Bills Must Address This Offseason


Five Areas the Buffalo Bills Must Address This Offseason

Entering the 2014 season, the Buffalo Bills goal was to reach the postseason. That was clear when they decided to trade up five spots and draft Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins with the fourth overall pick, which they sent Cleveland their 2015 first round pick as compensation.

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Although the Bills just missed their goal of making the playoffs, the team showed promise all season long and are clearly a roster on the upswing.

However, the sudden departure of head coach Doug Marrone put the Bills in transition once again, as both Marrone and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz are no longer with the team. The Pegula’s wasted no time hiring Marrone’s successor though, as the team hired former New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan just two weeks after Marrone decided to opt-out.

With outspoken, defensive guru Rex Ryan leading the Bills next season, we can expect to see a lot of “ground and pound” and blitzing in Buffalo. But as it always seems to be with Rex Ryan, much of his success with the Bills will be determined by the quarterback position.

With the new regime firmly in place, here are five areas the team must address this offseason:

1) Who will start at quarterback next season?

After being selected in the first round in 2013, quarterback EJ Manuel has failed to live up to the lofty expectations placed upon him. Although it is difficult to write a player off after just two seasons in the NFL, the team did bench him for Kyle Orton this year, just weeks after he was lured out of retirement.

Oct 5, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel (3) warms up before the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

With Orton retiring shortly after the season, can EJ Manuel lead the Bills in 2015?

No matter how great the Bills’ defence is, the team needs somebody to orchestrate the offence and put points on the board.

With no first-round pick this year, the Bills lack the draft assets needed to move up and select a Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota. Given how thin many consider this quarterback class to be, it might not be the worst thing in the world that the Bills don’t have a first round pick.

Unfortunately, the free agent class is not that much better. Brian Hoyer and Jake Locker are possible options, but neither of them are far ahead of Manuel.

How about a trade?

Well, with Jay Cutler and Robert Griffin III being the most likely candidates, the price will be steep. Cutler’s contract is significant, and given his aloof style of play, is he really something the Bills want to commit long-term too? RGIII has tons of potential, but is beloved by Redskins owner Dan Snyder. Given all the assets the Redskins gave up to get RGIII, I can’t see them giving up on him so early on his career.

With no ideal solution available, it seems very likely that Manuel will get one more shot to lead the Bills in 2015.

2) The future of Marcell Dareus

Nov 9, 2014; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (99) after the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Marcell Dareus emerged as one of the NFL’s best defensive tackles this season, as the former Alabama standout earned himself a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Although he is under contract through 2015, he’s a dynamic player at a critical position in Rex Ryan’s defensive scheme. His ability to man the A-Gap by himself, or slide outside and play five-technique, or even play three-technique alongside Kyle Williams, makes him an integral part of the Bills defence that could easily evolve into what Sheldon Richardson was for Ryan in New York.

If the Bills feel comfortable with his off-field behaviour, the team should invest in Dareus long-term.

3) Decide what to do with C.J. Spiller and the running back position

After missing most of the 2014 season due to a collarbone injury, C.J. Spiller enters free agency as the Bills’ most noteworthy free agent.

Spiller is a tough player to figure out though. His immense talent is undeniable, but his health issues make him a tantalizing player. With Fred Jackson, Boobie Dixon and Bryce Brown all under contract next season, could Spiller be on his way out?

Under newly hired offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Spiller would more than likely continue to be used in a complementary role, not a featured role. Although he can be a game-changer when healthy, the Bills decision with Spiller comes down to whether Bryce Brown can replace him. If yes, I’d expect the Bills to move on from Spiller.

4) Is Jerry Hughes worth paying?

Arguably, the Bills’ most pressing free-agent priority this offseason is to re-sign defensive end Jerry Hughes. After posting 10 sacks in back-to-back seasons, Hughes has proved his worth as an elite pass rusher.

December 21, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes (55) during the third quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Bills 26-24. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

However, his pass rushing ability isn’t the question going forward. It is more the question of whether or not he can play within the system Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman implement. The system they use is similar to former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, but also resembles linebacking duties similar to the Indianapolis Colts system Hughes struggled in early on his career.

If you’re the Bills, do you want to invest in a player that might not translate into an every down linebacker?

Perhaps free agent linebacker Calvin Pace would be a better option at a more cost-effective price? Given the Bills Pro Bowl nucleus of Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, plugging a guy in to play the edge alongside those three shouldn’t be too difficult.

5) Interior Offensive Line

The Bills offensive line played well at times last season, as tackles Cordy Glenn and Seantrel Henderson anchored what was a very inconsistent unit. While Glenn and Henderson look to be the teams tackles going forward, with Cyrus Kouandjio still developing, the team should look to address their guards.

With Erik Pears set to enter free agency, it would not be a surprise if the team brought in a veteran guard and let Kraig Urbik, Cyril Richardson — and maybe Cyrus Kouandjio — battle it out for the other guard position.

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