(WGR 550) -- When Tuesday, March 11 rolls around and the clock strikes 4 pm, the free agency period in the National Football League will have officially begun.
As teams are spending tens of millions upon tens of million of dollars, don’t expect the Buffalo Bills to bellyflop into the fray and make a big splash of their own. Unlike two years ago when the Bills signed Mario Williams to the biggest contract for a defensive player in NFL history, the Doug Whaley-managed franchise will likely see what remains when the dust settles.
Regardless, free agency is a tool that teams should use to help supplement their roster, and it would be fair to expect the Bills to try and do just that.
What are some of the positions that Buffalo might be interested in? Here are some of the areas the Bills may be looking to target:
**Note: The names listed are not being reported as players the Bills have interest in. This is purely a speculative piece.
- While there is a debate about what would be best for the development of EJ Manuel, the Bills are also in the business of winning games as early as the 2014 season. Manuel’s three knee injuries cannot be ignored and the Bills have to decide if they can depend on Thad Lewis to be their backup if their starter gets injured again. They’ll make the argument that Lewis went 2-3 as a starter, but the counter-argument should also be that the Bills’ passing game did next to nothing in each of those two victories. In five total starts, Lewis completed 93-of-157 passes for 1,092 yards. He had four touchdowns, three interceptions, seven fumbles and was sacked 18 times. The Bills could stand to do much better than Lewis as their backup. Michael Vick is out there as a free agent and probably would be the top choice in this if it weren’t for his name and reputation. The Bills have been marred by quarterback controversies since Jim Kelly retired. If Manuel struggles at all, the trigger finger for some will be a lot happier if Vick were here opposed to some others.
A name and why it makes sense: Shaun Hill - He’s a smart player that knows his role on a team, has provided solid backup duty to a young quarterback for years and can actually keep a team’s offense playing at a high level when called upon. The link to quarterbacks coach Todd Downing doesn’t hurt, either.
- The Bills have to start thinking about life beyond 2014. Both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller look poised to become unrestricted free agents in March of 2015 unless the Bills decide to re-sign one or both of them. Even if they only re-sign one, that leaves a gaping hole at running back that needs to be filled. In the short-term, the Bills need a third-string running back. It would make a lot of sense to ink a third-tier running back with some experience on a low-risk contract to compete with a younger player they’ll bring in either through the draft or as an undrafted free agent.
A name and why it makes sense: Jonathan Dwyer - He has six starts under his belt, is still only 24 years old and has averaged four yards per carry in each of the past two seasons. Signing him to a two or three year deal with the impending running back situation would be quite a savvy move by the Bills. The running back market seems to be dead this year, so it could help the Bills land someone like him.
- The Bills need playmakers for EJ Manuel to throw the ball to. Unfortunately for fans, they’ll have to wait a bit for a big name to be added to that part of the roster. Don’t expect Buffalo to make a huge offer to one of the top names available at wide receiver. Instead, look for a depth signing that may not end up with the roster by the time training camp is over. A one-year deal for a special teams, round-out-the-roster type might be the play at this position for Buffalo in free agency.
A name and why it makes sense: Jason Avant - Through his career with the Eagles he’s been productive, but just has no explosiveness left in his game. The 30-year old will likely hook on with a team that needs a veteran presence on the roster in hopes to make it through to September. With a young room at One Bills Drive, one could make the case that it’s a good fit.
- It all depends on what happens with Scott Chandler. If he goes to free agency and signs a contract elsewhere, the Bills will be left with only Tony Moeaki and Chris Gragg as their pass-catching options at the position. The only problem, as far as free agency is concerned, is that Moeaki likely serves as the type of signing the Bills would have made this month if they didn’t back at the end of the 2013 season. The Bills are more likely to wait and draft one at some point in May.
A name and why it makes sense: Scott Chandler - The Bills really like Moeaki, so if they were to bring in anyone from the time free agency starts, it would likely be to re-sign Chandler.
- In need of an upgrade at right tackle over Erik Pears, the Bills will have to decide if it’s worth it to get into the overpaying market that’s being laid out for offensive tackles. With their general disinterest in overpaying for players in free agency though, perhaps Doug Whaley and company would just prefer to wait until the draft to try and find a player to start in place of Pears. New Orleans tackle Zach Strief is one that played for Doug Marrone when the latter was a coach with the Saints, but he may command a salary that would keep the Bills away.
A name and why it makes sense: J’Marcus Webb - Armed with Cordy Glenn and Thomas Welch on the roster already, drafting a player to take over for Pears will be the likeliest course of action. However, bringing in a low-cost tackle with some starting experience to kick the tires on could be enticing. The Bills want a big offensive line, and Webb (6-foot-7, 330-pounds) certainly fits those and all the other requirements.
- The Bills definitely need one starting guard, and they could stand to find an upgrade for Kraig Urbik as well. They have some younger players on the roster they’re interested in developing, but there are players with starting experience available on the free agent market that likely won’t cost an arm and a leg. Geoff Schwartz is an intriguing name, but the secret appears to be out on him and he may end up making more than originally anticipated.
A name and why it makes sense: Daryn Colledge - A versatile lineman with plenty of starting experience, Colledge at best could push for the starting left guard job or he could battle Doug Legursky as the swing lineman to backup the rest of the line. He’s an example of another cost-effective player that has his deficiencies, but can also help a roster.
- Past Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes, the Bills don't have much depth for the players charged with the responsibilites of getting after the passer. Williams is an every-down player, but Hughes is best utilized as a player that comes in situationally and to overuse him would be setting him up for failure. The Bills will likely draft a player for depth purposes at some point in May, but adding a more polished and proven player that can set the edge in four-man fronts is something that surely needs to be addressed.
A name and why it makes sense: Matt Shaughnessy - It's not the sexiest pass rushing name out there, but he's a player that certainly brings some versatility to the table. He proved last season he can drop back to outside linebacker in his time with the Cardinals. At his size (6-foot-5, 285-pounds) he can also serve as a 4-3 defensive end and set the edge against the run. Whichever scheme the Bills might run, Shaughnessy could be a valuable contributor.
- The grass is green, the sky is blue and the Buffalo Bills need to get better against the run. It’s a simple fact of life for the Bills, which is why they’ve already brought in two players (Jameel McClain and Jasper Brinkley) for an official free agent visit in hopes to do just that. Buffalo is likely searching for a two-down run stuffing linebacker that can add to the depth of the position and be a competent special teams player as well.
A name and why it makes sense: Kavell Conner - The former Indianapolis Colts linebacker has a bigger frame (6-foot, 245-pounds) and brings some starting experience to the table before being benched in 2013. He fits the mold of what Buffalo would be looking for in a linebacker and could be had at a relatively attainable price point.
- The Bills likely won’t be seeing Jairus Byrd back in their uniform anytime soon, so an appropriate action must be taken to fill his void. Aaron Williams takes over as the key piece of the defensive secondary following his four-year contract extension, and he’ll need a running mate to go along with him. Da’Norris Searcy is limited as a player and at this point can’t be trusted as an every down type of safety. The Bills like the potential of Duke Williams, but the rate of his development can’t be predicted.
A name and why it makes sense: Major Wright - The former Bears safety had a solid first three years to kick off his career and then really fell off in 2013. Likely looking for a one-year contract, Buffalo’s above average defense could serve as the best type of bridge for him to potentially finding a more lucrative deal in 2015. From the Bills’ perspective, it makes a lot of sense as well. If Duke Williams isn’t ready for an enhanced role, Wright could be a stop-gap solution with a low “prove it” year price likely on tap.