At a time when fans of the Buffalo Sabres are wondering if the team's General Manager is seeing the same product they are, its as if the Bills G-M consulted wish lists from some of the team's faithful while laying out the plan for the upcoming off season.
During a 40 minute press conference aired live on WGR Sportsradio 550, the Radio Home of Buffalo Bills Football, Buddy Nix said a number of things that will go over well with the 12th man. Before I get inundated with emails claiming I'm a shill for the team since WGR is now the flagship station for the games, let me state that actions speak louder than words. I agree with almost everything Nix pointed out and appreciate the fact that he didn't sugar coat the needs of the franchise. The Bills have the "talk the talk" portion of the off season out of the way but will ultimately be judged(and rightfully so) by the moves they make and the money they spend in an effort to put a winning product out on the field.
Also keep in mind the Sabres are so depressing right now, I could be hooked in to being excited about almost anything. I might even believe a story about the new Peace Bridge going up before I qualify for Social Security( No, that isn't next week).
Unless you think Ryan Fitzpatrick is a complete waste of time, you have to agree that Nix has the list of off season needs down to a tee: another big time receiver to help Stevie Johnson(more on him in a moment), pass rushing help in the form of one defensive end and maybe two, another offensive tackle, a linebacker and two cornerbacks. Actually that list is so long you might be scratching your head when I tell you Nix also said he expects the Bills will take a big step next season and contend as long as they fill those needs and get the key injured players back healthy.
Having watched the Bills defense perform, the G-M reached the same conclusion many of you have. Getting a pass rush is the top priority. A pass rush makes the rest of the defense look better. I almost said "worlds better" but throwing that term out to describe the Bills defense last September REALLY came back to haunt me. Last year Nix basically said the Bills won't be big players in free agency but this time he said "if there's a guy there in free agency who fits the need, the team will be aggressive." I think the Bills will be better suited going with a base 4-3 defense and while Nix didn't necessarily say they would, the pursuit of a couple of ends and Dave Wannstedt's history would seem to indicate that will be the way the Bills go next season.
As to the hot button topic these days, the future of Stevie Johnson in a Bills uniform, there was no hesitation with Nix's answer as opposed to Head Coach Chan Gailey last week. Nix said Johnson fits in and while they aren't happy with the "antics and penalties", they want him back. After remarking Johnson "isn't a criminal, he made a mistake", Nix said he is confident the Bills can handle their number one wide out because if the team felt it couldn't, then they wouldn't want him back. Johnson will be an unrestricted free agent come March 13th so the Bills have an exclusive 2 month negotiating window and Nix believes if the Bills are fair and it seems fair to Johnson then a deal will get done. Remember that long list of needs I referred to a moment ago? Nix admitted if they don't re-sign Johnson, they'll have to add a second big time receiver to that list.
On the quarterback front, Nix said the team has no reservations about Ryan Fitzpatrick although he did admit they would like to "reign in" Fitzpatrick's gunslinger mentality a little bit. When asked if the Bills would draft a qb come April, he said "maybe so. If one is there at the right time, we would take him."
On the Fred Jackson front, the Bills G-M said they intend to try and get an extension done but since Jackson is under contract through the 2012 season, it didn't feel like there was any urgency there. Nix said its all the same as long as its done before the season begins but that makes me think we might see a Fred Jackson no show at off season workouts and perhaps training camp if there is no agreement by that time.
The one big negative to come out of the press conference as far as I'm concerned was the continued business philosophy of cash to the cap. Nix proudly declared "we can spend to the cap and we will." He also said Bills owner Ralph Wilson has not placed any limitations on him nor has he told him he can't do anything. Nix promised to use all the resources they can because "I want to win." But he confirmed the spending to the cap is through cash to the cap means.
I'll try not to make your head explode with the explanation. When NFL teams give out signing bonuses, in many cases that total is prorated over the life of the contract to create more cap room. If a player receives a $10 million bonus in a 5 year contract, it counts $2 million under the cap for each of those 5 years. By using cash to the cap, the Bills will count that entire $10 million under their cap in the first year of the contract. The flip side though is they won't have to account for the pro rated number over the next 4 years on their books because its all out of the way up front. I don't like that because its eating up cap room that could be used to sign a greater number of players. Don't forget that long list of off season needs, although the draft will be used to fill them as well as free agency.
All in all, encouraging words from the General Manager but he has a ways to go to make people believe, as the tote board for seasons without a playoff berth reached 12. He also has his work cut out for him if they intend to go after any top tier free agents. Convincing them to come here and play for this franchise won't be easy.