The next chapter of the offseason begins on Wednesday, when most of the 90 members on the Buffalo Bills active roster convene in Orchard Park for the start of Organized Team Activities. It’s their first bit of on-field work as an entire team in 2014, and it’s our first chance to see how the depth chart stacks up.
Now, we finish the three-part series heading into OTAs with five notable players who might not make it through to the 53-man roster in September. Keep in mind, these are for players who have had a role with the team in the past.
Here’s a look at who might be in danger:
1) WR T.J. Graham
- The writing is on the wall for T.J. Graham, and it has very detailed instructions. As far as the offseason workouts and training camp is concerned, it’s time to prove himself not only on the offensive side of the ball, but on special teams as well. As it stands now, the odds are stacked against the former third-round pick to make the roster in 2014. They drafted Sammy Watkins in the first round, they traded for Mike Williams, the current regime drafted both Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin just last year, and Marcus Easley has proven to be a special teams standout. Graham will be one of a glut of players at wide receiver that will be auditioning for one, or at most two spots on the roster. Graham has shown minimal improvements since being in the league, and in all his playing time during 2013, did not show enough to the coaching staff. The Bills have stacked the bottom of their wide receiver depth chart with tall receivers, and one would have to think they’d like to keep one of those players on the 53-man. Graham’s fate isn’t sealed yet by any means. However, he needs to come out and have an outstanding training camp. If he doesn’t, it could mean it’s the end of the line for him in Buffalo.
2) CB Ron Brooks
- As is the case with his fellow member of the 2012 Buffalo Bills draft class, the odds are stacked against former fourth-round selection Ron Brooks to make the roster in 2014. Brooks had opportunities in his rookie season and did not perform all that well for head coach Chan Gailey, leading to his benching after only a couple of games with him being a part of the lineup. Then in 2013 with a new head coach, Brooks was surpassed on the depth chart by undrafted free agent Nickell Robey. The Bills already have five cornerbacks who appear to be locks for the 53-man roster: Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, Corey Graham, Nickell Robey and Ross Cockrell. With the way that they’ve been building their roster, it’s looking like they prefer the new NFL trend to have bigger cornerbacks up and down the depth chart, meaning the smaller Brooks (5-foot-11, 188-pounds) will need to really show his worth in July and August. Like Graham, it’s not an open and shut case on Brooks just yet. However, if he doesn’t show vast improvement or a special teams prowess, then he could be looking for a new team.
3) FB Frank Summers
- In 2013, the Bills brought only one fullback that had any real shot of making the roster and Frank Summers did exactly that. Now, he has some competition in the form of a player who has complete versatility. Summers was not used a lot on the offensive side of the ball last year, and his impact on special teams was minimal. He’s a good blocker when he gets those opportunities, but he is not a fluid athlete and that will likely work against him during the build-up to the 2014 regular season. The main competition for him could be free agent acquisition Anthony Dixon. Dixon has experience both at fullback and at running back, and is a noted special teams player on all four phases. The Bills could look at Dixon as a hybrid type of player that can be the fullback in the minimal times that they use one, and also bring something else to the roster. The biggest enemy to Summers will be roster numbers at other positions. Choosing Dixon over Summers could allow the Bills to keep another player at a different position. Whatever the case, Summers has a fight on his hands this summer.
4) OT Erik Pears
- The only reoccurring name from WGR’s 2013 cap casualty candidate list (Brad Smith, Rian Lindell, Tarvaris Jackson and Mark Anderson were the others), Erik Pears’ fate will be up to one or two different rookies. The Bills aren’t going to hand second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio the starting job at right tackle straight away, but they’ll give him every opportunity to do just that. They recognize that they need to upgrade the position over Pears, but if the rookie isn’t ready enough or gets injured, they won’t have a problem with using Pears once again. In 2013, Pears was likely out the door as long as Chris Hairston was healthy enough to start at right tackle for the team. Hairston never was able to get on the field, meaning Pears stuck around on the roster. Even if Kouandjio is ready and takes the starting job, there’s still a chance for Pears to stick on the roster as a backup tackle. If one of Hairston or seventh-round pick Seantrel Henderson perform well during training camp or the preseason (the Bills would likely prefer it to be Henderson), that could spell the end of Pears with the Buffalo Bills. There are some variables here, but Pears’ spot on the roster is in jeopardy.
5) G Kraig Urbik
- Perhaps more of a long shot to be released than any of the other four, it’s fair to include Kraig Urbik on this list because the Bills have showed that they are looking to upgrade at right guard. Whether it’s with J.J. ‘Unga, fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson, Antoine McClain or Mark Asper, there are a lot of young players that will be battling to take that job away from Urbik this summer. If he does indeed lose that starting job, his contract could spell the end of his tenure with the Bills. As it currently stands, Urbik has cap hits of $3.375 million in 2014, $3.675 million in 2015 and $4 million in 2016. If they were to cut him after training camp, it would save them approximately $875,000 on the 2014 cap, as long as they lump his prorated signing bonus into a hit this year. Using ‘Unga at right guard late in the season shows that they’re looking to upgrade, so Urbik needs to have a strong training camp in 2014. If he does and proves to be the top option to start for 2014, the Bills will have no problem with keeping him around. If one of those aforementioned younger players steps up and outperforms him though, it could mean trouble for Urbik.