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Posted: Tuesday, 31 December 2013 4:04PM

Bills potential off-season needs



(WGR 550) -- With the 2013 season behind the Buffalo Bills, the attention now turns to the off-season and what the team could do in the off-season to get themselves over the hump and back to the playoffs.

There are many reasons why the Bills ended up one the wrong side of the scoreboard more often than not throughout this past season, and they have some clearly defined needs. There are some decisions that need to be made throughout the next four months that will dictate how important each of the needs will be.

Before any of that happens though, here are some of the areas that the Bills may look to address:

Wide Receiver
Players under contract in 2014: Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, T.J. Graham, Marcus Easley, Cordell Roberson, Kevin Elliott, Chris Hogan (ERFA)
Why it's a need: The idea behind all the talk about adding a wide receiver is surrounding quarterback EJ Manuel with as much playmaking talent as possible on the offensive side of the ball. Right now they have four receivers in their normal rotation, and their skill-sets are essentially duplicates in a lot of ways. Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods are each savvy route runners that won't necessarily break a game open with their speed or leaping ability. Marquise Goodwin and T.J. Graham are both speedsters that are lacking in the size department. Because of the similarities and some other reasoning, there is a chance Johnson and possibly Graham are not around by the start of the 2014 season. Johnson's cap number goes up by nearly $3 million in 2014, and the Bills could essentially come out even and then save a lot of money on their cap in 2015 and 2016. The Bills need to add a target that has a top-notch catching radius. To quote Buddy Nix, they need a receiver who is open even when he's not.
How Joe B would address it (as of today): Draft pick, 1st or 2nd round

Tight End
Players under contract in 2014: Tony Moeaki, Lee Smith, Chris Gragg, Mike Caussin (RFA)
Why it's a need: Scott Chandler enjoyed a few successful seasons as the team's starting tight end, but was limited as a blocker and showed only average athleticism. As evidenced by their signing of Moeaki late in the year and the drafting of Chris Gragg, they are looking to get much more athletic at the position. It is entirely possible that the Bills may look at the combination of Moeaki and Gragg and be satisfied heading into 2014. However, a matchup mismatch playing at that position is the X-factor for most successful offenses in the NFL, so the Bills might be best served to add someone with that kind of pedigree.
How Joe B would address it (as of today): Draft pick, 1st or 2nd round

Offensive guard
Players under contract in 2014: Kraig Urbik, Doug Legursky, J.J. 'Unga, Mark Asper, Antoine McClain (ERFA)
Why it's a need: Doug Legursky was terrifyingly bad at left guard and Kraig Urbik definitively regressed as a right guard. Urbik also carries a high cap number based on his production, so the Bills may elect to move on from him. Head coach Doug Marrone likes the potential of the trio of young guards they have on the roster, so J.J. 'Unga, Mark Asper or even Antoine McClain may get a shot to start in 2014. The Bills could have both of their guards replaced by the time the 2014 season starts with the Bills potentially looking to fill it with players more geared towards their offense. One of the big problems throughout the season was the ability for the guards to get out in front of screen plays, so bigger and more athletic offensive linemen could end up being brought in.
How Joe B would address it (as of today): Draft pick, round 4, 5 or 6 & priority undrafted free agent

Right tackle
Players under contract in 2014: Erik Pears, Chris Hairston
Why it's a need: If Chris Hairston remained healthy, Erik Pears may not have made it through final cuts because of his contract. Entering the final year of his deal, if the Bills were to cut ties with Pears they would save $2.9 million to the 2014 salary cap. Carrying a cap hit of $3.45 million for the upcoming season, his level of production falls way short of his salary. If Hairston can resume his playing career that would be a bonus for the Bills, but still look for them to address this position at some point in the draft. It depends on your philosophy, but teams that are void of talent at other more important positions are likely to be much better served by waiting and drafting a right tackle in the middle rounds.
How Joe B would address it (as of today): Draft, round 3, 4 or 5

Running Back
Players under contract in 2014: Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, Ronnie Wingo
Why it's a need: The Bills need to start looking towards the future at running back. Fred Jackson will be 33 in 2014 and entering the final year of his contract. C.J. Spiller will also be entering the final year of his contract in 2014, and under the current regime at One Bills Drive, they might be hesitant to re-sign him for the likely salary he will command on the open market. If the front office is aggressive, they could even stand to trade Spiller ahead of the 2014 season while he still has some good value. From what we've seen happen on the field, the Bills portrayed a team that doesn't believe Spiller is a feature running back and that he can't be trusted on third downs to protect the quarterback. For all these reasons, running back is one of the more under-the-radar needs of the Buffalo Bills heading into this off-season. Even if they keep Spiller, they should draft a young player and if he shows something in the preseason and training camp, then look to deal Spiller. 
How Joe B would address it (as of today): Draft, round 3 or 4

Linebacker
Players under contract in 2014: Kiko Alonso, Nigel Bradham, Manny Lawson
Why it's a need: Arthur Moats wasn't great in 2013 and is a free agent, and Nigel Bradham seems to be more of a depth and special teams player than someone that can make an impact on defense. They need someone to take the 20 to 50-percent of snaps that position dictates in any given game to help out the run defense. The player they add doesn't have to be a stud or an early round pick. They just have to be a player that excels in diagnosing the run plays and can help out Kiko Alonso and the defensive line to continue down the path of becoming a top notch defense in the NFL.
How Joe B would address it (as of today): Middle tier free agent and draft, round 5 or 6

Pass Rusher
Players under contract in 2014: Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes, Ty Powell, Jacquies Smith
Why it's a need: While both Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes are going nowhere anytime soon, Hughes is a free agent following the 2014 regular season. The likelihood that the Bills will pay two pass rushers elite money are not very good, which means the Bills may want to develop another player to get after the quarterback during the 2014 campaign. The Bills do like Ty Powell as a developing player and they've also been working with Jacquies Smith on the practice squad for some of the year. They could still stand to add a player in the draft who could be thought of as a pass-rushing specialist that's rough around the edges in the rest of his game.
How Joe B would address it (as of today): Mid-to-late round draft pick

Safety
Players under contract in 2014: Aaron Williams, Da'Norris Searcy, Duke Williams, Jonathan Meeks
Why it's a need: Without safety Jairus Byrd, this defense takes a definitive step back. Da'Norris Searcy just isn't anywhere close to the type of talent that Byrd presents and would be a considerable drop-off in coverage ability. The Bills still have Aaron Williams, Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks to round out the other starter and depth, but this organization needs to figure out a way to retain Byrd. He's a playmaker on that defense, and one they'd be foolish to get rid of.
How Joe B would address it (as of today): Re-sign Jairus Byrd or at the very least franchise tag him

Cornerback
Players under contract in 2014: Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, Nickell Robey, Ron Brooks, Brandon Smith, Mario Butler
Why it's a need: The Bills are hoping Stephon Gilmore will get back to the form he displayed in training camp and preseason and Leodis McKelvin took a step forward in what was his best season to date. Nickell Robey also provided a big boost as their nickel corner and is entrenched in that position going forward. The need for a cornerback really comes down to a depth perspective. Ron Brooks seems to have fallen out of favor with the coaching staff and may not make it to the 2014 regular season roster, while Brandon Smith will also be pushed for a roster spot. The Bills need depth at the position so adding some experience and some youth, both with the prerequisite of size, will help round out the group that was a lot stronger than first anticipated in 2013.
How Joe B would address it (as of today): Lower-tier free agent and late round draft pick

Quarterback
Players under contract in 2014: EJ Manuel, Kevin Kolb, Thad Lewis, Jeff Tuel
Why it's a need: The Bills have stated that EJ Manuel will be their starter in 2014 and also spoke about how happy they were with the contributions of Thad Lewis in his five starts. The most likely scenario for the group is if they got a final word on Kevin Kolb and if he can return, and then likely do nothing through free agency. While some fans may argue for different, that appears to be the path the Bills are on for 2014.
How Joe B would address it (as of today): Late round draft pick or priority undrafted free agent

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

All photos courtesy of AP
What was Bill Polian's most significant move as Bills GM?
  Signing Jim Kelly
  Hiring Marv Levy
  Drafting Thurman Thomas
  Trading for Cornelius Bennett
 
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