QB Kevin Kolb, G Doug Legursky, DT Alan Branch, DE/OLB Jerry Hughes.
QB E.J. Manuel, WR Robert Woods, ILB Kiko Alonso, WR Marquise Goodwin, S Duke Williams, S Jonathan Meeks, K Dustin Hopkins. Bills Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB Tarvaris Jackson, WR David Nelson, WR Donald Jones, G Andy Levitre, G Chad Rinehart, DE Chris Kelsay, DE Kyle Moore, DE Shawne Merriman, DT Spencer Johnson, OLB Nick Barnett, ILB Kelvin Sheppard, CB Terrence McGee, S George Wilson.
2013 Buffalo Bills Offense:
Thirty-one teams believed that there was no quarterback worth taking in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The Bills thought otherwise. They traded down from No. 8 to No. 16 and then took E.J. Manuel out of Florida State. Manuel was the best signal-caller at the Senior Bowl, but there's no denying that he's incredibly raw and not nearly prepared to start in the NFL. He'll generate some first downs and find the end zone on occasion with his legs, but his accuracy and decision-making aren't there quite yet. He'll be responsible for a high percentage of turnovers until he learns how to play the position.
Like the quarterback situation, the receivers are inexperienced, but have tremendous upside. The one veteran in the group, not counting tight end Scott Chandler (who is coming off a torn ACL in December after recording 43 catches, 571 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games last year) is Stevie Johnson, who posted his third-consecutive 1,000-yard campaign last season. His running mates, David Nelson and Donald Jones, are both gone, so he'll have to learn to work with a bunch of rookies.
The most prominent new member of Buffalo's receiving corps is second-rounder Robert Woods. The USC product was considered to be a first-round prospect prior to bombing the 2012 campaign. He struggled with drops and didn't connect well with quarterback Matt Barkley, which did nothing to dispel the notion that most USC receivers turn out to be busts in the NFL. The Bills then spent a third-rounder on Marquise Goodwin, an extremely fast, but raw wideout. Goodwin might be able to take over slot duties eventually, but he has to learn how to play the position first. In the meantime, T.J. Graham will man the slot. And last but not least, Da'Rick Rogers was signed to the team as an undrafted free agent. Rogers has off-the-field issues; otherwise, he may have gone at the end of the first round. It'll be interesting to see if he can stay out of trouble and eventually unseat Woods as the No. 2 wideout.
As the new Bills receivers grow, Manuel will have to rely on C.J. Spiller as much as possible. Capable of going the distance every single time he touches the football, Spiller will finally be the primary running back in Buffalo's offense. It's unclear why former head coach Chan Gailey refused to utilize Spiller often, but it helped cost him his job. Gailey's replacement, Doug Marrone, doesn't even have a choice right now; former starter Fred Jackson, now 32, is coming off two knee sprains and may not be 100 percent.
Spiller averaged six yards per carry last year, but will definitely have trouble matching that figure in 2013. The primary reason for this is that guard Andy Levitre signed with the Titans. Levtire was one of the top players at his position, and Buffalo doesn't really have a viable substitute for him right now. The candidates to replace him are Sam Young, who has four career starts, Colin Brown, who is coming off a torn hamstring, and former Steeler Doug Legursky, who made two starts in 2012. Kraig Urbik, who also used to play for Pittsburgh, did a decent job at right guard for Buffalo last season.
Including Urbik, Buffalo's offensive line is solid at three spots. The other two are left tackle and center. Cordy Glenn, chosen in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, did a decent job for a rookie this past season, surrendering just six sacks as Ryan Fitzpatrick's blind-side protector. Center Eric Wood is also a very solid blocker. He, Glenn and Urbik will have to compensate for left guard and right tackle, manned by the pedestrian Erik Pears.
2013 Buffalo Bills Defense:
The Bills made the biggest splash in last year's free agency, giving former Texan defensive end Mario Williams a $100 million contract. Williams looked like a complete bust in the first half of the season, recording just 3.5 sacks in his first seven games. Williams was bothered by a wrist injury, however. He had it repaired during the bye and responded by dominating the final nine contests. Even still, Buffalo went just 3-6 in those games, proving that quarterbacks should be the only ones receiving nine-figure deals.
Williams is fully healthy right now, but he'll have to learn a new position because the Bills plan on using many 3-4 looks this season. Williams doesn't have much experience in that alignment - though he did record five sacks in five games as Houston's rush linebacker in 2011. It's a different type of scheme, as defensive coordinator Mike Pettine plans on using both 3-4 and 4-3 formations, but Williams should be able to adjust because he's just that good.
Buffalo, however, does not have another exterior player who can consistently get to the quarterback. Manny Lawson was signed this offseason, but the last time he recorded more than 2.5 sacks in a season was 2009. Mark Anderson is still available, but he was awful for the Bills last year, proving that he's nothing without Bill Belichick. Former first-rounder Jerry Hughes was acquired from the Colts, but he's another bust.
The Bills will have to rely on their three-man front to generate pressure on the quarterback. Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams generated a combined 10.5 sacks in 2012, and there's no reason to think they won't be able to duplicate that feat. Williams will be able to handle the run well, as will former Seahawk Alan Branch, who was added this offseason.
Rounding out the front seven, Nigel Bradham and Kiko Alonso are expected to be the starting inside linebackers. Bradham, chosen in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, stepped into the starting lineup in Week 6 last year and did a decent job. As for Alonso, he's a second-round rookie who will have to learn on the fly. He's talented though, so he could eventually be a solid, three-down player for Buffalo.
The Bills have a couple of other young players in their secondary. They spent last year's first-rounder on South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The pick was considered to be somewhat of a reach by some, but Gilmore lived up to his draft spot. Though he was heavily penalized (13 infractions), he covered well, surrendering zero touchdowns after Week 5. Gilmore is projected to start across from Leodis McKelvin, who was given a 5-year, $20 million contract on March 9. McKelvin has been more of a return specialist over the past few seasons - he has a combined 10 starts in 2011 and 2012 - but Buffalo is expecting him to be able to expand his role in 2013.
The other young defensive back is safety Da'Norris Searcy, who will be taking over for the Tennessee-bound George Wilson. Searcy didn't make a start last year, but the 2011 fourth-rounder did look good when he was on the field. Having a Pro Bowl-talent like Jaiurs Byrd next to him will certainly help. Byrd had a team-leading five interceptions in 2012.
2013 Buffalo Bills Schedule and Intangibles:
No surprise that Buffalo's ownership is once again screwing the fans out of a home game. For the sixth year in a row, the Bills will play a "home game" in Toronto. They'll "host" the Seahawks in December at the Rogers Centre, where they are just 1-3.
The Bills scored three special-teams touchdowns in 2012, two from Leodis McKelvin and the other by Brad Smith. Unfortunately, they surrendered three scores themselves.
Rian Lindell went 21-of-24 last year, but that didn't stop the front office from using a sixth-round pick on rookie Dustin Hopkins for some strange reason.
Punter Shawn Powell was near the bottom of net average and attempts placed inside the 20.
Poor Buffalo. Three of its first four games are against the Patriots, Panthers and Ravens. The Bengals (Week 6), Saints (Week 8) and Steelers (Week 10) loom after that.
2013 Buffalo Bills Rookies:
Go here for the Bills Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2013 Buffalo Bills Analysis: The Bills have a new quarterback, a new receiving corps and a new defensive formation. New tends to be good more often than not, but not in football. E.J. Manuel is super raw, the receivers are almost all inexperienced, while the current players may not be good fits for Mike Pettine's system. Buffalo is once again one of the worst teams in the league. However, this season is all about building for the future, so the primary focus will be developing Manuel and his wideouts.
Please note that the overall grade is not an average of all the individual grades. Other things are taken into account like team needs and goals.
Goals Entering the 2013 NFL Draft: Buffalo spent so much money and effort on improving the defense last year, but it didn't matter because the team didn't have a franchise quarterback. Kevin Kolb is definitely not the answer, so the Bills' No. 1 priority is finding a long-term franchise quarterback. Obtaining help at receiver and the offensive line is also important.
2013 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Thirty-one NFL teams knew how terrible this quarterback class was. No franchise wanted any part of those signal-callers. Except for the Bills. They went with E.J. Manuel at No. 16 overall, which was a colossal reach, considering that they could have obtained him or any other quarterback in the second round. In hindsight, Buffalo should have gone with Tavon Austin at No. 8 and then grabbed the signal-caller of its choice early on Day 2.
The Bills came away with a bunch of receivers, but all of them have major questions. Robert Woods comes from USC, a school that has produced tons of wideout busts. Marquise Goodwin is a very raw player. Da'Rick Rogers, a UDFA, has huge character issues. Put all of these players together with a mentally weak quarterback, and you have the potential for a very turnover-prone offense.
Rogers wasn't the only red-flagged athlete who was added. Kiko Alonso and Duke Williams also have character questions. They're both talented though, so they could pan out if they stay clean.
There are a ton of "ifs" in Buffalo's draft. There's potential, but it could just as easily blow up in Buddy Nix's face.
2013 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
16. E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State: MILLEN UNCLE RUSLAN'S LOSER KIELBASA Grade
Only the Bills. With Geno Smith available, as well as Ryan Nassib, the head coach's former quarterback, Buffalo, for whatever reason, chose E.J. Manuel. I guess the only tape of Manuel's that Buddy Nix watched was the Senior Bowl. There's no reason why Manuel should have been chosen No. 16, especially with the other quarterbacks remaining. Manuel is extremely raw and doesn't have the same decision-making skills as the other signal-callers. He was terribly inconsistent throughout his career. He does project as a read-option quarterback, but he's nowhere near as skilled as Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson.
41. Robert Woods, WR, USC: B Grade
Buddy Nix said he was going after quarterback and receiver early in the 2013 NFL Draft, and he was true to his word. Robert Woods was arguably the top wideout available according to consensus rankings, though it is hard to trust USC receivers. Woods does project as an obvious upgrade though, so it's difficult to hate this pick.
46. Kiko Alonso, ILB, Oregon: C- Grade
Kiko Alonso was not the top linebacker on the board (Arthur Brown, maybe even Jon Bostic). Even worse, he has glaring off-the-field issues, so the Bills will regret this pick if Alonso gets into trouble.
78. Marquise Goodwin, WR, Texas: C Grade
Marquise Goodwin is a very speedy receiver, but he's a project. Unlike Tavon Austin, he's not a real football player yet; he's just an athlete. The Bills did need a speed element at wideout on their offense, but I feel like they picked Goodwin a round too early.
105. Duke Williams, S, Nevada: B Grade
Safety was not Buffalo's most pressing need, but depth had to be acquired in the wake of George Wilson's departure to Tennessee. Duke Williams was seen as a fourth-round prospect throughout, so this is the right range to take him.
143. Jonathan Meeks, S, Clemson: C- Grade
Another safety? I'm trying to figure out how this makes sense. Meeks was a borderline draftable prospect, so it's not even like he was one of the top players available.
177. Dustin Hopkins, K, Florida State: D Grade
Rian Lindell, who signed a 4-year contract last season, went 21-of-24 in 2012. That means Dustin Hopkins will probably be just a kickoff specialist. Wasted pick.
222. Chris Gragg, TE, Arkansas: A- Grade
I thought the Bills would have addressed the tight end position earlier, but Chris Gragg is pretty good value in the seventh round. I had him in the fifth.
The Bills still haven't qualified for the playoffs since 1999, thanks in part to their lack of a franchise quarterback since Jim Kelly. General manager Buddy Nix apparently thought Ryan Fitzpatrick was that type of a high-level signal-caller when he gave him a 7-year, $62 million contract in the middle of the 2011 season. Fortunately, Buffalo can move on from Fitzpatrick without any sort of cap penalty, so Nix needs to do that. Nix has told the media that he plans on drafting a franchise quarterback this April, so it'll be interesting to see what he comes up with. An upgrade could mean a playoff berth; the Bills went 6-10, yet lost four games by seven points or fewer.
Seahawks sign QB Tarvaris Jackson
Bills cut QB Tarvaris Jackson
Bills sign G Doug Legursky
Bills acquire DE/OLB Jerry Hughes from Colts for ILB Kelvin Sheppard
Bears sign DE Kyle Moore
Browns sign WR David Nelson
Bills sign DT Alan Branch
Bills sign QB Kevin Kolb
Bills re-sign RB Tashard Choice
Titans sign QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Patriots sign WR Donald Jones
Bills sign OLB Manny Lawson
Chargers sign G Chad Rinehart
Titans sign G Andy Levitre
Bills cut QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Bills re-sign CB Leodis McKelvin
Bills re-sign S/LB Bryan Scott
Bills announce retirement of DE Shawne Merriman
Bills franchise S Jairus Byrd
Bills announce retirement of DE Chris Kelsay
Bills re-sign OT Colin Brown
Bills re-sign QB Tarvaris Jackson
Bills cut CB Terrence McGee
Bills cut S George Wilson
Bills cut OLB Nick Barnett
Quarterback: There's a reason general manager Buddy Nix told the media he was going to draft a franchise quarterback. The Bills haven't had one since Jim Kelly, which is why they haven't been to the playoffs this century. Drafted E.J. Manuel; signed Kevin Kolb
Wide Receiver: Nix also mentioned drafting a big No. 2 receiver to complement Stevie Johnson. There will be plenty such players available in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, including DeAndre Hopkins and Cobi Hamilton. Drafted Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin
Two Linebackers: The Bills spent so much money last season on defensive ends, but then realized that they have a gaping hole in the middle of their stop unit. Kelvin Sheppard was a big disappointment in his sophomore campaign. Also, Nick Barnett was released, so an upgrade is needed at weakside linebacker. Signed Manny Lawson; drafted Kiko Alonso
Defensive End: Both Mario Williams and Mark Anderson began their Buffalo careers rather sluggishly. Williams had wrist surgery during the bye week and magically improved. Anderson, however, suffered a knee injury in Week 5 and never saw the field again. He's due a $1.5 million option bonus, so he may not be back. Traded for Jerry Hughes
Safety: Jairus Byrd is one of the top safeties in football, so he must be retained. The Bills reportedly began long-term contract negotiations with him back in November. Franchised Jairus Byrd; drafted Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks
Guard: Left guard Andy Levitre is the team's top offensive lineman. Buffalo cannot allow him to get away. Signed Doug Legursky
Fullback: Corey McIntyre is a free agent, but he wasn't particularly effective this past season.
Punter: Shawn Powell ranked in the bottom 10 of starting punters in terms of net average.
2013 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Kevin Kolb, QB, Cardinals. Age: 29. Signed with Bills
Kevin Kolb hasn't been officially released, but the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports that it'll happen in the next couple of days. Kolb is a borderline starter for a team. He can be effective when on the field, as we saw when he threw eight touchdowns to just three picks in 2012, leading Arizona to a surprising 4-1 record to kick off the year. However, Kolb is very brittle. He's been injured every single season in which he was supposed to be the starter.
Manny Lawson, OLB, Bengals. Age: 29. Signed with Bills
The Bengals asked Manny Lawson to rush the passer and stop the run, and he did that very well. He's not good in coverage, however.
Alan Branch, DT, Seahawks. Age: 28. Signed with Bills (1 year, $3 million)
Alan Branch is sort of a jack-of-all-trades defensive tackle. He has no glaring weaknesses and is at his best when stopping the run.
Doug Legursky, G, Steelers. Age: 27. -- Signed with Bills
Buffalo Bills Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Jairus Byrd, S, Bills. Age: 26. Franchised by Bills
Jairus Byrd is one of the top safeties in football. He shuts everything down in coverage - he was responsible for no touchdowns all year - and he constantly comes up with turnovers. He's also decent in run support and is seldom penalized. He deserves a massive contact.
Andy Levitre, G, Bills. Age: 27. Signed with Titans (6 years, $46.8 million)
Andy Levitre is a stud guard who excels in pass protection. He also showed off his versatility, playing decently at left tackle in some games in 2011.
Nick Barnett, OLB, Bills. Age: 32.
Nick Barnett is a very solid linebacker who thrives in both run support and pass coverage. The only knock on him is his age; he'll be 32 in May. He can still perform pretty well though.
George Wilson, S, Bills. Age: 32. Signed with Titans
George Wilson has been an underrated safety for the Bills over the years. He played well this past season, but was deemed expendable when he suffered a neck injury and 2011 fourth-rounder Da'Norris Searcy played well in his place.
Leodis McKelvin, CB/KR, Bills. Age: 28. Re-signed with Bills (4 years, $20 million)
Leodis McKelvin held his own at cornerback this season in four starts, but he was most useful on special teams where he was one of the top return specialists in the NFL.
Chad Rinehart, G, Bills. Age: 28. Signed with Chargers (1 year)
Chad Rinehart did a phenomenal job replacing Andy Levitre in 2011 when the stud guard had to move around in the wake of injuries to Eric Wood and Demetress Bell. Unfortunately, Rinehart missed most of 2012 with an ankle injury.
David Nelson, WR, Bills. Age: 26. Signed with Browns
David Nelson caught 61 passes for 658 yards in his second season back in 2011. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in the opening week this year. He should be ready for kickoff weekend of 2013.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Bills. Age: 30. Signed with Titans (2 years)
Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for a career-high 3,832 yards in 2011 and maintained a 23-16 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2012. Those numbers look solid, but Fitzpatrick is more of a very good backup or just a spot starter. His weak arm should prevent him from landing another starting gig.
Kyle Moore, DE, Bills. Age: 26. -- Signed with Bears
Donald Jones, WR, Bills. Age: 25. -- Signed with Patriots
Shawne Merriman, DE, Bills. Age: 29. -- Announced retirement
Spencer Johnson, DT, Bills. Age: 31.
Bryan Scott, S/LB, Bills. Age: 32. -- Re-signed with Bills
Terrence McGee, CB, Bills. Age: 32.
Tarvaris Jackson, QB, Bills. Age: 30. -- Signed with Seahawks
Colin Brown (RFA), OT, Bills. Age: 28. -- Re-signed with Bills (2 years)
Corey McIntyre, FB, Bills. Age: 34.
Tashard Choice, RB, Bills. Age: 28. -- Re-signed with Bills