Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Front office lacks urgency and desire to become a top team

   Last March, Bills GM Buddy Nix joked with reporters about his inactivity on the free agent market, while the front offices from other teams stayed up well past midnight to work big money deals with agents.
   "They asked me if I was going to be there," said Nix.  "Hell no, I ain't going to be there. I'm going to bed."
   Of course, what Nix meant was that he believes in rebuilding a franchise through the draft, and not through free agency.  But to frustrated sports fans that already question their team's commitment to winning, it was a certainly poor attempt at humor.
   He might as well have said something like: 'You aren't going to get a Bill Belichick-type of effort out of me.  I'm too old to try that hard.'
   More than 16 months after that infamous press conference, the Nix regime remained virtually comatose during the few days of the NFL's free agent frenzy.  While teams all over the NFL snatched up veteran players to help improve their squads, the 4-12 Bills were content in adding a backup quarterback and a wildcat specialist.
   Yes...the team took a legitimate swing at signing Pro Bowl right tackle Tyson Clabo from Atlanta, but lost out in the bidding war, and then didn't bother pursuing anyone else on the market.  A few days later, the Bills almost let linebacker Nick Barnett leave for Detroit without a contract.  Fortunately, the Lions decided to go with Stephen Tulloch instead, giving the Bills Barnett by default.
   And with that...the Bills have (apparently) finished their shopping spree.
   As I write this article, the pathetic situation at offensive tackle is exactly the same as last year.  Chris Kelsay and Aaron Maybin are slated 1-2 on the depth chart at outside linebacker.  Our tight ends are still a waste of roster space.  Depth is still a concern across the board.  And oh yeah, the Bills are still more than $20 million under the salary cap.
   You can't tell me that out of the hundreds of veterans on the market, only 4 or 5 could have been worthwhile additions to a team that finished 4-12 last year.
   Now don't get me wrong.  I like that Nix apparently has a plan and that he's willing to stick with it.  He says he wants to build the team with young draftees and isn't willing to overspend on the big name free agents.
   But still, it's hard not to look at this front office without sensing an attitude of apathy and laziness.  Quite simply - nobody seems to be in a hurry for the Bills to get better. 
   Other teams (see New England, Philadelphia, Green Bay) are experts at managing every cent of the salary cap, stockpiling draft picks, getting maximum value on every single trade, aggressively pursuing the top free agents and exhausting all possibilities for improving their rosters.  It's a "win at all costs" mentality.
   The Bills are constantly caught in the "wait for next year" mentality - refusing to re-sign players for their market value (Paul Posluszny), relying on sub-par talent at key positions (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Demetrius Bell) and hoping for big contributions from unproven youngsters (Torrell Troup, Arthur Moats).
   The front office claims that drafting is essential in their rebuilding process.  But even with that, they don't seem to make the effort that some teams do to obtain more of those valuable picks.  For example:
  • Last year, the Bills bumbled around for a month into the season before getting a measly fourth round pick from Seattle for Marshawn Lynch.  Rumors after the season suggested that New Orleans was willing to give them a third rounder, but Buffalo never bothered calling them to make an offer.
  • During the 2010 draft, the team raced to the podium to select C.J. Spiller and later Torrell Troup, instead of using some of its time to field potential offers.  Other teams sit on their pick for a little while, just in case they could add another pick or two by moving down.   
   Nobody expected Nix to turn the team around overnight.  But from the outside looking in, he seems to be content in the idea of this rebuilding taking 3-4 seasons (maybe more) before the team is capable of even contending for a playoff spot.    
   Rebuilding - if done correctly and aggressively - doesn't have to take years and years.  There are numerous examples of it being done in a single season.  Last year, Tampa Bay jumped from 3-13 to 10-6.  In 2008, division rivals Miami and New York improved from records of 1-15 and 4-12 respectively to records of 11-5 and 9-7.
   Buffalo went backwards in the standings in its first season of rebuilding.  And after it's second offseason of roster moves, I don't see a significant improvement in talent from the days when Marv Levy and Dick Jauron ran the show.  Even more concerning, is that I don't think our front office is the slightest bit worried about it.
   The situation makes me think of watching training camp.
   Lots of football players come into the league with skills and talents, but they don't have the drive and desire to ever reach their full potential.  They become the Mike Williams and Aaron Maybins of the world.
   I get the same vibe from the executives at One Bills Drive.  I'm just not convinced they "want it" as bad as the other teams.  And until I get that sense, it's going to be really hard to get excited about our team.

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