27 points per game. 362 yards per game. The 31st best rush defense in football.
The conversation around the Buffalo Bills offseason so far has been how to solve their dilemma at the Quarterback position. Monday they sent a loud message about what side of the ball they plan to address in the offseason.
Two veteran presences were let go, as Nick Barnett and George Wilson were both released within minutes of each other. Barnett was the most consistent linebacker on the Bills roster while Wilson was a mainstay dating back to the Dick Jauron era
The question now mirrors the question every fan of every team asks after every roster move. Did that make the team better? In the case of the Buffalo Bills, I don’t think it did.
Buddy Nix explained parting with two of his top five defenders, in terms of most snaps on the field, by saying that the team has young players ready to step in and replace the veterans cut on yesterday. My question, along with many other Bills fans, is this. Who could he possibly be talking about? Da’Norris Searcy looks like the guy Nix is talking about to replace George Wilson as the strong safety, and while the 4th round pick out of North Carolina fits the description of being young, I’m not 100% convinced he is ready to fill in as a full time starter. Searcy did get over 200 snaps this year as a safety but nothing he did blew me away. If that is the young talent Buddy Nix was referring to, I think the Bills defense could be in trouble. I always ask when replacing a player or coach or GM or whoever, who is going to replace him? You would have a hard time selling me on the point that Da’Norris Searcy is better than George Wilson right now.
Of course that move made more sense than the move to release Nick Barnett. Forget young talent at the linebacker position, the Bills don’t have a whole lot of talent, period, after the loss of Nick Barnett. Kevin Shepard is arguably the best linebacker the Bills have on their roster right now. Kevin Shepard would exclusively on the kickoff team on almost any other NFL roster. Unless Buddy Nix is convinced of what he is doing for the April draft in early February and taking Manti T’eo with the 8th overall pick the “young talent” line is nothing but GM speak.
Then an interesting name enters the fold, it is one Bills fans have heard plenty in the past few weeks. Former New York Jets Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine has a way of wooing free agents who have played under him in previous stops. After leaving the Baltimore Ravens for the New York Jets with Rex Ryan he was able to convince safety Jim Leonard and linebacker Bart Scott to come with him to the big apple. You will hear mercilessly from Western New York media about a similar situation happening in Buffalo over the next few weeks. Jets defensive free agents include safety Eric Smith, safety LaRon Landry, and linebacker Bart Scott. All will be rumored as targets for the Buffalo Bills if the jets don’t re-sign them. Smith is 29, Landry is 28, and Scott is 32. This all while Buddy Nix explained to us about young talent taking over for lost veterans.
The options of Eric Smith and LaRon Landry at safety are fairly interesting. I’ve always liked Smith in particular. The question, though, is what about Nick Barnett? Let’s re-visit a theme discussed earlier about who you have next in line to replace a guy you cut, especially when you cut the guy who is the best on the team in that unit. Barnett will be 32 by the time the 2013 season kicks off, Scott will be 33. Since 2009 Bart Scott has seen his tackle numbers decrease from 91 in 2009 to 60 this past season. From his 2009 season in Green Bay (with the exception of a injury that sidelined him for all but 4 games in 2010) Barnett’s tackle numbers went up from 105 in 2009 to 130 in 2011 and 112 last season. Oh yeah, and they don’t play the same position. Scott is an inside linebacker while Barnett is an outside linebacker. They couldn’t have played together? I would argue at this stage in their careers Barnett has more in the tank than Scott anyway but hey, if Buddy Nix needs to sign Bart Scott he had $9.8 Million in cap room to work with. The Bills are by no means pressed for cap space. They are comfortably in the middle of the pack in terms of how much money they have to spend despite being on the books for Mario Williams and the monstrosity known as the Ryan Fitzpatrick contract. Really ask yourself this: in a 3-4 defense (and we have no idea if that is what Pettine will install, another question unanswered) would you rather have Nick Barnett as an outside linebacker or Nigel Bradham? I don’t know what more there is to say.
Yesterday the Buffalo Bills looked to answer defensive questions posed by last season’s failures. They instead arose questions we didn’t even know we had, like who is Nigel Bradham, really? More importantly; however, the question of who is in charge of defensive personnel has now been brought to the forefront. Because we are talking about the Buffalo Bills, after all, and it just wouldn’t be the same without some confusion, would it?