The fourth and final section of this Buffalo Bills’ 2014 season review was originally supposed to deal with how the team could use the draft and free agency to upgrade the roster and improve upon this season’s 9-7 record. However, I’ll also now include my thoughts on how they should handle the search for a new head coach now that Doug Marrone has taken the money ($4 million) and ran. According to reports, GM Doug Whaley will have a say in picking the new man, and the list of reported candidates they are looking to interview includes current defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and former Bills’ backup quarterback and current San Diego OC Frank Reich. Also on the list are the hot, young coaches everybody else is after – both Seattle coordinators, Darrell Bevell and Dan Quinn, Denver OC Adam Gase and New England OC Josh McDaniels. My ideal situation would be for the Bills to hire Reich, who fits the situation best and “gets it” as far as what it takes to coach here, and somehow convince Schwartz to stay on to coordinate the defense and keep the continuity there. Maybe a big raise and promotion to “associate head coach” or something along those lines would do it. That way the entire defensive staff would remain intact while Reich completely retooled the offensive staff with more forward-thinking people of his own choosing. As far as re-stocking the roster, Whaley created a big hole by trading away the Bills top pick and 4th rounder in this year’s draft to get Sammy Watkins. Can Whaley convince new owner Terry Pegula to ante up for a couple of key free agents to make up for those lost draft picks? The Bills still have 7 choices in the 7 round draft, but with no first rounder they could use a high-quality free agent to keep pace with the rest of the league. That player doesn’t necessarily need to be a quarterback, even though that is the position of biggest need. Here are the positions where the team needs help, in my opinion, and what Buffalo could do to improve these areas:
The free agent crop is extremely thin, and there are really no long-term answers there. If the Bills are looking for another decent veteran, similar to Kyle Orton, to come in and compete with EJ Manuel, Dolphins’ backup Matt Moore, who is 30 years old and has starting experience, would be a good option. If they want to take a flyer on a younger player who has been thrown to the wolves with a bad franchise and could be salvageable, then Jake Locker, who has been a bust in Tennessee, might work. He was compared to Jim Kelly coming out of college but hasn’t played up to the billing, although it can be argued that he was thrown into the fire before he was ready, much like Manuel, and might blossom with better coaching. With no first round draft pick, any QB coming out of college would have to be a Derek Carr/Jimmy Garropollo type of player that could be found in the later rounds. A couple of names in that group would be Oregon State’s Sean Mannion and Baylor’s Bryce Petty.
The Bills are going to either have to add some talent here or find out whether Bryce Brown can be a bigger contributor. In the draft, Todd Gurley from Georgia is a first round talent who may drop into the second or third round after missing time in 2014 with injuries. Among free agent backs, Oakland’s Darren McFadden is an intriguing name. He’s underachieved with the Raiders but could just need a change of scenery.
The Bills need to add some players here, with the depth behind Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods being thin. They also could stand to upgrade the tight end position. At wide receiver, San Diego’s Eddie Royal, a productive #3 type receiver, is an interesting free agent name who would fit well here, especially if Reich is hired as head coach. Tyler Lockett of Kansas State is a projected mid-round receiver who looks like he will be a solid pro. The Bills could make a splash in free agency with a push for a big signing at tight end. Julius Thomas, one of Peyton Manning’s premier weapons in Denver, is available, while Jordan Cameron of Cleveland underachieved this year but could be a good addition to the offense.
Buffalo could offset the loss of the first round draft pick by reaching into the free agent market and signing guard Mike Iupati away from the San Francisco 49ers. He’s young (27) and a solid starter who would immediately upgrade a position of need. The Niners are in somewhat of a state of flux with coach Jim Harbaugh departing, so this signing is not a pipedream. The Bills are likely to look for more help along the line in the draft, and a couple of good prospects are Ari Kouandjio of Alabama, younger brother of the Bills’ rookie, and Corey Robinson of South Carolina.
The Bills’ defense is in pretty good shape going into 2015, but one position that could use some help is safety, especially if Da’Norris Searcy isn’t re-signed. If Reich is brought on as coach, perhaps Marcus Gilchrist, a Charger safety, could come along with him. Gerod Holliman of Louisville is projected as a first or second round talent in the draft, and if he falls to the second round and is available to the Bills he would be a great pick, with good size and tremendous ball-hawking skills.