AFC East: Buffalo Bills
The Bills begin this season ranked No. 29 in the NFL, according to our first ESPN NFL Power Rankings of the regular season. That's a fall of two spots from their post-draft ranking.
Our voting process is different this season. Instead of six voters, there are now about 80 ESPN NFL experts who weigh in.
Only the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders begin the season with a lower ranking than the Bills, who open their season Sunday against the No. 10 Chicago Bears.
In signing him to a two-year deal last week, the Bills made Orton the third-highest paid backup in the NFL. With a $4 million cap number, only Oakland's Matt Schaub ($8 million) and Miami's Matt Moore ($5.5 million) will count more against their team's cap this season.
Orton's two-year deal can be voided after this season, although it's unclear what would trigger that situation. For now, Orton's deal averages $5.5 million over two seasons.
Here are the details from the deal:
Signing bonus: $3 million
Base salary: $2.5 million
Cap number: $4 million
Base salary: $5.4 million
Workout bonus: $100,000
Cap number: $7 million
One argument is that Manuel, as the quarterback, should be a captain. The rebuttal, from some, is that he is too inexperienced to be a captain.
I'm not buying that.
Think of it this way: If Manuel had gone 10-0 as a starter last season and was named a captain this week, would anyone be saying he was too green for the gig? No way.
He'd be praised for his leadership abilities at the ripe age of 24. His hypothetical success last season, even with such a small sample size, would be used as justification for the distinction. On Monday, we would've heard effusive praise from coach Doug Marrone and Manuel's teammates in the locker room about their newest captain.
Instead, Manuel went 4-6 as a starter last season and the questions about his standing as the franchise quarterback continue into this fall.
As a result, Marrone and players had to tip-toe around the subject of Manuel's captaincy Monday.
"If you look at it, it’s mostly veteran guys that have been around," Marrone said of his six captains, which included two newcomers to the team. "I think that [quarterback] position has leadership qualities in it just by the position itself."
"He's a great leader. He breaks down the offense and things like that all the time. Gives us knowledge," running back Fred Jackson said. "It's just one of those things, when we have a lot of veteran leadership on the team. In time, he'll definitely be named a captain at some point."
I think the issues of Manuel's captaincy and his standing as the starting quarterback are linked.
Manuel hasn't earned the 'C' on his chest. It's not something that should be forced. The six players who were elected should be the six players best suited to lead the team.
Likewise, Manuel hasn't earned the long-term title of franchise quarterback. That honor should go to the best player suited for that job. Manuel hasn't proved it yet.
Right now, Manuel has more time to prove he's the solution at quarterback. If he does, then he'll have earned the 'C' on his chest in the process. If he doesn't prove himself, then the Bills should look elsewhere.
At that point, whether or not Manuel is a captain won't matter.
ESPN.com Buffalo Bills reporter Mike Rodak makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: at Chicago Bears
This will be EJ Manuel's first "real" test of the season and it won't be easy. The Bills went 2-6 on the road last season, with Manuel's only road win coming against Jacksonville. Given the offense's struggles in the preseason, this is a tall task. Prediction: Loss
Week 2: Miami Dolphins
The Bills beat the Dolphins twice last season -- with Thad Lewis starting at quarterback in each game -- and there is plenty of reason for optimism here. The Bills started strong at Ralph Wilson Stadium last season, nearly beating the New England Patriots and then knocking off the Carolina Panthers. With a pumped-up home crowd, they should pull this one out. Prediction: Win
Week 3: San Diego Chargers
Back-to-back home games in September can't hurt for Manuel. If he gets some momentum going against Miami, it should help against San Diego, which was a playoff team last season. I'm not convinced the Chargers are close to being a power in the AFC, making this a winnable game for Buffalo. Prediction: Win
Week 4: at Houston Texans
This is a classic toss-up game, a road contest against a team that was in the NFL's basement last year. The Texans will be better this season, but like the Bills, they have question marks at quarterback. Can Ryan Fitzpatrick out-duel Manuel? We'll say yes, but it will be close. Prediction: Loss
Week 5: at Detroit Lions
Jim Schwartz returns to Detroit to face his old team. The Bills' road schedule isn't overly difficult and I think they can come away with a few wins along the way. We'll chalk this one up as a victory. Prediction: Win
Week 6: New England Patriots
The Bills played the Patriots tough in last season's opener and also beat New England at home in 2011. It could happen again but it will take a strong effort from Manuel. By Week 6, is he ready to topple Tom Brady and the Patriots? Not likely. Prediction: Loss
Week 7: Minnesota Vikings
Will this be a Teddy Bridgewater vs. EJ Manuel matchup? Perhaps, if Matt Cassel struggles early for the Vikings. This is another winnable home game for the Bills, one in which their improved run defense will be tested against Adrian Peterson. We'll give the Bills their fourth win. Prediction: Win
Week 8: at New York Jets
Manuel had one of his worst games last season in the Meadowlands and was outdone by Geno Smith and the Jets. Whether Smith or Michael Vick is starting for the Jets by this point may not matter; the Jets' defense is tough and should contain the Bills on New York's home turf. Prediction: Loss
Week 10: Kansas City Chiefs
The Bills played the undefeated Chiefs tough around this time last season, with Jeff Tuel's goal-line interception the turning point in an otherwise well-played game. The Chiefs use a controlled offense, led by Alex Smith, and have a strong defense. That's a good combination to beat the Bills. Prediction: Loss
Week 11: at Miami Dolphins
The Bills should escape some of the South Florida heat as this game falls in November, but the Dolphins have a superior quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. If the Bills' defense stays strong like it did last season in Miami, this is a winnable road game. Prediction: Win
Week 12: New York Jets
The Bills handed the Jets one of their worst losses of last season at Ralph Wilson Stadium, a game in which Smith was benched for Matt Simms. Can Manuel have another strong day? It's tough to foresee this far into the season, but we'll say yes. Prediction: Win
Week 13: Cleveland Browns
Who will be the Browns' quarterback by Thanksgiving? Does it matter? This is the Bills' most winnable home game. If they can't pull this one out, yikes. The Browns would gladly take the "W" and the Bills' first-round draft pick next May. But for now, let's hold off. Prediction: Win
Week 14: at Denver Broncos
This begins a brutal December stretch that could ultimately doom the Bills' chances at the playoffs. Pulling out a win against Peyton Manning in Denver would be the Bills' biggest accomplishment in years. It won't happen. Prediction: Loss
Week 15: Green Bay Packers
From one future Hall of Fame quarterback to another. Aaron Rodgers will come in to Ralph Wilson Stadium and hand the Bills another loss, one that would probably put them out of playoff contention. Prediction: Loss
Week 16: at Oakland Raiders
Cross-country trips are never easy, and no matter what the Raiders' quarterback situation is by the end of the season, it may not matter. If the wheels are coming off the Bills' wagon, this will be a tough game to win. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: at New England Patriots
The Bills are in a tough spot with this one. If the Patriots are still battling for a playoff spot, they'll be playing tough and will be a hard team to beat at home. If the Patriots already have locked up the playoffs, then that would likely mean the Bills are out. Either way, not a good spot for the Bills to pull out a win. Prediction: Loss
Predicted Record: 7-9
Watkins took part in routes-versus-air while reporters were present. He dropped his first pass and immediately did push-ups.
It's unclear his participation in the remainder of practice, as reporters are allowed only a brief window to watch regular-season practices.
Watkins re-injured his ribs in the Bills' preseason finale last week.
The Bills will practice four times this week before traveling for their season opener against the Chicago Bears.
The three remaining captains are the same from last season: running back Fred Jackson, center Eric Wood and defensive tackle Kyle Williams.
A notable absence among the captains? Quarterback EJ Manuel, who enters his second season.
Captains are selected by voting among teammates.
- QB Jeff Tuel
- WR Caleb Holley
- DE Bryan Johnson
- DE Ikponmwosa Igbinosun
- LB Jimmy Gaines
- S Kenny Ladler
- S Deon Broomfield
Tuel fills one of two additional practice squad spots that the NFL added this season. Those spots can be filled with players who wouldn't normally qualify for the practice squad -- Tuel was on the 46-man roster for more than eight games last season -- but still have less than three years of experience.
The Bills have three open practice-squad spots remaining.
The Patriots traded Mallett to the Houston Texans on Sunday, several outlets reported. The Herald's Jeff Howe said the Bills and Dallas Cowboys were the other teams involved in trade discussions:
The Patriots had trade discussions with the Texans, Cowboys and Bills, per source.— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) August 31, 2014
Mallett, 26, was a third-round pick of the Patriots in 2011. He has been Tom Brady's primary backup but has appeared in only four regular-season games. He completed 53.8 percent of his passes this preseason.
It's unclear when the Patriots and Bills had discussions about Mallett and if they were affected by the Bills' signing of Kyle Orton on Saturday.
The Texans surrendered a sixth-round draft choice for Mallett, according to ESPN Houston Texans reporter Tania Ganguli.
Spiller announced the move with a tweet Saturday:
Spiller, 27, is expected to be draw considerable interest as a free agent next spring, when the final year of his six-year rookie contract can be voided. He is set to count $5.9 million against the Bills' salary cap this season.
The Bills have yet to begin contract negotiations with Spiller. General manager Doug Whaley last addressed the situation earlier this month, before Spiller hired Speck.
"That's the issue with us: He doesn't have representation right now. So we would like to talk to him and find out what he's thinking and what's in his mind, but until he gets an agent -- unless he decides to represent himself -- we don't want to engage in contract negotiations with someone that may not end up being his representation," Whaley told WGR 550 on Aug. 20. "We like to be efficient with our work, so we're waiting until he gets an agent before we start anything."
Gary Wichard, the agent who negotiated Spiller's rookie contract in 2010, died in 2011.
New-look offensive line: The Bills' shuffling on the offensive line resulted in Doug Legursky, an 11-game starter last season, being released. He was in a battle for his roster spot with Kraig Urbik over the last two preseason games. While Urbik was reportedly on the trade block, he'll stick for now. If left guard Chris Williams can't play in the season opener, expect rookie Cyril Richardson to start in his place. That would make Urbik the top interior backup. He edged out Legursky for that spot.
What's next: The Bills will scour the waiver wire as other teams make their moves. The claiming period ends at noon Sunday and it wouldn't be shocking if the Bills tried to upgrade positions. They could use help at tight end, where Scott Chandler (knee) and Lee Smith (toe) missed the preseason finale with injuries. They could also look to replace backup offensive tackle Chris Hairston. The team is also cycling through specialists, having claimed punter/kickoff specialist Jordan Gay and signed punter Colton Schmidt on Saturday. If another one becomes available, they may make a move.
Bills' moves: Released S Deon Broomfield, LB Jimmy Gaines, WR T.J. Graham, WR Caleb Holley, DE Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, DE Bryan Johnson, S Kenny Ladler, C Legursky, G Antoine McClain, QB Tuel, LB Xavius Boyd, DT Landon Cohen, TE Dominique Jones, CB Kamaal McIlwain, CB Sam Miller, P Brian Moorman, QB Jordan Palmer, FB Evan Rodriguez, WR Naaman Roosevelt, C Jared Wheeler. Placed on injured reserve: TE Tony Moeaki, CB Mario Butler, CB Bobby Felder.
Tuel's roster spot was in jeopardy following the signing of Kyle Orton, which the Bills made official Saturday. Orton, 31, will backup EJ Manuel.
For now, the Bills only have Manuel and Orton on their 53-man roster at quarterback.
The Bills began training camp with Manuel, Tuel, Thad Lewis, and Dennis Dixon on their roster at quarterback. They waived Lewis and Dixon earlier this week, while the team also signed and released quarterback Jordan Palmer this week.
Tuel, 23, started one game last season -- a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs -- as an undrafted rookie from Washington State. He played in four games this preseason, completing 64.4 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Under the NFL's new rules, Tuel is eligible to return to the practice squad as soon as noon Sunday.
Graham, a third-round pick in 2012, was buried on the Bills' depth chart this summer and had been on the trading block. The Bills did not find any takers, per Caplan:
#Bills had Graham on the trade block actually going back to last season. Tried to include him in other deals, no takers.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) August 30, 2014
If Graham clears waivers, the Bills have the option of re-signing him to their practice squad as soon as noon Sunday. Graham is eligible for the practice squad under the NFL's new rules this season, but it's unclear if there would be mutual interest between him and the team.
In two seasons in Buffalo, Graham played in 31 games, making 17 starts. He had 23 catches for 361 yards and two touchdowns last season.
The Bills upgraded their wide receiver position this offseason, trading up for Sammy Watkins and later dealing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Mike Williams. That pushed Graham down the depth chart.
Graham is known for his speed, but has shown inconsistent pass-catching ability.
Yet it's the one they haven't yet announced -- agreeing to terms with quarterback Kyle Orton -- that could have the biggest effect.
Here are some thoughts on that move and where the Bills stand entering Saturday's cut-down deadline at 4 p.m. ET:
Spotlight still on Manuel: Unless the Bills change their tune down the road, Orton isn't going to challenge Manuel for the starting job. So while they have one of the NFL's better backup quarterbacks, the Bills' overall quarterback situation still isn't where it needs to be. A few days ago, it was the worst in the NFL. Now it's in the bottom-third. It's hard to place the Bills' quarterback group any higher than that until Manuel proves in the regular season some of his preseason woes were a fluke or the product of a "vanilla" offense.
Punting situation problematic: The Bills cut veteran punter Brian Moorman after he ended the preseason with two sub-par performances. While the team claimed punter/kicker Jordan Gay off waivers, he only punted once in Thursday's game. The Bills didn't feel as though he was "ready" to punt yet and wanted to evaluate him more as a kickoff specialist. Whether that changes in the next eight days is not known. One way or the other, the Bills will need a punter for their opener in Chicago. Expect them to keep an eye on the waiver wire and try some players out. They had a similar situation at kicker around this time last season and struck gold with Dan Carpenter.
Parting with Cohen: Of the Bills' 13 roster moves Friday, the most surprising may have been the release of defensive tackle Landon Cohen. He quickly earned praised after signing early in training camp, proving to be a disruptive player in some of the Bills' preseason games. There are a few important factors to remember with Cohen: (1) He played mostly against lesser competition later in games, (2) He's a seventh-year, journeyman veteran who remained a free agent most of this offseason and should be available if needed during the regular season, and (3) The Bills likely only need two backups at defensive tackle and those roles were filled by Stefan Charles and Corbin Bryant. Cohen was a nice story during the preseason but he wouldn't have seen much, if any, playing time in the regular season.
Urbik on block? The Bills have already placed wide receiver T.J. Graham on the trade block, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan, but he may not be the only player. Guard Kraig Urbik, who started 16 games last season, could also be available, according to a tweet from CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora. The Bills seemingly tried everything they could do to push Urbik out of the starting lineup this preseason, shuffling players in and out of his right guard spot. Eventually the return of Cordy Glenn at left tackle had the trickle-down effect of moving Erik Pears to right guard. That could be the final blow to Urbik.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
No changes here. This group appears set.
No changes here. Still no spot for Evan Rodriguez.
No changes here. Will another injury to Watkins open a spot for T.J. Graham? We'll say no.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
No changes here. This projection leaves off Tony Moeaki, who still hasn't been able to return from a hamstring injury. The Bills could probably bring him back later -- at a reduced cost -- if they desire.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
- Cordy Glenn
- Chris Williams
- Eric Wood
- Erik Pears
- Seantrel Henderson
- Kraig Urbik
- Doug Legursky
- Cyril Richardson
- Cyrus Kouandjio
No changes here. Sticking with both Urbik and Legursky for now, although it's possible the Bills only keep one of the two veteran interior men in the long-term. Williams' injury "concerns" Doug Marrone, providing more reason to go nine-deep here.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
- Mario Williams
- Kyle Williams
- Marcell Dareus
- Jerry Hughes
- Manny Lawson
- Jarius Wynn
- Corbin Bryant
- Stefan Charles
- Landon Cohen
No changes here. The Bills might not keep all nine of these players in the long-term, but for now, they're worth sticking around.
No changes here. Brown starts for Bradham in Week 1 and this unit gets back to full strength in Week 2.
No changes here. Gilmore and Graham missed the preseason finale with injuries.
No changes here. Searcy looks to have edged out Duke Williams for the competition to start next to Aaron Williams.
No changes here. Marrone is still kicking around the idea of a kickoff specialist, which could give Jordan Gay a chance to stick. They'll be working off a small sample size.
Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills be without some of their starters in the game.
Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Corey Graham, as well as tight end Scott Chandler, are inactive for unknown reasons. All three players practiced earlier this week.
Starting left guard Chris Williams (lower back), tight ends Tony Moeaki (hamstring) and Lee Smith (toe), cornerbacks Mario Butler (ankle) and Bobby Felder (groin), and safety Jonathan Meeks (neck) round out the Bills' inactives.