Bills offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
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With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Buffalo Bills' offseason moves.

Best move: Signing linebacker Brandon Spikes to a one-year, $3.25 million deal was easily their best move of free agency. While former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's group set a franchise sacks record last season and was near the top of the league in several pass-defense statistics, the run defense was suspect at points. Spikes has question marks as a pass-defender -- or else he would have commanded a more lucrative long-term deal on the open market -- but there is little doubt about his abilities as a run-stuffer. If he can stay healthy, he and Kiko Alonso should make a formidable duo at linebacker.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
AP Photo/Bill WippertFirst-round pick Sammy Watkins gives the Bills' offense another home-run threat.
Riskiest move: If we're viewing risk through a long-term lens, it has to be the Bills' decision to give up a 2015 first-round pick to acquire Sammy Watkins. That's a trade that can define the tenure of a general manager. But viewing risk simply in the context of this season, trading Stevie Johnson presents an element of uncertainty. Johnson missed four games with injuries last season and might have been a higher-maintenance player for the coaching staff, but his production from 2010 to 2012 -- more than 75 catches and 1,000 yards each season -- is hard to give up. Johnson is 27 and still in the prime of his career. Having Watkins lessens the need for Johnson, but it's tough to argue that dealing Johnson has made the Bills better.

Most surprising move: This move wasn't necessarily surprising for the Bills, but tight end Scott Chandler was likely hoping to earn more on the open market than he got by returning to the Bills. Chandler came back to Buffalo on a two-year deal that pays him less than his previous contract. Given that Chandler is 28 and coming off a season in which he set career highs with 53 catches and 655 yards, that's a surprise. The Bills are hoping that Tony Moeaki can return to his previous form, but if he doesn't, Chandler should be the opening day starter at tight end. It's a position the team will likely address in the draft next season.

Are they better? After all of their moves this offseason, are the Bills markedly better than they were when they walked off the field after their last game in December? I don't think the answer is unequivocally "yes." On the plus side, Watkins should be an upgrade over Johnson, while the Bills are deeper at running back and cornerback. On the down side, they have question marks at safety after losing Jairus Byrd and it has yet to be seen how players like defensive end Jerry Hughes, who excelled in Pettine's scheme, will fare in Jim Schwartz's system. A big second-year jump from quarterback EJ Manuel would overshadow any potential issues elsewhere, but this team still has a lot to prove on the field before the offseason can be considered a success.

Mike Rodak

ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter

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