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Thursday, May 15, 2014
Why it's too early to label Graham a safety

By Mike Rodak

It's been a simmering debate all spring in Buffalo: Where will Corey Graham line up within the Buffalo Bills' defense?

In truth, the Bills and Graham don't even know for sure. The assumption is that when the team ramps up its on-field work for organized team activities in two weeks, Graham will see time at both safety and cornerback.

With two months until training camp and nearly four months until the start of the regular season, the Bills have time to figure things out with Graham. But to say that Graham will be a starter at safety is jumping the gun.

Corey Graham
Corey Graham has the ability to play safety or cornerback for the Buffalo Bills.
To help set the record straight on Graham, let's circle back on what general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Doug Marrone have said about Graham since his signing -- and where the idea of Graham as a safety has arisen:
While the Bills have floated the possibility of Graham playing safety, Whaley's message has consistently been that the battle to replace Jairus Byrd will come down to Jonathan Meeks, Da'Norris Searcy, and Duke Williams:
In our view, it's too early to pencil in Graham as the starter at safety alongside Aaron Williams. Graham's NFL experience with the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears has come at cornerback, especially in the slot, and to project him as a safety at this point in the offseason would be premature.

No matter where Graham plays, the Bills paid him as if they are expecting significant contributions from the veteran. Graham's contract averages $4.075 million per season, which ranks in the top 30 among NFL cornerbacks and top 25 among NFL safeties.

Because of that, I think Graham has a legitimate chance to overtake Nickell Robey as the Bills' top interior cornerback. Marrone said at the NFL owners meetings in March that the modern NFL requires teams to have two quality slot cornerbacks.

The Bills could have that in Graham and Robey, but given Graham's salary, it would be disappointing if he is the fourth cornerback on the field. Unless the Bills feel comfortable moving Graham to safety full time, Robey's playing time could be lessened this season.

That's not to say that Robey didn't have a good season last year. He did, and he's a high-character player within the Bills' locker room. But between the Bills signing Graham and drafting cornerback Ross Cockrell in the fourth round, there are signs that Robey may not fit as well within Jim Schwartz's scheme as he did within Mike Pettine's system.