AFC East: Mike Williams

Bills Camp Report: Day 26

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
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LATROBE, Pa. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • Given the circumstances -- being in enemy territory and at the end of their fourth, long week of training camp -- this was probably the best the Bills' offense has looked this summer. The operation in 11-on-11 moved more quickly than Wednesday. Coaches were vocal about players getting in and out of the huddle, and when the ball was snapped, EJ Manuel was quick and accurate as a passer. There was only one penalty -- an apparent false start on tight end Scott Chandler. Very crisp.
  • While there were several scuffles in Wednesday's practice, especially early, things cooled down Thursday. There was less talking from the Steelers' defense and less extracurricular hitting after plays, at least in 11-on-11s between the Bills' offense and Steelers' defense. On the other practice field, the Bills' defense and Steelers' offense had a sideline-clearing incident at one point, although it was tough to see who was at the center of the action.
  • All eyes were on Manuel after Doug Marrone was defensive about Manuel's performance Wednesday in his pre-practice news conference. Marrone said he charted Wednesday's practice as Manuel's best to that point in camp, citing a 60 percent completion rate and a 56 percent "accuracy rate." A 60-percent completion rate would have ranked 26th in the NFL last season, so in a sense, it wasn't a glowing endorsement of Manuel's practices prior to Wednesday. In this view, a 60-percent completion rate isn't anything the Bills should celebrate, but Manuel's 77-percent rate Thursday is deserving of praise.
  • The Bills have been cycling through receivers with their first-team offense. Thursday was no different. Mike Williams and Sammy Watkins were the first pairing, but we also saw Watkins, Robert Woods, and Chris Hogan, as well as T.J. Graham mixing in. Part of that could be tied to the absence of Marquise Goodwin, but perhaps it's too early to count out Graham. He's seen more reps since the start of camp.
  • Second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio has struggled for much of training camp and by all accounts had a rough afternoon Wednesday in one-on-one pass-rush drills. That changed Thursday when Kouandjio had some quality reps in that same drill. Coming back from his final rep, he got a fist bump and a pat on the back from coach Doug Marrone. It's a sign of progress.
  • The same players who were held out of practice Wednesday did not participate Thursday, a group including Goodwin, tight end Tony Moeaki, and guard Chris Williams.
  • The Bills are off Friday before meeting the Steelers for a preseason game at Heinz Field on Saturday night.
LATROBE, Pa. -- After an hour bus ride to St. Vincent College, the Buffalo Bills got hit by a truck early in Wednesday's joint practice with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Convening on a single practice field for simultaneous 11-on-11 sessions, the Buffalo Bills' offense was knocked around early in a spirited series of reps that featured live tackling.

EJ Manuel's first pass was caught by Robert Woods, but the ball was stripped and recovered by Steelers defensive backs, who were flying around early in the practice. On the next play, C.J. Spiller fought back, butting helmets with linebacker Jason Worilds after a run up the middle.

Then came Manuel's next pass, over the middle to Sammy Watkins. In a rare moment for the rookie, he pulled up as he anticipated contact from a safety, with the ball careening off his hands.

Later, with the second-team offense on the field, fullback Evan Rodriguez got into a large scuffle with several Steelers after a play. That was quickly followed by a Steelers defender delivering a hard hit on fullback Frank Summers after a catch in the flat.

The intensity in that first period set the tone for what was by far the Bills' most physical practice of training camp. Manuel and the Bills' offense seemed rattled for the rest of the day.

Some of Manuel's throws came in early to receivers, and about a half-dozen others were overthrown or underthrown. On his passes that were accurate, Manuel didn't always get help from his receivers.

On his next target after his early fumble, Woods tried to catch a Manuel pass on a short pattern with one hand. It didn't work. Two plays later, Mike Williams couldn't corral a well-thrown pass over the middle. Since that period of practice didn't feature live tacking, Steelers defensive backs heckled Williams for the drop, reminding him that they "weren't going to hit" him.

The chirping from the Steelers secondary continued throughout the practice, with some Bills receivers butting heads with safety Mike Mitchell and others. At one point, Woods dove forward but couldn't catch an underthrown Manuel pass and was serenaded by the Steelers' defensive backs as he returned to the opposite sideline.

Manuel had particular trouble connecting with Woods. We counted six targets to Woods from Manuel, all incomplete except for his fumble on the first play. A few passes were underthrown or overthrown, and Woods was dragged down by a Steelers defender (no penalty flag) on another.

The Bills offense punched back later in practice when Manuel connected with tight end Scott Chandler down the middle of the field for a big gain. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, 76, who was vocal throughout practice, particularly chided his defense for allowing that play.

Chandler's catch was one of the few offensive highlights from a practice that should serve as a wake-up call for the Bills. In some ways, this was part of the plan for the Bills: Enter hostile territory and if you get pushed around, push back.

The Bills will have their chance to respond Thursday evening when the teams meet again.

Bills Camp Report: Day 13

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • The Bills got a pair of offensive linemen back at practice, with both Chris Williams (toe) and Chris Hairston (back) returning to action. Hairston stepped in with the second team at left tackle. He wasn't part of the mix at right guard, where Kraig Urbik and Cyril Richardson split first-team reps. Meanwhile, tight end Lee Smith returned to practice after missing Thursday's session with a lower body injury. The Bills were still without top tight ends Tony Moeaki (hamstring) and Scott Chandler (groin).
  • The Bills said after practice that wide receiver Marquise Goodwin was dealing with a hamstring injury. We saw Goodwin pull up after a 1-on-1 route in Thursday's practice, grabbing his hamstring. He participated in the rest of that session but didn't get many reps Friday night. It wouldn't be surprising if the Bills held him out Sunday.
  • After a second long week of practice, the offense was a bit sluggish as it closed out Friday's session. The Bills held a 1:28 drill (instead of a two-minute drill) and EJ Manuel's first three passes fell incomplete against the second-team defense. He recovered on fourth-and-10, hitting Mike Williams for a 20-yard gain. But as the offense crossed midfield, it stalled again, with a delay-of-game penalty preceding a Jacquies Smith sack as time expired. The second-team offense didn't fare much better, with Thad Lewis intercepted on the fourth play by cornerback Nickell Robey.
  • Following the two-minute drill, the Bills closed out their practice with a 7-on-7 drill in the red zone, as they've done for most of camp. Manuel overthrew Sammy Watkins on a fade pattern, then had Evan Rodriguez drop a pass across the middle. Manuel scrambled on his third play, and Watkins dropped a would-be touchdown on the final play. Not the best series. In an 11-on-11 red zone drill earlier in practice, Manuel overthrew Watkins on one play and was picked off by safety Jajuan Harley in the end zone on another before finding Robert Woods (twice) and Chris Gragg on touchdowns.
  • The Bills will travel to Canton, Ohio, on Saturday in advance of Sunday's Hall of Fame game against the New York Giants. The team isn't expected to be present for Andre Reed's induction ceremony but will take part in some other private events. We'll have coverage from Canton all weekend.

Bills fallers from OTA practices

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
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Earlier Friday, we highlighted some of the Buffalo Bills' "rising" after three weeks of organized team activities (OTAs).

Now it's time to look at the other end of the spectrum: which players left something to be desired in OTAs? It's a harder question to answer, since the practices are voluntary, are not held in pads, and are geared towards installation -- not necessarily evaluation.

With that in mind, here are our notes on some players who didn't have as good a showing in OTAs as we would have expected:

[+] EnlargeEJ Manuel
Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY SportsEJ Manuel had an up-and-down performance during OTAs, particularly struggling with downfield throws.
QB EJ Manuel: The Bills' chances this season start and end with Manuel. Naturally, that's going to put a spotlight on his every move in OTAs, minicamp, and eventually training camp. There were times over the past three weeks when Manuel showed poise. In Thursday's final OTA, Manuel looked calm and collected in pouring rain as he completed several throws in a row. On the other end, there were times when his performance wasn't ideal. One might expect a second-year quarterback to have a comfort level throwing downfield, but Manuel leaned heavily on dump-offs and scrambles in OTAs, saying afterward that he needed to take what the defense was giving him. That's smart, but only to a point. When the Bills needed to move the ball in two-minute drills, or needed to score a touchdown in red zone drills, his accuracy left something to be desired.

WR Sammy Watkins: Watkins might have been a victim of his own success in rookie camp. Those three days of practice last month consisted of positional drills and routes against air, and Watkins looked the part. His catch radius and precision with his footwork are unmatched by any other receiver on the roster. Yet as OTAs progressed, Watkins reminded us that he's still a rookie. The mental part of the game -- lining up after the huddle, reading defenses, etc. -- just wasn't at the same level as some of his teammates, who needed to direct Watkins to the right spot at times. Again, he's new, so that's not out of the ordinary. But if there was one red flag to be had from Watkins' OTAs, it was his drops this week. His final week of practice was his sloppiest from a pass-catching standpoint. The sticky mitts we saw in rookie camp and early in OTAs weren't there, although they could easily return in minicamp. We'll just have to wait and see.

On a side note, why would the NFLPA, the organization whose purpose is to represent and protect players, schedule their rookie premiere when teams were conducting OTAs? Watkins missed two of the Bills' nine OTAs because of that event, which includes a photo shoot for trading cards. Watkins should have been on the field learning the Bills' offense, and that's entirely the fault of the players' union, not him.

TE Scott Chandler: There are few players as well-spoken and respected as Chandler within the Bills' locker room. But the 6-foot-7 tight end, who will turn 29 in August, looked older than his age in OTAs. He's coming off knee surgery and was limited the first few days of OTAs as he continued to recover, but when he was on the field, he looked uncomfortable. Perhaps that will change once training camp rolls around. But not having drafted a tight end, the Bills need Chandler to be their top target at the position. After watching Chandler run on the practice field the past few weeks, I have questions if he's the right piece for what the Bills want in a fast-paced, athletic offense.

WR Mike Williams: When Williams arrived via trade in April, my first reaction was that he could be a top target in the Bills' offense. I'm less convinced now. Williams didn't stand out in OTAs and seeing him in action, there isn't a particular skill that he brings to the table that is different from the rest of the receiver group. If Watkins and Robert Woods become fixtures on the outside and Chris Hogan can continue to contribute in the slot, Williams starts to slide down the depth chart. The Bills will keep Marquise Goodwin and Marcus Easley on their final roster, so Williams will have to fight Hogan and T.J. Graham for the final spot. He could change my opinion in minicamp or early in training camp, but for right now I wouldn't call his spot on the team a sure bet.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills had a pair of offensive players return to Tuesday's organized team activities (OTAs).

Wide receiver Mike Williams and running back Anthony Dixon, who were both not spotted at Monday's session, were back on the field Tuesday.

Defensive tackle Kyle Williams remained out of Tuesday's OTAs, which is voluntary per NFL rules. He also missed Monday's practice.

Tight end Tony Moeaki had limited participation Tuesday after doing rehab work during Monday's practice. Other players working on the sidelines Tuesday were wide receiver Cordell Roberson, cornerback Darius Robinson, running back Ronnie Wingo, guard J.J. Unga, offensive tackle Chris Hairston, wide receiver Marcus Easley, and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin.

Goodwin injured his knee in Monday's practice. This is the first time that Hairston, who took some reps at right guard with the first-team Monday, had missed practice.

Defensive Bryan Johnson, who was carted off the field Monday with an apparent left knee injury, was not spotted. Offensive lineman Doug Legursky, defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Alan Branch, and defensive end Manny Lawson were also not on the field.

Linebacker Kiko Alonso (hip) saw limited reps in red zone drills, while cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin (hip) and Stephon Gilmore (hip) also saw reps with the second team in one red zone drill. That was their first action in team drills of OTAs.

Mike Williams is getting a second chance.

Four-and-a-half years after then-Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone announced that Williams had left the team, Marrone and the Buffalo Bills traded for the talented wide receiver Friday.

The Bills will send a sixth-round draft choice to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for Williams.

It will be a homecoming for Williams, who is a Buffalo native and attended Riverside High School in the city. After a standout high school career, Williams had a rocky tenure at Syracuse.

Williams was suspended for the entire 2008 season at Syracuse after cheating on a test. In November 2009, Williams left the team after he and three other teammates were involved in a crash coming home from a late-night visit to a casino. One report later said that Marrone, in his first season as Syracuse's head coach, held a team vote and the majority of players wanted Williams to return, but that coaches weren't able to contact him.

The next spring, the Buccaneers drafted Williams in the fourth round and he burst onto the NFL scene. As a rookie, Williams started 16 games, catching 65 passes for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns. He matched his reception total the next season and added 63 catches in 2012 for a career-high 996 yards.

[+] EnlargeMike Williams
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsAcquiring Mike Williams cost the Bills only a sixth-round pick.
His steady performance over his first three seasons earned Williams a five-year contract extension last summer, but a hamstring injury limited Williams to six games last season.

In February, Williams faced misdemeanor charges of criminal mischief and trespassing after he hosted a string of parties at his Tampa house. New Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith later called Williams' behavior "disturbing," according to the Tampa Bay Times. Williams was also hospitalized last week after being stabbed in the thigh by his brother.

The Buccaneers have traded away a player who started to become a headache for the team, while the Bills acquire a player with significant potential.

The move comes with little risk to the Bills. A sixth-round pick is a small price to pay for a player of Williams' talent. From a financial standpoint, the Bills won't break the bank this season to add Williams.

Williams' cap hit in 2014 will be $1.8 million, which includes a guaranteed $1.2 million base salary and a $600,000 workout bonus. In 2015, Williams is due a guaranteed $5.2 million base salary and a $1 million roster bonus. While the deal continues through 2018, there is no guaranteed money after the 2015 season.

Where does Williams fit in the Bills offense? That remains to be seen. It's possible the Bills could now decide to move on from Stevie Johnson, who has an $8.5 million cap hit this season. However, that remains a long shot. If they keep Johnson, it wouldn't be hard to envision Williams, Johnson, and Robert Woods -- a second-round pick last season -- forming the core of the Bills' receiver group.

Williams' acquisition puts T.J. Graham, a third-round pick in 2012, squarely on the roster bubble. Graham started six games last season but is seen as a one-dimensional player who must find ways to contribute beyond being a speed threat.

Trading for Williams also makes it less likely that the Bills will target one of the top wide receiver prospects -- Clemson's Sammy Watkins or Texas A&M's Mike Evans -- with the ninth overall pick in next month's NFL draft. They could instead turn their attention to one of the top offensive tackles available, although the draft is always a fluid process and much could change based on which players are still on the board.

Ultimately, this trade will be judged as much by Williams' off-field behavior as his on-field performance. Under Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley, the Bills have shown a willingness to acquire players with character concerns. Last season, they drafted two players who were arrested in college -- linebacker Kiko Alonso and safety Duke Williams -- and they signed fullback Evan Rodriguez, who had two DUI arrests, last season.

The Bills also hosted wide receiver Kenny Britt, who has been arrested multiple times, on a free-agent visit last month. Additionally, the NFL Network reported that the Bills had interest in DeSean Jackson, whose off-field behavior was in the spotlight following his release by the Philadelphia Eagles. Britt signed with St. Louis and Jackson signed with Washington.

Last spring, when the Bills signed undrafted free agent Da'Rick Rogers -- who was dismissed from Tennessee's football team after failed drug tests -- Marrone gave an explanation for the signing that could likely apply to Williams' case, as well.

"I've had experiences before, myself as a position coach, coordinator, where we've taken some kids that made mistakes when they were younger," Marrone said. "We do believe in giving people second chances, especially when they have shown for a long period of time that they have done a good job."

Now it's Williams' turn to have a second chance.

Rapid Reaction: Jets 18, Buccaneers 17

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Quick takeaways on the New York Jets' 18-17 season-opening win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at MetLife Stadium:

What it means: The Jets lost the game and they won it, all in the final 76 seconds. Capitalizing on a stupid late-hit penalty on Bucs LB Lavonte David in the final seconds, the Jets stole the game with a 48-yard field goal by Nick Folk with two seconds left. David's penalty, hitting Geno Smith out of bounds, put Folk in field goal range. Moments earlier, a missed tackle by Jets S Dawan Landry set up a go-ahead field goal by the Bucs. Yes, the Jets got lucky. But lucky ain't bad in the NFL. Get ready: There will be a lot of close games this season because the Jets' defense will keep them competitive.

Stock watch: Smith was up. And down. And up. You get the picture. It was a typical rookie performance. Smith committed two turnovers in the first half (a fumble and an interception), but he kept his composure and finished 24-of-38 for 256 yards and a touchdown. He gave the Jets a 15-14 lead in the fourth quarter, executing a nice drive that included a few big screen passes, and his late scramble set up Folk's game-winning field goal. The moment wasn't too big for the rookie, who gave the Jets hope and something to build around.

No ground-and-pound: New offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has instilled a pass-first mentality; that has to change. The Jets won't win many games by rushing for 90 yards on 29 carries, hardly the ideal way to support a rookie quarterback. Chris Ivory was a nonfactor in his Jets debut, and he lived down to his reputation as a poor receiver with a key drop. They tried to mix it up, using Bilal Powell and Jeremy Kerley in the Wildcat, but they couldn't establish much against the Bucs, who owned the league's top-ranked rush defense last season.

Defense owns Freeman, Martin: Rex Ryan predicted a top-five defense this season. If the Jets could face the Bucs every week, he'd probably turn out to be correct. Other than Landry's missed tackle, they confused QB Josh Freeman by changing fronts, showing some 4-3 looks, and they contained RB Doug Martin better than anyone could've imagined. They held Martin to 64 total yards, keeping him off the edges as a runner and receiver. The Bucs' only success came on blitz-beating slants to Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson, who beat Antonio Cromartie for a couple of big plays. Rookie CB Dee Milliner settled down after a shaky start, which included a 17-yard touchdown catch by Williams. The Jets could've used ... uh, Darrelle Revis.

What's next: The Jets have a quick turnaround, as they face the Patriots on Thursday night in Foxborough. The Jets have dropped four straight in the series, including a 49-19 laugher last Thanksgiving -- the night of the Butt Fumble.

Marcell Dareus makes colossal impression

April, 29, 2011
4/29/11
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Marcell Dareus didn't stand at the lectern at One Bills Drive as much as he loomed.

Dareus probably had to pay the tailor overtime for the suit he wore Friday afternoon. He's 6-foot-3 and 319 pounds, but seemed bigger than that.

He made a colossal impression when he was introduced to local reporters.

Dareus, the third overall draft choice Thursday night, was more prominent with his words than he was with his stature.

When explaining his approach to football and life, Alabama's star defensive lineman shared an anecdote about his mother. Michelle Luckey spent much of her life confined to a wheelchair because of congestive heart failure. She raised six sons and a daughter.

"Her whole drive was to never give up," Dareus said. "When she was on her death bed -- she was on her death bed a couple of times -- but one time I asked 'Mom, why are you still fighting?' I was in middle school. It was just a crazy question. 'Why are you still fighting?'

"She looked at me and said, 'I have seven kids. Do you want me to be gone now, or do you want me to just keep fighting?' I said, 'I want you to keep fighting.' She said, 'All right then. You go over there and sit down.' She rolled over and went back to sleep."

Draft followers may already know Dareus' tribulations. ESPN.com senior writer Jeffri Chadiha told the tale last week with a feature story.

Dareus' mother died last May, the latest in a series of heartaches. His father, a Haitian immigrant, died when Dareus was 6. The grandmother who helped raise Dareus died when he was 13. His high school coach died in a car crash right after Dareus signed with the Crimson Tide.

"I can't give up," Dareus said Friday. "When you can go to sleep in pain, you don't know what pain is. That's my whole thing. I got a little hurt elbow, a hamstring, an ankle, that's not going to keep me from playing.

[+] EnlargeMarcell Dareus
AP Photo/David DupreyMarcell Dareus, center, said all the right things when he was introduced to reporters on Friday.
"As long as she could go to sleep, wake up, put food on the table and be in pain 24 hours a day, the little things I go through is nothing."

Bills fans can't help but get excited about that type of gravitas from a potential star.

The Bills haven't been to the playoffs in 11 years. They've experienced more embarrassment than glory, especially when it comes to their first-round draft choices. Fans have endured busts and insulting malcontents such as Erik Flowers, Mike Williams, Willis McGahee, Marshawn Lynch and John McCargo.

Nobody can say for sure whether Dareus will be the real deal, but he has gotten off to a great start.

We need to keep in mind Dareus is fresh off the interview circuit from the NFL scouting combine, his pro day and a series of private meetings with this coach or that general manager from the West Coast to the Eastern Seaboard. Draft prospects are trained to answer interview questions. Dareus probably wasn't going to face a pitch he couldn't crush out of the park at Friday afternoon's news conference.

Dareus said all the right things. So have a parade of phonies throughout the years in the NFL.

"We're very pleased to have a man of not only his ability, but the man that he is," Buffalo head coach Chan Gailey said. "He's a great person in his own right, and he's going to represent our organization extremely well on the field and off the field for many years to come."

Gailey's testimony means something. He values high-character players maybe more than others in his profession. You get the sense Gailey would rather lead a mediocre player he respects than an elite athlete he doesn't.

Dareus conveyed himself as a grinder, the embodiment of Western New York's working spirit and the antithesis of Buffalo's first-round pick from two years ago.

Outside linebacker Aaron Maybin, the 11th pick in 2009, has been all flash and no substance. Before Maybin signed his NFL contract, he had a rap song that mentioned Maybach luxury cars, pinky rings, Circoc vodka, Nike endorsement deals and all the heads he was going to knock off.

Maybin has as many NFL sacks as Dareus does.

Dareus is about to strike it rich, too. But he said he's not going to keep his showmanship limited to Sundays.

"I want to be a pro on and off the field," Dareus said. "I want to handle myself in the community, back home with my brothers and sister, and when I do have kids I want to be a pro around them, let them know and set an example.

"Sometimes you have it. And even if you worked for it, that doesn't mean you have to flaunt it and blow it all away."

Dareus recalled after he visited One Bills Drive last month, he called one of his brothers and said "Buffalo might be my city." He said it reminded him of Tuscaloosa, a city with everything you need but a smaller feel and rabid fans who support the team.

If Dareus proves sincere about his feelings and can back up the Bills' scouting department's faith in him, then fans will have a new hero in their midst.

"I just want to go out there and give everything I have," Dareus said.

First round is coming, but at what cost?

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
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Long/GholstonDoug Murray/Icon SMIBoom (Jake Long) or bust (Vernon Gholston), teams have spent plenty on first-round picks since 2000.
Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix recently said rare circumstances would be required to trade the club's third overall draft choice. He sounded fixed on making that pick, even though he has no idea how much it will cost him.

There's curiosity over what the New England Patriots will do with their abundance of draft assets. They have enough picks that they could trade up into the top 10. Yet they don't know how rich that territory will be.

We know the NFL draft will begin Thursday night. Unclear are the dollars it will take to sign those picks.

Rookie cost controls almost certainly will be part of the next collective bargaining agreement, but will that deal be hammered out before the 2011 season?

If not, then teams might operate under last year's rules. That would mean more outrageous guaranteed dollars to prospects who haven't snapped an NFL chinstrap. A league source calculated NFL teams have committed over $3.154 billion in guarantees to first-round draft choices since 2000.

The Associated Press reported the NFL's proposal for a rookie pay system -- made before the lockout -- included $300 million in diverted funds that instead would go to veteran contracts and player benefits and slow the rapid growth of guaranteed first-round money (up 233 percent since 2000).

The money would be saved by shrinking the already-in-place rookie salary pool system, where the league allocates a certain number of dollars to be spent based on the number of picks and their spots in the order.

Also in the reported proposal: first-round contracts would be capped at five years under the proposal. All other draft picks would be capped at four years. The player's maximum allowable salary would go down if he hadn't signed by training camp, a deterrent to holding out.

Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan recently estimated the Bills would save roughly $15 million on their No. 3 pick with rookie cost controls. That certainly would make another Aaron Maybinesque pick more digestible.

With all this in mind, let's examine how much guaranteed money AFC East clubs have spent on their first-round draft picks since 2000. Data provided from the aforementioned league source shows the Patriots have spent most efficiently, the New York Jets have spent the most total dollars and the Miami Dolphins have spent the most per player.

The Dolphins have drafted eight first-rounders since 2000 and spent an average of $12.043 million in guaranteed money. That figure ranks eighth among all NFL clubs, but those players averaged only 37 starts for Miami.

Only the Buffalo Bills averaged fewer starts from their first-rounders at 36.2, but the Bills rank 19th in average guaranteed dollars committed.

Left tackle Jake Long's mammoth contract inflates Miami's dollar figure. The top 2008 pick became the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history days before commissioner Roger Goodell said Long's name at Radio City Music Hall. Running back Ronnie Brown was rewarded with $19.5 million guaranteed as the second pick in 2005.

Those picks were successful, but the Dolphins also committed $13.865 million to receiver Ted Ginn, $9.016 million to cornerback Jason Allen and $7.133 million to defensive end Jared Odrick.

The Jets' massive guarantee total includes left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson ($29.6 million), quarterback Mark Sanchez ($28 million), outside whatever Vernon Gholston ($21 million), cornerback Darrelle Revis ($14.7 million) and defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson ($14.7 million).

There are a couple royal busts in there, but the Jets still have spent relatively well. Despite picking in roughly the same average first-round slot as the Dolphins and Bills since 2000, the Jets have averaged nearly 61 starts per player.

The Bills' big-ticket items have been running back C.J. Spiller ($18.9 million), left tackle Mike Williams ($14.4 million) and Maybin ($10.9 million).

Buffalo's first-round picks ranked 19th in the NFL when it came to average guaranteed dollars.

The Patriots have committed eight figures in guaranteed money to only two of their 10 first-round selections since 2000 because of their penchant to trade back. Their average first-rounder is taken 20.7th overall.

Inside linebacker Jerod Mayo ($13.8 million) and defensive end Richard Seymour ($11 million) are the Patriots' lone top-10 picks under Bill Belichick and look like basement bargains compared to other names mentioned above.

Bills draft record not as bad as you think

April, 21, 2011
4/21/11
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Kyle Williams and Steve JohnsonUS PresswirePro Bowler Kyle Williams (left) and receiver Steve Johnson were both drafted in the later rounds.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills fans have pondered some persistent questions over the years.

How would life have changed if Scott Norwood made that kick?

What will happen to the team when Ralph Wilson passes away?

Was the Music City Miracle really a forward lateral?

How on earth does Tom Modrak still have a job?

Modrak is Buffalo's vice president of college scouting. Modrak, formerly a Pittsburgh Steelers scout during their Steel Curtain years and director of football operations with the Philadelphia Eagles, has held the Bills' top scouting job since May 2001 and worked his first draft for them in 2002.

In that time, the Bills' streak of seasons without a playoff appearance has extended to 11 and counting. Despite holding prime draft-order slots, they have repeatedly squandered them with maddening first-round decisions.

The list is enough to make the most optimistic Bills fan groan: pass-rusher Aaron Maybin (zero sacks) 11th overall instead of Brian Orakpo (19.5 sacks) two years ago; small-school cornerback Leodis McKelvin 11th overall instead of Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady in 2008; safety Donte Whitner with the eighth pick in 2006 and then trading up for defensive tackle John McCargo; trading up for quarterback J.P. Losman in 2004; useless tackle Mike Williams fifth in 2002.

"Certainly we've had our misses up at the top," Modrak said Tuesday at a news conference to preview next week's draft. "We've done pretty well in the middle and at the end, the non-glamour kind of picks. But we've missed some. That is regrettable."

There are additional selections one can criticize: wide receiver James Hardy in the second round; running back C.J. Spiller ninth overall even though the Bills had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers already ...

[+] EnlargeTom Modrak
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesDespite some high-profile misses, Tom Modrak's draftees have performed well on the whole.
OK. I'll stop now. That's enough to illustrate why there's frustration over Modrak and his scouting department's evaluation skills.

The fact Modrak joined the Bills to serve under former president Tom Donahoe -- an executive Wilson and Bills fans came to despise -- only adds to fascination of Modrak's continued employment.

Now that I've set the table, let's yank the tablecloth out from underneath the plasticware.

Data suggest the Bills haven't drafted much worse than the average NFL team since 2002.

ESPN researcher John Fisher -- he claims no relation to St. John Fisher, the namesake of the college where the Bills hold their training camp -- shuffled some spreadsheets and came up with some information that's not particularly damning when compared to the rest of the NFL.

  • The Bills have drafted five Pro Bowlers with Modrak in charge of scouting. That's tied for 14th in the league. One of those Pro Bowlers was Willis McGahee for the Baltimore Ravens, but Modrak was the chief scout who drafted him. What the Bills did with McGahee afterward that isn't his fault. Same goes for Marshawn Lynch.
  • Although a game started for the Bills isn't as impressive as a game started for the New England Patriots the past nine years, Bills draftees from the first through third rounds have started 804 games, 15th in the league.
  • Bills draftees from the fourth round or later have started 417 games, eighth in the league.
  • When it comes to individual statistics accumulated with the teams that drafted them, Bills taken from 2002 onward have ranked third in 1,000-yard rushing seasons, tied for seventh in 1,000-yard receiving seasons, 20th in total sacks and 19th in total interceptions.

While the Bills have missed badly on several of their prominent selections, they have done quite well in the latter part of the draft with gems such as cornerback and Pro Bowl kick returner Terrence McGee (fourth round in 2003), Pro Bowl defensive lineman Kyle Williams (fifth round in 2006), receiver Steve Johnson (seventh round in 2008) and left tackle Demetrius Bell (seventh round in 2008).

Top running back Fred Jackson and perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters -- traded to Philly two years ago -- weren't drafted at all.

"If you look at other teams, they do it. They miss at the top," Modrak said. "When you don't win, it's magnified. It looks bad.

"But I think from a strictly homer point-of-view [late-round success] is the work and the labor that goes into it and the detail that's paid to those kinds of things. That does not say that other teams don't do the same thing, but we have a good group, and we fortunately have done that."

The Bills have had some obvious blind spots in the draft.

A refusal to pick a tackle earlier than the fifth round since 2002 has hurt them. Peters' success as a converted tight end is a factor in that trend, but the Bills were having contract problems with him while he still was on the roster. Foresight would've been helpful. But that's an organizational philosophy more than Modrak's domain.

The Bills' track record at tight end is miserable, too. They've drafted five: Tim Euhus, Kevin Everett, Derek Schouman, Derek Fine and Shawn Nelson. Everett was the lone selection sooner than the fourth round. A broken neck while covering a kickoff on opening day in 2007 ended his career.

That tight end quintet has combined to score five NFL touchdowns. Of the 143 tight ends drafted since Modrak joined the Bills, 43 of them have scored more than five touchdowns individually.

Some might also say finding a quarterback has been a failure. Starting quarterbacks, however, aren't easy for any team to locate.

Forty-seven quarterbacks have been drafted within the first three rounds since 2002. The only three teams not included in this pursuit have been the Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys. The Bills took two within the first three rounds, Losman 22nd overall in 2004 and Trent Edwards 92nd in 2007.

That league-wide group yielded nine Pro Bowlers, but just two of them -- 24th overall pick Aaron Rodgers and third-rounder Matt Schaub -- weren't selected in the top 11. Rodgers and Schaub served as backups for three seasons before they became starters.

Bills general manager Buddy Nix explained that scouting is only one of three critical phases that determine whether a draft pick explodes or fizzles.

"You've got to pick the right guy," Nix said Tuesday. "He's got to have enough athletic ability and enough intelligence, production to do the job, which is what you spend the year doing. We're scouts and personnel guys.

"The second phase, now -- and don't make light of it because it's just as important -- is coaching, strength coaches, trainers. That's the second phase, and both of those things have to be in place. If not, the development of the guy is retarded.

"I'm not going to name teams, but you can name teams every year that get top guys and they don't get any better. They actually may go the other way, and it's the developmental part."

Chan Gailey is Buffalo's fourth head coach -- fifth if you count interim coach Perry Fewell -- since Modrak came aboard. Coordinators have passed through a revolving door. The Bills also have overhauled their strength and conditioning program a couple times.

Nix then stressed that even if the precisely correct draft choice is made and the proper infrastructure is in place, a third phase still can torpedo development. The player can ruin his future if he's "not willing to be a professional and do everything it takes."

"You can go back and look at the so-called busts, and it's one of these three phases," Nix said. "You've got to have it all for them to be really good.

"So even though we put it all on one thing -- 'That was a terrible draft. That was a bust. Those idiots don't know.' -- that's just about a third of it."

Another element that must be considered when discussing Buffalo drafts is the question of who makes the final pick.

Nix and Gailey have been clear Nix makes the final call, although Wilson still can exercise his ownership privilege.

Before Nix became GM last year, trying to decipher who was to credit or blame for a Bills draft choice was like a "Three Stooges" scene. The irate boss hears a commotion, storms into the room and asks "Say! What's the wise idea? Who did this?" Moe pointed at Larry. Curly pointed at Moe. Larry pointed at Curly.

Modrak has been a constant since 2002, but there have been many voices in the Bills' draft room in that period, from Donahoe to GM Marv Levy to chief operating officer Russ Brandon to the various opinionated head coaches who lobbied for prospects they hotly desired.

The Bills' scouting department clearly needs to step its game up to help turn around the franchise. They'll never be the kind of team that lures top free agents because of their market conditions. Buffalo simply isn't as sexy as Miami or San Diego or New York and doesn't offer a perennial chance to win like New England or Pittsburgh does.

But, believe it or not, the Bills' drafts could have been substantially worse since Modrak arrived.

Gholston, Cousineau make Kiper's bust list

March, 26, 2011
3/26/11
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In a column for ESPN Insider, draft institution Mel Kiper listed the 40 biggest non-quarterback bustsInsider since he put out his first draft guide in 1978.

Five AFC East picks made the cut. Here they are along with Kiper's comment:
  • Linebacker Tom Cousineau, Bills, first overall in 1979: "He was kind of an undersized guy, even in 1979, and his career didn't match his work in Columbus."
  • Running back Sammie Smith, Dolphins, ninth overall in 1989: "Smith played with a bruising style for FSU but wasn't explosive enough in the NFL."
  • Tackle Mike Williams, Bills, fourth overall in 2002: "An absolute mammoth at 370-plus pounds, Williams got starts but never lived up."
  • Defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, Jets, fourth overall 2004: "Only 16 sacks in his career for a guy we thought would really penetrate and be a menace."
  • Outside linebacker Vernon Gholston, Jets, sixth overall in 2008: "Finally time to call it what it is. Amazing physical skills, but not even Rex Ryan could save him."

Draft Watch: AFC East

March, 10, 2011
3/10/11
12:39
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: biggest team needs.

Buffalo Bills

Where would you like to start?

Offense? How about left tackle, right tackle, tight end and -- if there's a great one still on the draft board -- quarterback?

Defense? How about the line, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, cornerback and safety?

Special teams? OK, the Bills are fine there.

But kicker, punter and running back are about the only positions the Bills can draft third overall and not help themselves.

The most pressing needs, however, are tackle and outside linebacker. The Bills haven't drafted an offensive tackle earlier than the fifth round since taking Mike Williams in the first round in 2002, and their line play shows that. They have tried to coach up late draft picks (Demetrius Bell, Ed Wang) and rummaged through free agency (Cornell Green, Mansfield Wrotto, Jonathan Scott, Jamon Meredith) rather than acquire that prized blindside protector.

The Bills were so desperate at outside linebacker they plucked the injury-ravaged Shawne Merriman off waivers last year and then, even though he got hurt again minutes into his first workout, gave him a contract extension.

They can't bank on Merriman to anchor their pass rush. Yet even if he can contribute, they'll need more help. The Bills recorded 27 sacks last year. Only three teams had fewer.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins probably will need a running back. They could stand to upgrade at quarterback if they can.

But they definitely need interior offensive linemen.

They recently re-signed left guard Richie Incognito to an extension, but they still have problems at center and right guard. Although they have two solid book-end tackles in Pro perennial Bowl left tackle Jake Long and veteran Vernon Carey, they've been a mess in between for the past three years.

The Dolphins need to upgrade their power running game. Despite having a capable and healthy backfield tandem in Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams last season, the Dolphins ranked 21st in rushing yards, 29th in yards per carry and 29th in rushing touchdowns.

A stud running back certainly can help, and the Dolphins might have little choice but to take one with their 15th selection. Brown's and Williams' contracts are up. That's why so many draft analysts project the Dolphins will take Alabama running back Mark Ingram and then address the O-line later.

New England Patriots

Funny how things work for the Patriots when it comes to draft picks. The reigning AFC East champs might have the fewest needs but have the most draft picks at their disposal.

The Patriots went 14-2 last season and own two draft choices in each of the first three rounds. So the Patriots have the flexibility to go any number of directions.

The most obvious need is outside linebacker. The Patriots' entire outside linebacking corps mustered 13.5 sacks last year. Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake generated 14 sacks all by himself.

Offensive line is another concern because there are so many question marks. Right guard Stephen Neal retired. Left guard Logan Mankins is upset. Left tackle Matt Light isn't signed. Nick Kaczur is coming off serious back surgery. The timing is right to bring in some fresh O-line blood.

The Patriots had one of the NFL's most entertaining backfields last year, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushing for over 1,000 yards and Danny Woodhead making the Jets look foolish for cutting him. But each running back has his limitations, and the Patriots could be on the lookout for an all-purpose back adept at catching a pass and converting a third-and-short.

New York Jets

The Jets are in a weird spot. They finished the season as a team with talent at virtually every position.

But they have a crowded group of free agents and couldn't bring themselves to sign any (aside from giving inside linebacker David Harris the franchise tag) until a new collective bargaining agreement was in place. The Jets want to know what the new salary cap is before moving forward.

That leaves a lot of loose ends for the Jets heading into the draft. Will they need a receiver to replace Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards? A cornerback to replace Antonio Cromartie?

The needs we can bank on are outside linebacker and safety.

The Jets must generate a better pass rush and still need to recover from the Vernon Gholston pick that set them back. Outside linebacker Bryan Thomas is competent, but no star. He led the Jets with just six sacks. Calvin Pace had 5.5 sacks. The recently released Jason Taylor added five.

Safety is an area of emphasis because they could have stood to upgrade even before Brodney Pool, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo became free agents. Jim Leonhard is a Rex Ryan favorite but recovering from a broken shin.

Top draft busts in AFC East history tallied

March, 4, 2011
3/04/11
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When word got out the New York Jets would release defensive end Vernon Gholston, I solicited your nominees for the AFC East's biggest draft busts.

These disappointments received the most votes for each club:

Buffalo Bills
  1. Defensive end Aaron Maybin (11th in 2009)
  2. Tackle Mike Williams (fourth in 2002)
  3. Quarterback J.P. Losman (22nd in 2004)
  4. Defensive tackle John McCargo (26th in 2006)
  5. Defensive end Erik Flowers (26th in 2000)
Comment: Sadly, Buffalo's list suggests readers don't remember the team before the Music City Miracle. Last year's strong safety, Donte Whitner, finished sixth. Epic busts Walt Patulski (first in 1972), Tony Hunter (12th in 1983) and Perry Tuttle (19th in 1982) received only one vote each. Nobody mentioned running back Terry Miller (fifth in 1978).

Miami Dolphins
  1. Receiver Yatil Green (15th in 1997)
  2. Receiver Ted Ginn (ninth in 2007)
  3. Running back John Avery (29th in 1998)
  4. Cornerback Jamar Fletcher (26th in 2001)
  5. Receiver Randal Hill (23rd in 1991), Eric Kumerow (16th in 1988), running back Sammie Smith (ninth in 1989)
Comment: The Dolphins were the most nominated team in this exercise. They led with 16 nominees and the number of votes cast. Green didn't play in his rookie or sophomore seasons because of injuries and lasted eight games his third year. My pick would have been Kumerow, whose career consisted of three seasons, zero starts and five sacks.

New England Patriots
  • Running back Laurence Maroney (21st in 2006)
  • Receiver Chad Jackson (36th in 2006)
  • Receiver Hart Lee Dykes (16th in 1989)
  • Cornerback Chris Canty (29th in 1997)
  • Offensive lineman Eugene Chung (13th in 1992), defensive end Kenneth Sims (first in 1982), linebacker Chris Singleton (eighth in 1990)
Comment: I was surprised Sims didn't receive more attention. He was the No. 1 choice ahead of Marcus Allen, Gerald Riggs, Mike Munchak, Jim McMahon and Chip Banks. Maroney received the most votes, but he also generated the most spirited debate because many readers disagreed he should be considered a bust. Jackson was a second-round pick, but the Patriots traded up 16 spots to get him.

New York Jets
  1. Running back Blair Thomas (second in 1990)
  2. Defensive end Vernon Gholston (sixth in 2008)
  3. Tight end Kyle Brady (ninth in 1995)
  4. Defensive tackle DeWayne Robertson (fourth in 2003)
  5. Receiver Johnny "Lam" Jones (second in 1980)
Comment: There was a lot of material to work with here. I was satisfied readers emphasized the magnitude of the bust over the freshness of Gholston's release by voting for Thomas. The next running back off the board in 1990 was Emmitt Smith.

Who are AFC East's biggest draft busts?

March, 1, 2011
3/01/11
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Every NFL team has drafted a few colossal busts.

The Buffalo Bills drafted Notre Dame defensive end Walt Patulski first overall in 1972 and Ohio State linebacker Tom Cousineau first overall in 1979.

The Miami Dolphins selected Florida State running back Sammie Smith ninth in 1989. The New York Jets selected Southern Methodist defensive back Russell Carter 10th in 1984.

Recent years have brought us Dolphins receiver Ted Ginn, Bills tackle Mike Williams and New England Patriots receiver Chad Jackson.

After spending a few days in Indianapolis at the NFL scouting combine and upon learning Monday night the New York Jets have parted ways with 2008 sixth overall draft choice Vernon Gholston, let's gather a list of the biggest busts in AFC East history.

Submit your candidates for each team in the comments section below this article and state your case.

I will compile the suggestions and come up with a worst five draft picks for each franchise later this week.

AFC East's biggest draft busts

May, 7, 2010
5/07/10
3:50
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In honor of the Oakland Raiders dumping quarterback JaMarcus Russell three years after they drafted him No. 1 overall, I've put together a list of each AFC East team's biggest busts.

These are my picks, and they’re open for debate. Add your picks in the comments section below.

Kenneth Sims
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesNew England drafted Kenneth Sims with the first overall pick in 1982.
Buffalo Bills

1. Walt Patulski, defensive end (first overall, 1972): Who? Exactly the point. He played four uninspiring years for the Bills and one more for the St. Louis Cardinals.

2. Mike Williams, tackle (fourth overall, 2002): A good case can be made for Williams to be at the top of this list. He spent four mediocre seasons at right tackle, not even making it over to the blindside.

3. Tony Hunter, tight end (12th overall, 1983): In arguably the greatest first round in NFL draft history, the Bills managed to find a dud two slots ahead of the pick they used on Jim Kelly. Hunter lasted two seasons in Buffalo, starting 12 games and catching 69 passes.

4. Terry Miller, running back (fifth overall, 1978): It's tough to replace O.J. Simpson, but the Bills thought they had their man with Miller. He rushed for 1,060 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie. Over his next -- and final -- three seasons combined, he rushed for 523 yards and one touchdown.

5. Perry Tuttle, receiver (19th overall, 1982): In two seasons with the Bills, he managed four starts and 24 receptions. Taken one slot after him was Mike Quick.

Miami Dolphins

1. Eric Kumerow, defensive end (16th overall, 1988): Three seasons, zero starts, five sacks.

2. Billy Milner, tackle (25th overall, 1995): He lasted two NFL seasons, starting nine games at right tackle as a rookie. In his second season, the Dolphins traded him to the St. Louis Rams for Troy Drayton. The Rams cut Milner, who retired.

3. Sammie Smith, running back (ninth overall, 1989): He showed promise here and there, rushing for 831 yards and eight touchdowns in his second season. But he was hated by Dolfans for his costly fumbles.

4. Jason Allen, defensive back (16th overall, 2006): He has made a dozen career starts and contributes most of his time to special teams.

5. Yatil Green, receiver (15th overall, 1997): I nearly listed Ted Ginn here, but he added value as a return specialist and actually won a game for the Dolphins last year. Green's career lasted eight games.

New England Patriots

1. Kenneth Sims, defensive end (first overall, 1982): Sims played a full season just once in his eight seasons and played three games or fewer three times. He recorded 17 sacks

2. Eugene Chung, offensive lineman (13th overall, 1992): Chung started 14 games as a rookie and all 16 as a sophomore, but that was all. Chung played three games in 1994 and was gone.

3. Chris Singleton, linebacker, and Ray Agnew, defensive tackle (eighth and 10th overall, 1990): I couldn't pick one without the other. The Pats traded the third overall pick to the Seattle Seahawks for these two. The Seahawks took future Hall of Famer Cortez Kennedy. In between Singleton and Agnew, the Dolphins drafted potential Hall of Fame tackle Richmond Webb.

4. Hart Lee Dykes, receiver (16th overall, 1989): Two seasons, 18 starts, 83 receptions, seven touchdowns, out of football.

5. Andy Katzenmoyer, linebacker (28th overall, 1999): A neck injury was at issue, but he left the team without permission and was cut after his second season. He made 14 starts.

New York Jets

1. Blair Thomas, running back (second overall, 1990): Over four seasons with the Jets, he rushed for five touchdowns.

2. Johnny "Lam" Jones, receiver (second overall, 1980): He finished his career with 138 receptions for 2,322 yards and 13 touchdowns. Art Monk might've been the better choice.

3. Dave Cadigan, guard (eighth overall, 1988): He spent six seasons with the Jets, but he totaled 13 starts through his first three seasons. The Minnesota Vikings found Hall of Fame guard Randall McDaniel with the 19th pick.

4. Reggie Rembert, receiver (28th overall, 1990): A triple whiff. The Jets couldn't sign Rembert and were forced to deal him. They sent him to the Cincinnati Bengals for offensive lineman Scott Jones and linebacker Joe Kelly. Rembert finished his career with 36 catches and one touchdown.

5. Alex Van Dyke, receiver (31st overall, 1996): I considered Vernon Gholston here, but went with Van Dyke based on his 26 career catches and three receivers taken soon after him. Amani Toomer, Muhsin Muhammad and Bobby Engram did OK.

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