AFC East: Pat Williams
The failed tests occurred before the league cracked down on StarCaps, the diuretic that led to the suspensions of Minnesota Vikings defensive tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams.
Deposition transcripts reveal Miami Dolphins tackle Vernon Carey, New York Jets right tackle Damien Woody (with the Detroit Lions at the time), former New England Patriots fullback Patrick Pass, former Patriots defensive end Marquise Hill, former Buffalo Bills cornerback Nate Clements, former Bills running back Damion Shelton and former Bills and Patriots receiver Jonathan Smith also failed drug tests but were exonerated.
All of the positive tests were linked to StarCaps. The diuretic contained bumetanide, a substance banned by the NFL because it's a common steroid-masking agent because it dilutes urine.
The Pioneer Press story explained Dr. John Lombardo, who oversaw the NFL's testing procedures, exonerated the players because they told him they ingested bumetanide unwittingly. But the NFL does not accept ignorance as a defense under its drug policy.
When Woody tested positive in August 2007 but was not referred to the league for discipline, the deposition stated NFL vice president Adolpho Birch confronted Lombardo.
"I essentially said I didn't feel comfortable setting the score without warning players they were going to be disciplined for diuretics," Lombardo said in his deposition.
"We knew about this StarCaps stuff, and so I think at that point I probably just explained to [Lombardo] 'What are you talking about?' " Birch said in his deposition. "The policy is that diuretics, if this is the result of inadvertent use through a supplement, that's a violation under the policy as clear as day and I don't understand what was going on."
Pat and Kevin Williams are suing the NFL to have their four-game suspensions overturned.
But this year the Bills have many holes to fill. They're overhauling their defense, converting to a 3-4. Suitable personnel is missing.
The Bills finally might act on their defensive conversion. Jason La Canfora of NFL Network reports the Bills will host defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy on Thursday.
Can the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Kennedy handle the Bills' opening at nose tackle?
The Bills would have to project how he'd look at nose tackle because the four teams Kennedy has played for operate out of 4-3 defenses.
Kennedy's career has been a disappointment. The St. Louis Rams drafted him 12th overall in 2003. He has been with five teams (released by the Denver Broncos in 2007 before getting into a game) and has started only 31 games.
He is coming off a decent season with the Minnesota Vikings. They picked him up in late 2008 as an emergency replacement when the Williams Wall (defensive tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams) faced suspensions for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Kennedy was the primary backup in 2009 and, as NFC blogger Kevin Seifert writes, "made more plays than you would think, but probably had something to do with at least one Williams and Jared Allen usually being on the field with him."
Kennedy recorded 18 tackles, three sacks, four tackles for losses and seven hurries in the regular season. In three postseason games, he notched three tackles and one sack.
His first major decision will be to hire a head coach, and although he declined to discuss names, it sure sounded like interim coach Perry Fewell won't be the choice.
Here are a few highlights I picked up from Nix's Q&A with reporters Thursday at One Bills Drive.
The Bills want a coach with a proven track record. In outlining the qualities he most values in a head coach, Nix stressed the ability to assemble a staff. Fewell's only head coaching experience will have been the seven games Buffalo gave him after firing Dick Jauron.
"Another thing that's important, more so maybe sometimes than the head coach, is the assistants and the coordinators," Nix said. "If a head coach is a good CEO, then you got good coordinators and good offensive and defensive line coaches, you gotta have a good quarterback coach, somebody that can get that guy better -- and I'm not reflecting on anybody we got -- those are the guys you gotta have, a guy that can put a staff together."
Nix said Fewell will be interviewed for the job when the season is over, but Nix indicated he values experience in that role.
"I believe that a guy that's been a head coach probably has an advantage," Nix said. "There's not a way to prepare for it. It's different. I don't care how good an assistant you are or whatever, when you get to be the head man and got it all, you might be successful and you might not. You're rolling the dice.
"It's not a must that a guy's been a head coach, but it is important, I think."
Don't expect the Bills to dump a lot of cash into the free-agent market. Nix expressed his preference to building through the draft, dedicating money to players already on the roster and supplementing areas of need with mid-range free agents, not superstars.
Nix's philosophies sounded to be in direct contrast to the way the Bills have operated in recent years. The Bills have lost such players as Jason Peters, Pat Williams, London Fletcher, Nate Clements and Antoine Winfield because they refused to pay them.
"I've seen it done both ways over a number of years," Nix said, "but free agency to me should be middle-priced to below-priced guys, not the high-dollar guy that's going to bring you the big bang when you sign him.
"That money ought to go to our guys that played good and you reward them by extending them and keeping them around. We know what we got. Let's build that way. Let's make that team know that we're going to do that.
"Then we take places that we're weak after the draft and plug in guys. They don't have to be star players."
An overhaul in the strength-and-conditioning department could be looming. One of the first moves Bill Parcells made when the Miami Dolphins hired him as football operations boss was to fire the strength and conditioning coaches because of a relentless number of injuries during their 1-15 season in 2007.
Unsolicited, Nix broached similar concerns about the Bills' health problems. They have 19 players on injured reserve.
"To me, there's a lot more to a player being successful than how he was picked or what he was when you picked him," Nix said. "Obviously, the selection process is first, but second you've got to put him in an environment where you can get better.
"You've got to have good medical people, good strength trainers. You've got to have a coach that knows something about teaching. We ought to be getting better. You ought to get better. They're not rookies after about eight games, I mean, they're sophomores. They move up a peg.
"A lot of the things that happened to this team this year injury-wise is unbelievable. And that's a major concern, and I think something you've got to address and see if it's something that we're doing or not doing or whether it's just bad luck. But I think we've had it two or three years in a row. That keeps you from getting better."
To get in the spirit of ESPN.com's all-decade week, I asked readers on Monday to select their AFC East team for the 20-aughts.
Although some insisted on submitting ballots that included a 4-4-4 defensive scheme and somebody kept signing on under different usernames to stuff the box for guard Adam Levitre (I think "they" meant Buffalo Bills rookie Andy Levitre), the results were sound.
Here are your picks along with my own.
|The Jets' Curtis Martin eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing in five seasons this decade.|
Quarterback: Tom Brady.
- Of note: One vote came in for anybody other than the two-time Super Bowl MVP. Chad Pennington was the recipient.
- My pick: Brady.
Running back: Curtis Martin.
- Of note: There have been some stellar rushing seasons in the AFC East, but not much longevity. Martin's closest competition was Ricky Williams. Beyond that, nobody received more than two mentions. Thurman Thomas, who had 28 carries this decade, got a vote.
- My pick: Martin.
Fullback: Tony Richardson.
- Of note: Richardson's career credentials are remarkable. He has blocked for five 1,000-yard rushers. But last year was his first in the AFC East.
- My pick: Larry Centers. He spent only three seasons in the AFC East, but he had 80 catches for the Bills in 2001, earning him Pro Bowl honors.
- Of note: The only thing worse than Richardson getting votes after one year would be Terrell Owens after zero. Thankfully, nobody made that mistake. Moss and Coles were clearly ahead of the field, with Lee Evans coming in third and Chris Chambers fourth.
- My picks: Moss, Eric Moulds.
Tight end: Randy McMichael.
- Of note: Aside from Brady, no player was more unanimous at his position than McMichael.
- My pick: McMichael.
- Of note: Only four tackles were nominated, with Light edging out Jason Peters by one vote. Kareem McKenzie was a distant fourth.
- My picks: Light, Peters.
- Of note: Ruben Brown, a nine-time Pro Bowler at left guard, received only six votes.
- My picks: Brown, Mankins. If Neal can learn right guard without playing a down in college, then Brown can learn how to play there on my team.
Center: Kevin Mawae.
- Of note: Nick Mangold came in second with half as many votes as Mawae, a player many readers felt should have been on the NFL's all-decade offense instead of Olin Kreutz.
- My pick: Mawae.
- Of note: Not even close.
- My picks: Taylor, Seymour.
- Of note: Williams edged out Kris Jenkins, who's coming off his lone season in the AFC East.
- My picks: Wilfork, Ted Washington. Washington was a Pro Bowler for the Bills in 2000 and won a Super Bowl with the Patriots in 2003.
- Of note: Thomas was omitted from the NFL all-decade defense, but he received the most votes of any AFC East linebacker. Joey Porter finished fourth, four votes behind Bruschi.
- My picks: Thomas, Vrabel, Takeo Spikes. Many folks overlook Spikes because his teams never had success.
- Of note: Aside from Brady, nobody received more votes at his position than Law.
- My picks: Law, Patrick Surtain. While Samuel was a Pro Bowler in 20
07, he started only three seasons for the Patriots. Surtain went to three Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro once this decade.
- Of note: Marion edged Lawyer Milloy by a single vote.
- My picks: Lawyer Milloy, Marion. Harrison had one All-Pro season with New England. Milloy was a two-time Pro Bowler and had productive seasons for the Patriots and Bills.
Kicker: Adam Vinatieri.
- Of note: Some clown voted for Olindo Mare.
- My pick: Vinatieri.
Punter: Brian Moorman.
- Of note: Tom Tupa received a couple votes, but Moorman was the obvious selection.
- My pick: Moorman.
Kick returner: Terrence McGee.
- Of note: Leon Washington might have been impacted by readers splitting their votes for him between punt and kickoff returner.
- My pick: Washington. He ran back three kicks in 2007, led the NFL in all-purpose yards last year and still might be getting better.
Punt returner: Roscoe Parrish.
- Of note: He led the NFL in punt return yardage the past two years.
- My pick: Parrish.
Subpoenas are expected in a suit that aims to overturn four-game suspensions given to Minnesota Vikings defensive linemen Pat Williams and Kevin Williams for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
The Williams Wall and three New Orleans Saints players were suspended last year after testing positive for the banned substance Bumetanide, an unlisted ingredient in the dietary supplement StarCaps.
The players insist they unknowingly ingested the banned substance and claim the NFL was complicit because it knew StarCaps would cause a positive test but didn't warn anybody.
To buttress the case against the NFL, attorney Peter Ginsberg alleges one of its franchises approved the product by making it available at the facility and plans to subpoena the Bills for documentation. Pat Williams used to play for the Bills.
Murphy writes that at a hearing last week Ginsberg contended StarCaps were "freely distributed" in the Bills' locker room and that "a number" of Bills used them.
The players insist they unknowingly ingested the banned substance and contend the NFL failed to notify them.
"We have never heard these allegations, and we are not aware of anyone representing the Bills distributing StarCaps, an over-the-counter weight-loss supplement, to players," Bills spokesman Scott Berchtold said in a statement to the Pioneer Press. "These allegations were made by an attorney and not by any players."