Buffalo Bills: Manny Lawson

The Buffalo Bills' starters saw their most significant action of the preseason in Saturday's 27-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Here is a breakdown of the defensive snaps, grouped by the order in which players entered the game on defense:

Defensive end
Mario Williams -- 34 of 68 (starter)
Jerry Hughes -- 33 of 68 (starter)
Manny Lawson -- 31 of 68 (entered in first quarter)
Jarius Wynn -- 16 of 68 (entered in first quarter)
Jacquies Smith -- 17 of 68 (entered in third quarter)
Ikponmwosa Igbinosun -- 3 of 68 (entered in fourth quarter)
Bryan Johnson -- 3 of 68 (entered in fourth quarter)

Quick-hit thoughts: It was interesting to see Lawson play deep into the fourth quarter, although I don't think it means his roster spot is in jeopardy. This is one of the deeper groups on the roster, especially with Lawson, and could even go five deep. I wouldn't count out Smith's chances for a roster spot just yet.

Defensive tackle
Marcell Dareus -- 16 of 68 (starter)
Corbin Bryant -- 51 of 68 (starter)
Stefan Charles -- 41 of 68 (entered in second quarter)
Landon Cohen -- 27 of 68 (entered in second quarter)
Damien Jacobs -- 3 of 68 (entered in fourth quarter)
Kyle Williams -- 0 of 68 (injured/did not play)
Alan Branch -- 0 of 68 (did not play)

Quick-hit thoughts: Without Williams, the Bills gave a heavy load of snaps to Bryant. He fared very well. Charles and Cohen quickly subbed in for Dareus, who had relatively light lifting Saturday. This group appears set.

Linebacker
Brandon Spikes -- 37 of 68 (starter)
Nigel Bradham -- 34 of 68 (starter)
Keith Rivers -- 30 of 68 (entered in first quarter)
Preston Brown -- 37 of 68 (entered in first quarter)
Randell Johnson -- 20 of 68 (entered in third quarter)
Ty Powell -- 19 of 68 (entered in third quarter)
Jimmy Gaines -- 6 of 68 (entered in fourth quarter)
Xavius Boyd -- 0 of 68 (special teams only)

Quick-hit thoughts: The Bills opened in a nickel look, so Rivers stayed on the bench. We saw Brown on the weak side for some snaps, a spot where he's likely to start in Week 1. Johnson and Powell round out the depth chart. Not much intrigue at this position.

Cornerback
Stephon Gilmore -- 43 of 68 (starter)
Leodis McKelvin -- 22 of 68 (starter)
Nickell Robey -- 17 of 68 (starter)
Ron Brooks -- 24 of 68 (entered in second quarter)
Ross Cockrell -- 21 of 68 (entered in third quarter)
Kamaal McIlwain -- 20 of 68 (entered in third quarter)
Sam MillerBobby Felder -- 0 of 68 (injured/did not play)
Mario Butler -- 0 of 68 (injured/did not play)

Quick-hit thoughts: I was surprised to see McKelvin play after he missed time later in the week with a groin injury. The Bills limited his workload and replaced him with Brooks in the second quarter. For the first time this preseason, Cockrell saw time at cornerback (as opposed to nickel back), but that might have been the result of injuries to Felder and Butler.

Safety
Aaron Williams -- 31 of 68 (starter)
Da'Norris Searcy -- 19 of 68 (starter)
Corey Graham -- 21 of 68 (entered in first quarter)
Duke Williams -- 20 of 68 (entered in first quarter)
Jajuan Harley -- 5 of 68 (entered in third quarter)
Deon Broomfield -- 18 of 68 (entered in third quarter)
Kenny Ladler -- 17 of 68 (entered in third quarter)
Derek Brim -- 8 of 68 (entered in third quarter)
Jonathan Meeks -- 0 of 68 (injured/did not play)

Quick-hit thoughts: Plenty of rotation at these spots in both halves. Searcy and Aaron Williams were the first pairing but then sat in favor of Duke Williams and Corey Graham for a drive in the first quarter. The starting duo returned in the second quarter. We've seen this throughout the preseason -- the Bills testing different combinations on their back-end and evaluating them for regular-season usage. The same held true in the second half, when the four less experienced players (Harley, Broomfield, Ladler, and Brim) mixed and matched.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- One of the highlights of Buffalo Bills training camp practices in full pads are one-on-one pass-rush drills.

The concept is simple: A coach stands where the quarterback would, and, on a whistle, one offensive lineman tries to keep a defensive lineman at bay.

It's a chance for coaches to assess technique on both sides of the ball. It's also a drill where one rep can vary significantly from the last. But when viewed as a whole, trends develop.

We kept track of "wins" and "losses" -- these are judgment calls, sometimes -- in Sunday's drill. Here are the highlights of the results, noting that each player didn't receive the same amount of reps:

Winners:
Losers:
  • DT Stefan Charles -- He received the most reps of any player -- five, total -- but didn't stand out. I wouldn't read too much into it, but it wasn't his best day.
  • LG Chris Williams -- He had a tough task against Kyle Williams, but we also recorded a loss for Chris Williams against Corbin Bryant.
  • DT Landon Cohen -- Journeyman vet had trouble penetrating against Legursky and MacPherson.
  • DE Manny Lawson -- He has looked better as a pass rusher in live drills, but in one-on-one work Lawson was kept at bay by Kouandjio and Erik Pears.

Counting the Bills: Linebackers

July, 16, 2014
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Continuing a series analyzing the economics of the Buffalo Bills' roster, position by position:

Position: Linebacker

Total cap value: $9,540,029
Compared to NFL average: 44.1 percent less
NFL positional rank: 30th

Portion of Bills' total cap number: 8 percent

2014 cap numbers:
Brandon Spikes: $3.25 million (14th on Bills, 46th among NFL linebackers)
Keith Rivers: $1.85 million (Bills: 21st; NFL: 74th)
Kiko Alonso: $977,364 (Bills: 31st; NFL: 122nd)
Nigel Bradham: $686,065 (Bills: 39th; NFL: 146th)
Preston Brown: $582,000 (Bills: 46th; NFL: 191st)
Ty Powell: $495,000 (Bills: tied for 60th; NFL: tied for 252nd)
Randell Johnson: $435,933 (Bills: 69th; NFL: tied for 291st)
Darrin Kitchens: $422,000 (Bills: 73rd; NFL: tied for 309th)
Jimmy Gaines: $421,667 (Bills: tied for 74th; NFL: tied for 312th)
Nathan Williams: $420,000 (Bills: tied for 78th; NFL: tied for 328th)

Average per year:
Spikes: $3 million (tied for 17th on Bills, tied for 53rd among NFL linebackers)
Rivers: $2.025 million (Bills: 23rd; NFL: 72nd)
Alonso: $1.075 million (Bills: 28th; NFL: 112th)
Brown: $751,438 (Bills: 34th; NFL: 147th)
Bradham: $641,065 (Bills: 43rd; NFL: 182nd)
Johnson: $570,933 (Bills: 50th; NFL: 214th)
Kitchens: $512,000 (Bills: 63rd; NFL: 272nd)
Gaines: $511,667 (Bills: tied for 64th; NFL: tied for 275th)
Powell: $495,000 (Bills: tied for 77th; NFL: tied for 337th)
Williams: $465,000 (Bills: tied for 84th; NFL: tied for 356th)

Most overpaid: None. The Bills added Spikes and Rivers on relatively short-term, low-risk deals this offseason. Overall, the Bills aren't spending much on linebackers. The position could be a problem spot following the Alonso's injury but that's not the result of financial decisions. The Bills have plenty of youth at the position and will look for Bradham or Brown to step up in Alonso's place.

Most underpaid: Alonso. No-brainer here. Like with Robert Woods and Cordy Glenn, the Bills and Alonso can't strike an extension until after the third year of Alonso's rookie deal. However, the circumstances could be different in Alonso's case. Since he was hurt while working out away from the team's facility, the Bills can place him on the non-football injury list. Alonso wouldn't get an accrued season and would have only three years of service when his contract expires after the 2016 season. In that scenario, he would become a restricted free agent and the Bills would have more control over his future. Still, the more likely outcome is that Alonso returns to health next season and the Bills extend him before he hits the open market.
Continuing a series analyzing the economics of the Buffalo Bills' roster, position by position:

Position: Defensive end

Total cap value: $27,790,666
Compared to NFL average: 100.2 percent more
NFL positional rank: 2nd

Portion of Bills' total cap number: 23.2 percent

2014 cap numbers:
Mario Williams: $18.8 million (1st on Bills, 1st among NFL defensive ends)
Jerry Hughes: $3.995 million (Bills: 8th; NFL: 39th)
Manny Lawson: $3.1 million (Bills: 15th; NFL: 49th)
Jarius Wynn: $635,000 (Bills: 44th; NFL: tied for 102nd)
Bryan Johnson: $420,666 (Bills: 76th; NFL: tied for 185th)
Jacquies Smith: $420,000 (Bills: tied for 78th; NFL: tied for 188th)
Ikponmwosa Igbinosun: $420,000 (Bills: tied for 78th; tied for 188th)

Average per year:
Williams: $16 million (1st on Bills, 1st among NFL defensive ends)
Hughes: $2.53 million (Bills: 19th; NFL: 51st)
Lawson: $3 million (Bills: tied for 17th; NFL: tied for 45th)
Wynn: $795,000 (Bills: 33rd; NFL: NFL: tied for 89th)
Johnson: $510,667 (Bills: 66th; NFL: tied for 170th)
Smith: $465,000 (Bills: tied for 84th; NFL: tied for 207th)
Igbinosun: $465,000 (Bills: tied for 84th; NFL: tied for 207th)

Most overpaid: Williams. This is a debate that has flown under the radar as Williams has progressed through his deal. He'll turn in dominating performances, like his 4.5 sack game against Carolina last season, and make big plays, as he did at the end of the Bills' road win in Miami last October. Yet Williams' salary cap hit is 835 percent higher than the average cap hit of an NFL defensive end and the fourth-highest cap hit this season in the NFL (behind Ndamukong Suh, Eli Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger). Is Williams worth it? After starting at a "modest" $9.8 million in 2012 and $12.4 million last season, he's now getting into the meat of his contract. Williams' cap number grows to $19 million in 2015 and $19.9 million in 2016. That's top quarterback territory, and I'm not sure Williams delivers that sort of impact to the Bills.

In a recent piece Insider for ESPN Insider, Pro Football Focus' Nathan Jahnke placed Williams among the top 10 most overpaid players in the NFL.

Most underpaid: None. I would give Hughes some consideration for this title, but he still needs to prove that his 10 sacks last season were more than the product of Mike Pettine's blitz-heavy scheme. With Hughes entering the final year of his contract, the Bills could have chosen to extend him this offseason. They didn't, which was the right call. I would call him slightly underpaid at the moment but Hughes must turn in another good season before he earns more than that in his next deal.
The blows for Buffalo Bills fans came in quick succession Tuesday night.

First was a shocking 33-word statement from general manager Doug Whaley that sent a clear message: brace for the worst with linebacker Kiko Alonso, who quickly had become a fan favorite and rising defensive star last season.

[+] EnlargeKiko Alonso
AP Photo/Bill WippertKiko Alonso's torn ACL puts the Buffalo Bills in quite a pickle at linebacker.
"We have learned tonight that Kiko Alonso injured his knee while working out in Oregon," Whaley said. "We do not have the details at this point, but early indications are that it may be significant."

Less than an hour later came confirmation, from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, of Bills' fans fears: Alonso had torn his ACL and is expected to miss the upcoming season.

At a time when those around the NFL are relaxing on beaches and boats, the stunning developments with Alonso have taken the wind out of the Bills' sails.

This is a crushing blow just more than two weeks before training camp begins.

Alonso was part of a defensive resurgence last season under former coordinator Mike Pettine, playing every defensive snap. The team moved him to weak-side linebacker this offseason, and its hope was that Alonso would take another step forward, helping to improve the Bills' run defense as a run-and-hit outside 'backer.

At this point, you can rip up those plans and toss them in the trash, at least for this season. The Bills are back to the drawing board at linebacker.

Luckily for them, the team made two low-cost, high-upside signings this offseason, bringing in Keith Rivers and Brandon Spikes. That shored up what was, aside from Alonso, a weaker point in their defense last season.

Before Alonso's injury, the Bills planned to start Rivers on the strong side and Spikes in the middle. With a hole potentially opening up on the weak side, they have several options.

First, they could move Rivers to the weak side. That would open a hole on the strong side, but Rivers has adequate range to play any of the three linebacker spots. He has an injury history that should make the Bills leery of relying too much on him, but at this point they might not have a choice.

Moving Rivers across the formation would require someone else moving into his old spot. One choice would be Preston Brown, a third-round pick who impressed at middle linebacker this spring. Having a rookie learning one position in organized team activities and another in training camp isn't ideal, but Brown has impressed coaches so far. The Bills could hold their breath and hope that Brown makes like Alonso and steps in without a hitch on the strong side.

Rivers
If the Bills wanted to go with more experience in their second level, Manny Lawson is their best bet. Lawson, who turns 30 later this month, started 15 games last season at strong-side linebacker. That's a different position in Pettine's defense than it is for Schwartz, and Lawson would need to play off the line more than he did last season. Moving Lawson back to linebacker would also weaken the Bills' depth at defensive end, but it's an option they need to consider at this point.

Another possibility is to replace Alonso with Nigel Bradham, keeping Rivers on the strong side. Bradham, a former fourth-round pick, started 11 games in 2012 as part of a Bills defense that ranked 31st against the run. His playing time was cut considerably under Pettine last season, but he offers more athleticism than the alternatives at the position.

There are few, if any, remaining options on the free-agent market who could step in and start for Alonso. Any new player coming in would have to play catch-up to learn the defense. The Bills could add a veteran for depth during training camp, but they would likely keep the expectations low with any new addition.

Instead, the strongest bet is that Alonso's replacement is either Bradham, Brown or Lawson.

None is Alonso. After snagging four interceptions in his first four games, Alonso's on-field play and his nonchalant personality earned him "legend" status among Bills fans, who flocked to buy his jersey.

In a cruel offseason twist that came down like a bolt of lightning on a summer night, Alonso won't be wearing his jersey on the field this season.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus returned to Bills practice Tuesday as they opened a three-day mandatory minicamp.

Dareus
Dareus missed the final two weeks of organized team activities after he was taken into custody following an alleged street race. Coach Doug Marrone did not specify where Dareus was during that time, only saying that the Pro Bowler was dealing with "personal issues."

The Bills will not make Dareus available to reporters during minicamp, saying they want him to "focus on football."

Dareus is scheduled to appear in a Hamburg, New York court on July 1.

Meanwhile, the Bills had two players missing from their first minicamp practice Tuesday. Tight end Scott Chandler was excused for a family matter, and offensive tackle Cordy Glenn sat out with an illness.

Defensive end Manny Lawson and defensive tackle Alan Branch both reported to practice after sitting out all of OTAs, which were voluntary.

"The season is long. When you have some years under your belt, you don't want it to be repetitive. You don't want to seem like you're going through the motions, the same thing over and over again," Lawson said. "It was good to step away, spend time with the family, go visit your family. Relax -- still work out in my time off -- but step away from the game and come back to it and it's all new and fun again."

Rookie offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, a seventh-round draft pick, did not practice Tuesday for what the team called travel-related issues.

Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin left practice with trainers and did not return. He did not suffer an obvious injury during practice.

Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore (hip surgery) and Leodis McKelvin (hip surgery) both participated to full-team drills for the first time this spring.

The Bills had three players trying out during Tuesday's practice: wide receiver Tori Gurley, cornerback Kamaal McIlwain, and cornerbck Sam Miller.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Two veteran players did not participate in the Buffalo Bills' first organized team activity Wednesday.

Defensive tackle Alan Branch and defensive end Manny Lawson were not spotted at the OTA, which by NFL rules is voluntary.

"I haven't talked to them. It's voluntary. We all know that," coach Doug Marrone said. "I tend to not worry about the things that I can't control, and obviously I can't control that."

It's unclear if either will participate in any of the Bills' remaining OTAs, which continue through mid-June before the team's mandatory minicamp.

"I haven't seen either of those guys," Marrone said. "There's a lot of other guys here that I need to be concentrating on. My expectation is that it's voluntary. Any guy that shows up, I'm happy. If you don't show up, you don't have to. Otherwise, it's very difficult for me. So for me, hey, I'm fine."

Lawson started 15 games for the Bills last season at linebacker, but will move to defensive end under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and faces the possibility of a reduced role in the scheme.

Branch, meanwhile, figures to slide inside to defensive tackle under Schwartz after starting 13 games last season at defensive end. If the NFL suspends Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus after he was arrested on felony drug charges earlier this month, Branch could be his replacement in the starting lineup.

Kyle Williams, who was a team captain last season, commented on Branch's and Lawson's absence Wednesday.

"I have a family of my own. Different things happen for different people, so there might be something going on that they need to be there for," Williams said. "I think the guys that, when you're here, when you're in the building, you're going to work hard, do what you need to do, but I think everybody on our team would tell you that family is going to take precedent, no matter what it is. These things are voluntary.

"I'm sure those guys will show up at some point when they can and we'll be glad to have them."
In his pre-draft gathering with reporters Friday, general manager Doug Whaley didn't shy away from identifying one area where the Buffalo Bills need some help.

"I think with the 4-3, we could use some more defensive end depth," Whaley said. "But we signed some guys who are unproven, so we're excited but we just got to wait and see there."

With the arrival of Jim Schwartz, the Bills are expected to have Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes at the top of their defensive end depth chart. Yet, unless they address the position in the draft, Williams and Hughes could play upwards of 90 percent of snaps, which isn't a formula for success for most pass-rushers. They'll need rest at some point.

Hughes is 254 pounds -- a far cry from Williams, at 292 pounds -- and he'll need to add some bulk if the Bills want him to play an early-down role at defensive end. The same is true for the lanky, 240-pound Manny Lawson, who is without a natural home in Schwartz's scheme after starting at strong side linebacker in Mike Pettine's system. Whaley's comments Friday suggest that Lawson won't play much of a role at defensive end.

That leaves the 285-pound Jarius Wynn, who the Bills signed earlier this month, as the probable third option unless replaced through the draft. Most of Wynn's NFL experience has come as a 3-4 defensive end, so it's a bit of a projection if the Bills line him up at defensive end in their 4-3 scheme. With Wynn's size, he may even be better suited as an interior rusher than an edge player like Williams or Hughes.

Who's left after Wynn? A pair of players who have never played an NFL snap: Jacquies Smith and Ikponmwosa Igbinosun. At 260 pounds, Smith is smaller and more compact, while Igbinosun is sturdier, at 286 pounds. Smith was a productive pass-rusher at Missouri but has yet to emerge on the NFL level.

How would Whaley ideally like his defensive line? He made a comment Friday about the Seattle Seahawks that could answer that question.

"This is a copycat league. The team that won the Super Bowl is the Seattle Seahawks and they have a ‘NASCAR’ package," he said. "That’s a package where they have a lot of speed on the defensive line coming at you in passing downs."

It's not necessarily a new concept. The New York Giants used a speed-based line to win the Super Bowl in 2007, subbing Justin Tuck in for a defensive tackle to supplement the pass rush from Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora.

Right now, the Bills don't have the personnel to do that. Williams and Hughes are a starting point, but they'll need more.

Bills mailbag: More draft talk

April, 27, 2014
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Sunday would normally be the day after the NFL draft, a day when teams furiously scour the undrafted free agent market to fill out the last portion of their roster.

This year, we'll have to wait an extra two weeks until the draft, putting the offseason's busiest Sunday on hold. Luckily, that gives us more time to answer some Bills draft questions from Twitter. Let's fire away:

Bills draft preview: Defensive end

April, 15, 2014
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As we step away on vacation, we'll provide a position-by-position preview of next month's draft from a Buffalo Bills perspective:

Position: Defensive end

Current personnel: Mario Williams (signed through 2017), Jerry Hughes (2014), Manny Lawson (2016), Jarius Wynn (2014), Jacquies Smith (2015), Ikponmwosa Igbinosun (2015)

Draft need: Moderate

State of the position: This position has changed under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Hughes and Lawson figure to split playing time across from Williams in Schwartz's base 4-3 alignment, with Hughes expected to see significant playing time in sub packages. Lawson is a bit of a question mark, a tweener who doesn't have a well-defined role in the defense. He's too tall and lanky to be a stout run defender on early downs, while he lacks the pass-rushing skills of Hughes or Williams to be a force on passing downs. Lawson could see time as a linebacker but lacks the athleticism to play there full-time. General manager Doug Whaley has already indicated that Keith Rivers and Kiko Alonso are penciled in as outside linebackers.

Given Lawson's uncertainty and Hughes entering the final year of his contract -- and possibly set to cash in with another strong season -- it would make sense for the Bills to target defensive end in the draft. There's an outside chance that they could roll the dice and try to move up for Jadaveon Clowney or Khalil Mack, but the much more likely scenario is that they keep an eye out for a defensive end in the mid rounds. The ideal player would be around 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds with some potential as a pass rusher.

Sweet spot: Mid rounds.

Possible targets: Scott Crichton (Oregon State), Trent Murphy (Stanford), Chris Smith (Arkansas), James Gayle (Virginia Tech)
Last offseason, the Buffalo Bills came out on the better end of a trade with the Indianapolis Colts.

The Bills received Jerry Hughes in that deal and Hughes set a career high with 10 sacks. The Colts received Kelvin Sheppard, who started seven games and finished with 46 tackles.

Could the Bills pull off another trade this offseason?

In his latest piece for ESPN Insider, Field Yates examines five hypothetical swaps that "won't happen, but make sense in theory." One involves the Bills.

Yates considers a trade that would send linebacker Manny Lawson to the Atlanta Falcons for offensive tackle Sam Baker. Here's part of his explanation as to why it would make sense for the Bills:
Baker, meanwhile, would give Buffalo an option to play opposite Cordy Glenn at either tackle spot. Head coach Doug Marrone is a talented offensive line tutor who could revitalize Baker's play after a down 2013. While Baker signed a lucrative contract last year, the bulk of the guaranteed money has been paid out, softening the financial blow for Buffalo.
Jim SchwartzAP Photo/David RichardDefensive coordinator Jim Schwartz arrived in Buffalo after five seasons as Detroit's head coach.
Even the Cleveland Browns haven't had it this bad.

The Buffalo Bills have run through more defensive coordinators over the past four years than any other team in the NFL, complicating their player-acquisition process through both free agency and the draft.

While their defensive schemes have changed each offseason since 2011, it's not all bad news. In hiring Mike Pettine last winter and Jim Schwartz to replace him in January, the Bills are sacrificing long-term coaching stability to help win now.

It's the right approach. Schwartz has extensive experience as a coordinator and head coach, while Pettine is a riser in the NFL coaching ranks, having recently been hired to lead the Browns. They're both talented defensive minds and better than the alternative, which would have been to promote from within or to poach an up-and-coming position coach from another team.

Schwartz is already putting his mark on the Bills defense. General manager Doug Whaley revealed last week that Kiko Alonso, who finished second in voting for the Associated Press' Defensive Rookie of the Year award, will move to weakside linebacker as part of yet another defensive overhaul.

Replacing Alonso at middle linebacker will be newly signed Brandon Spikes. The Bills also signed Keith Rivers, a former first-round draft pick, to potentially start at strongside linebacker.

It will be a whole new look, but one that presents some challenges for the Bills.

It was only a year ago when Buffalo signed linebacker Manny Lawson to a four-year, $12 million deal. The lanky veteran proved a strong fit in Pettine's system, starting 15 games and posting his best statistical marks since 2009.

Now Lawson is a man without a home. Under Pettine, Lawson could play close to the line of scrimmage, setting the edge against the run and blitzing on occasion. Things will be different with Schwartz, who rarely blitzes his linebackers and requires sturdier defensive ends than the 240-pound Lawson.

[+] EnlargeMike Pettine
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliThe Bills' defense improved in a number of areas during Mike Pettine's lone season as coordinator.
With three years left on Lawson's contract, the Bills wouldn't have received much of a salary-cap benefit by releasing him. Instead, they paid Lawson his $500,000 roster bonus last week and will try to find him a place among their new furniture.

"I think he's going to be a hybrid player. He's going to be able to bring us something as an outside linebacker but also come off the edge as a defensive end," Whaley told WGR 550 last week. "His versatility is going to be utilized within this system. That we think is going to be very valuable for us."

Translation: We like you Manny, but we don't really know what to do with you.

Lawson might find a situational role at defensive end, where Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes are the top two options. It also could be a position where the Bills try to add depth in the draft.

What about Alan Branch, who started 13 games at defensive end last season? Pettine's system required three big bodies along the defensive line. At 325 pounds, Branch fit that bill.

Without waiting to see how things would unfold with Pettine, the Bills jumped the gun in late December and gave Branch a three-year extension worth more than $3 million per season, with nearly $4 million in guaranteed money.

Under Schwartz, Branch figures to have a lesser role. The Bills already have a pair of defensive tackles in Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus -- who both made the Pro Bowl last season -- and Branch will be a capable but likely overpaid backup.

The Bills were smarter in doling out contracts last week. Spikes received a one-year deal and Rivers signed for two years. Both contracts included little guaranteed money.

After all, who knows where Schwartz will be by next January?

It took Schwartz eight seasons as the Tennessee Titans' defensive coordinator to earn his first head-coaching job, with the Detroit Lions. He's known as a prideful coach who, when introduced in Buffalo, came off miffed about the way things ended after five seasons in Detroit.

"I think if you look around, just about every coach has been in that position. Every coach has had some situation," he said. "There are some great ones that have been fired."

At 47, Schwartz might not have to wait long for another head-coaching opportunity, but that doesn't make him a bad investment by the Bills.

The Bills gambled when they hired Pettine last winter. It was among the NFL's worst-kept secrets that Pettine wanted to become a head coach. He was on the fast track. Unusual circumstances may have led to his hire by the Browns, but the departure from Buffalo was inevitable.

Likewise with Schwartz. The Bills might rebuild and grow with Whaley, Doug Marrone and EJ Manuel, but it's unlikely that Schwartz will stick around long enough to see that process through.

In Pettine and Schwartz, the Bills hired the best options on the market. Pettine boosted several areas of the Bills defense, helping it improve from 22nd in yards allowed per game in 2012 to 10th in 2013, while seeing the red zone defense jump from 31st to sixth last season. The Bills finished second in opposing QBR, second in sacks, second in interceptions and first in opposing completion percentage.

Meanwhile, Schwartz's defenses were typically strong in Tennessee, especially against the run. The Titans finished in the top six in rushing yards allowed in five of Schwartz's eight seasons as defensive coordinator.

Most important, both coaches are confident and experienced, allowing Marrone to focus his attention where it's needed the most: on offense. Had the Bills turned to a younger, less experienced defensive coordinator than Pettine or Schwartz, it would have created more continuity with scheme but also would have stretched Marrone thin.

Whaley and his scouting staff might get headaches trying to keep up with the defensive changes, but for a city that desperately needs a winning team, this is the right way to go.

Bills moving Kiko Alonso to OLB

March, 14, 2014
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The "Legend of Kiko" will continue ... elsewhere.

Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso, who played every snap at middle linebacker last season, will move to outside linebacker under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, general manager Doug Whaley said Friday.

Alonso
"That right now is the plan," Whaley told WGR 550. "We're going to move him outside. Have Keith Rivers on the other outside [spot]."

Alonso finished second in voting for the Associated Press' defensive rookie of the year award last season. His 159 tackles were third in the NFL, while he added four interceptions, two sacks and one forced fumble.

The Bills believe moving Alonso, presumably to the weak-side, will free him up to make more plays.

"We think with his athletic ability, his speed, and his instincts, why limit him by having to take on those big guards? Let's cover him up and let him run and hit," Whaley said.

Whaley said Rivers, who the Bills signed Wednesday, will compete for a starting job at the other outside linebacker spot. He started eight games for the New York Giants last season but they weren't expected to bring him back.

Schwartz is expected to change the Bills' scheme to a more traditional, 4-3 look. That means Manny Lawson -- who started 15 games on the edge in Mike Pettine's "46" style defense last season -- doesn't have a well-defined role in the new system.

"I think he's going to be a hybrid player. He's going to be able to bring us something as an outside linebacker but also come off the edge as a defensive end," Whaley said. "His versatility is going to be utilized within this system. That we think is going to be very valuable for us."

Lawson, who is entering the second year of a four-year deal, received a $500,000 roster bonus Thursday. He will count $3.1 million against the Bills' salary cap this season.

Where do the Bills turn at middle linebacker? Whaley said the team will consider options already on its roster, which are slim.

"We're going to have to field an inside backer. We have some guys on campus now that we're excited about and we're going to keep our eyes open for anybody else that is out there," Whaley said. "Ty Powell is a guy that we're excited about. We brought [him] in last year off the New York Giants' practice squad. He played on special teams. He came in and actually played in the defensive package during the season. We're excited about him and we believe he'll take that next step coming up this season."

Powell, a seventh-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2013, played in five games as a reserve late last season.

The other possibility is Nigel Bradham, whose playing time dropped significantly last season and is probably better suited as a weak-side linebacker.
Happy Monday. We've arrived at what is typically the busiest week of the NFL offseason.

Since Saturday, teams have been able to enter into talks with opposing teams' free agents. Starting Tuesday at 4 p.m., deals can become official.

Until then, let's recap what we've learned over the past few days:

1. The Bills will need to make a decision on several players who are due large roster bonuses this week. Quarterback Kevin Kolb ($1 million) and linebacker Manny Lawson ($500,000) are both due roster bonuses on Thursday. On Saturday, the Bills owe wide receiver Stevie Johnson a $1.75 million roster bonus. Last week, Bills general manager Doug Whaley addressed Kolb's situation with John Kryk of the Toronto Sun. "It's a tricky situation," Whaley told Kryk. "We're going to be very careful how we handle this, and the foremost consideration in the whole equation is him being healthy." It would be a surprise if Kolb remains with the team past this week. Lawson and Johnson are longer shots to be released but their situations still bear watching.

2. Last week, the Bills hosted linebackers Jameel McClain and Jasper Brinkley, who were both released by their former teams. Brinkley could be off the market soon, as Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo reported Sunday that the Minnesota Vikings will bring back Brinkley on a one-year deal. Meanwhile, McClain will still meet with the Vikings on Monday, reports 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson. We ranked linebacker as the Bills' top free-agent need and we wouldn't be surprised if the Bills made a play to sign one of the top free-agent linebackers available. Jon Beason and Karlos Dansby are among those who are hitting the open market this week.

3. ESPN.com Miami Dolphins reporter James Walker reported Monday that safety Jairus Byrd is seeking a deal that pays him at least $9 million per season. That would make Byrd the highest-paid safety in the NFL, at least in terms of average salary per season. The NFL Network reported over the weekend that the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams have expressed interest in Byrd.

4. While Tuesday is the start of the free-agent signing period, it's also the first day that teams can complete trades. At this point, don't rule out activity on that end from the Bills.

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