NFL Nation: Andra Davis

Making millions in the AFC East

March, 4, 2011
3/04/11
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Mark SanchezRichard A. Brightly/Icon SMIMark Sanchez is set to earn $14.75 million in base salary next season, the most in the AFC East.
Sports labor squabbles often are described as billionaires arguing with millionaires over money.

While that's a catchy rhyme that sums up fan frustration, the phrase is not entirely true.

Inspired by a blog entry from the minister of all things AFC South, Paul Kuharsky, I looked at NFL Players Association files to count up the number of AFC East players scheduled for $1 million base salaries in 2011.

Granted, up-front bonuses and incentives can make base salaries misleading. But base salaries are the only figures that create a common ground, player for player.

You'll see a vast majority of NFL players make much less than $1 million a year. Although many will make seven figures before they walk away from the game, careers are short and treacherous. They'll never see that kind of cash again for the rest of their lives.

That's why they're fighting for every dollar now.

Of the 226 players under contract in the AFC East, only 62 of them (27.4 percent) will make base salaries of $1 million or more.

The NFLPA hasn't acknowledged any franchise tags that have been signed. Those players are marked with an asterisk and not factored into the totals.

Buffalo Bills
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 19

Players under contract: 54

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 35.2

Miami Dolphins
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 15

Players under contract: 55

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 27.3

New England Patriots
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 14

Players under contract: 60

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 23.3

New York Jets
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 14

Players under contract: 57

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 24.6

Midseason Stock Watch: Bills

November, 10, 2010
11/10/10
2:08
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Power Rankings: Preseason: No. 31. This week: No. 32.

2010 schedule/results

[+] EnlargeCJ Spiller
Luc Leclerc/US PresswireFirst-round draft pick C.J. Spiller hasn't made much of an impact on a winless Bills team.
Where they stand: The Bills are the NFL's only winless team and on their way to an 11th consecutive season without the playoffs. But the Bills have remained competitive on a weekly basis. They have lost three straight games by a field goal, including two in overtime on the road. The Bills rank 26th in total offense and 26th in total defense.

Falling: The Bills went into 2010 with two key strengths. Head coach Chan Gailey boasted three feature-quality running backs in Fred Jackson, Marshawn Lynch and rookie C.J. Spiller. The Bills also had their secondary intact from the season before, when they ranked second in pass defense and second in interceptions.

Neither of those supposed assets has held up. The Bills traded Lynch. Jackson has been OK, but has only two rushing touchdowns. Spiller virtually has been a nonfactor. The ninth overall draft choice has one receiving touchdown and another via kickoff return, but on the ground he has only 150 yards and no touchdowns. The Bills had 28 interceptions last year. They have one this year, and it belongs to linebacker Andra Davis, whom they just put on injured reserve.

Buffalo's scouting department hasn't looked too swift. If not in a winless season, when should we be witnessing youngsters emerge? Many of the Bills' past several first-round picks have been disappointing. Outside linebacker Aaron Maybin and defensive lineman John McCargo are healthy scratches every week.

Rising: Poor run game aside, the Bills have developed a sometimes-entertaining offense under Gailey, daring to get into shootouts with the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens, for instance. Ryan Fitzpatrick does a nice job of distributing his passes to receivers Steve Johnson, Lee Evans and -- up until breaking his wrist last week -- Roscoe Parrish. Fitzpatrick is on pace to become only the second Bills quarterback to throw for 30 touchdowns in a season.

There hasn't been much to like about the Bills' switch to a 3-4 defense. They've waffled lately and deployed four-man fronts to stop the run. But nose tackle Kyle Williams has stood out with a team-leading three sacks (unusual for that position), and the Bills recently showed they were committed to the 3-4 by claiming outside linebacker Shawne Merriman off waivers. Merriman probably won't be back next year, but his addition should improve an anemic pass rush.

Midseason MVP: Fitzpatrick still makes untimely mistakes, but since he assumed control of the offense from Trent Edwards, the Bills seem to harbor significantly more hope. Johnson's brow-raising aerial production has gone hand-in-hand with Fitzpatrick's promotion.

Outlook: The Bills are halfway to 0-16 and have a rugged remaining schedule. Their best shot might be Sunday at home against the Detroit Lions, who aren't expected to have starting quarterback Matthew Stafford. But, as the Bills showed by taking the Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs into sudden death, they have a legitimate shot to win any week. The prediction here is they pick up a couple victories but still finish with a top two draft choice in April.

Buffalo loses Parrish, Davis for the year

November, 8, 2010
11/08/10
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One player forward, two players back.

Parrish
Parrish
Davis
Davis
The Buffalo Bills made a move last week that should improve their team, claiming Shawne Merriman off waivers. But on Monday they placed two starters on season-ending injured reserve, weakening both sides of the ball.

The Bills lost important receiver Roscoe Parrish to a broken wrist and starting inside linebacker Andra Davis to a nagging shoulder injury.

Parrish suffered his injury late in Sunday's 22-19 loss to the Chicago Bears in Toronto. He leaped high to catch a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass along the sideline and came down awkwardly while trying to stay inbounds.

Parrish will be difficult to replace. After getting mothballed by previous coach Dick Jauron, Parrish was having a breakout season as a receiver. Through eight games, he had 33 receptions (two short of his career-high) for 400 yards (most of his career) and two touchdowns (tying his career-high). His catches and yards ranked second on the team behind Steve Johnson.

"You don't just replace guys that have been that productive," Bills coach Chan Gailey said, "but it's an opportunity for somebody else to step up. Donald Jones will jump into the fray and we'll see what he can do."

Jones is an undrafted rookie out of Youngstown State. He has played in every game but didn't make his first catch until Sunday.

Davis was hurt in the season opener against the Miami Dolphins and couldn't recover. He played in six games, starting four. Davis had 42 tackles, including one for a loss and Buffalo's only interception this year.

Akin Ayodele started in Davis' usual spot Sunday.

Jets at Bills inactives

October, 3, 2010
10/03/10
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The New York Jets and Buffalo Bills will be missing some notable starters for Sunday's game in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Each will be without their best defensive lineman, top cornerback and a quality linebacker.

Here are the inactives (the Jets' D-lineman I referred to is nose tackle Kris Jenkins, who's on injured reserve):

Buffalo Bills
New York Jets

Final Word: AFC East

October, 1, 2010
10/01/10
4:02
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 4:

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireMark Sanchez has had back-to-back games of three touchdowns and 120-plus passer ratings.
The Buffalo Bills might be better off to ignore Mark Sanchez this time. Sanchez is molten, with back-to-back games of three touchdowns and 120-plus passer ratings. But the key for the Bills will be to forget they intercepted him five times last year and to concentrate on the run. Sanchez leads the NFL in passer rating against five or more pass-rushers. So he's been dangerous against teams that come after him anyway. And let's not forget the Jets piled up an incredible 567 rushing yards and 6.8 yards per carry against the Bills last year. A steady ground attack will be even more appealing for the Jets because the Bills' front seven will be short-handed. Top defensive lineman Marcus Stroud and inside linebacker Andra Davis won't play. But last year's leading tackler, Paul Posluszny, will return from a knee injury.

Chad Henne should have another big night versus the Patriots' pass defense. The Patriots are having serious problems. Career backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick looked great for the Bills last week. Henne is coming off a 363-yard performance and Brandon Marshall exploded for 10 catches against a Jets secondary that's far more talented at cornerback than the Patriots are. Opposing quarterbacks have a 101.3 passer rating against the Patriots, fifth-highest in the NFL. They're averaging 260.3 yards a game. No defense has yielded more than the Patriots' seven receiving touchdowns.

Dolphins cornerback Jason Allen will be in the crosshairs again Monday night. Tom Brady will be looking Allen's way Monday night. With the respect cornerback Vontae Davis is garnering plus Allen's spotty track record, the choice is obvious. Allen was one of the heroes in Week 2, when the Dolphins went into the Metrodome and stole a victory from the Minnesota Vikings. Brett Favre tried to exploit Allen, who came down with two interceptions. But last week, Sanchez picked on him. Allen whiffed while trying to make a tackle on Braylon Edwards, and the play turned into a devastating 67-yard touchdown. Allen also committed a fourth-quarter pass interference in the end zone.

The Bills have cleaned up their act. The Bills were one of the NFL's most undisciplined teams last year. They committed 107 penalties for 855 yards. Their offensive line got flagged a league-high 48 times -- an outrageous 25 times for false starts. New head coach Chan Gailey has made substantial corrections so far. The Bills have committed 15 penalties through three games. Only six teams have been whistled for fewer and only four teams have given up more penalty yardage. Buffalo's offensive linemen have committed only six infractions, three of which have been false starts. Last year's biggest transgressor, left tackle Demetrius Bell, has been charged once.

My last word on Trent Edwards. I received a few notes regarding my critical stance on the Bills' decision to waive Edwards on Monday. The general sentiment was that Edwards was awful and deserved to be dumped. Let's not confuse the issue. I agree that Edwards had proved himself incapable of being Buffalo's quarterback. The issue, however, wasn't whether Edwards should keep his job. I questioned Gailey and general manager Buddy Nix because they assessed Edwards to be a worthy starter after six months of workouts and meetings, an entire training camp, four preseason games and three years of reviewable game film. A veteran coach known for his work with quarterbacks should easily be able to 1) identify a quarterback who doesn't deserve to be on his roster, and 2) figure out he's not worthy of the starting job to begin with. But eight days after Edwards started for the Bills (by Gailey's choice and not injury) and 24 hours after Edwards was the backup (not deactivated as the third QB), the Bills waived him. The end was justified. The means were indefensible.

Camp Confidential: Buffalo Bills

August, 2, 2010
8/02/10
10:55
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 31

PITTSFORD. N.Y. -- Of any preseason prediction I can make, the one I'm most confident in is that the Buffalo Bills will finish fourth in the AFC East.

That slot would be neither general manager Buddy Nix's nor head coach Chan Gailey's fault. The problems they inherited have set the course for 2010.

But they are setting a tone for the long-term future the players can respect.

Gailey is trying to establish a new culture with his first training camp. He wants people to use two adjectives that haven't been associated with the Bills for a long time: tough and disciplined.

"He's very particular about things and how he wants them done," Bills receiver Lee Evans said. "We haven't really had that for a while here, with the head man running the show. You understand what he's trying to get done."

Gailey has kept his players in full pads at St. John Fisher College. Previous coach Dick Jauron rarely had his players in complete gear at camp.

Gailey believes players should be in pads and tested both physically and mentally. He's in a discovery phase not only about what he'll be able to work with on Sunday afternoons, but also keepers who will help him build a long-term foundation.

"When you actually have those shoulder pads on, mouthpiece in, chinstrap buckled up and you have to get off a block to make a play," safety George Wilson said, "that really shows the true testament of a real football player.

"That's what our coaching staff needs, a new staff that's coming in to evaluate this entire team and be able to put the best 53 men together for this 2010 season. I like what we’re doing. It's going to make us a lot more physical, a lot tougher, a lot more mentally prepared, and I have a positive outlook about it."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeEdwards
AP Photo/David DupreyTrent Edwards is being given the chance to win the starting quarterback job.
1. Can quarterback Trent Edwards capitalize on another opportunity? Bills fans seemed to be pulling for Brian Brohm to emerge as the favorite to win the starting quarterback job. A major reason is they haven't seen him truly fail yet -- unlike Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Yet, after several months working with his quarterbacks, Gailey liked Edwards best and installed him as the No. 1 quarterback to begin training camp. The battle remains open, but with Fitzpatrick and Brohm sharing reps with the backups and surrendering a few here and there to rookie Levi Brown, it's Edwards' job to lose. Based on Edwards' medical chart (combined with Hot Issue No. 2 below), there are no guarantees.

But Edwards has yet to get a fair shot to prove what he can do. He has experienced plenty of chaos since the Bills drafted him in the third round in 2007. Gailey is the first offensive-minded head coach Edwards has played under. Last year, offensive coordinator Turk Schonert got fired 10 days before the season, the Bills jettisoned both starting tackles (two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters and the most experienced member of the offensive line, Langston Walker) from the season before and endured a futile no-huddle experiment.

Gailey has run successful offenses everywhere he has been. This finally could be a legitimate chance for Edwards to show what he can do.

2. How will the Bills survive without proven offensive tackles? The Bills aren't known for their pass rush, but it was apparent in the early days of practice their offensive tackles were overmatched in pass protection. For their safety, quarterbacks wear red jerseys to remind oncoming defenders not to hit them. Good thing, or else the Bills might have needed to sign some replacements already.

While some front offices believe guards are fungible and tackles vital, the Bills have operated contradictorily in recent years. They've drafted guards within the first two rounds (Eric Wood and Andy Levitre) and paid big bucks for a free agent (Derrick Dockery) while declining to draft a tackle earlier than the fifth round since 2002.

Left tackle Demetrius Bell has been limited in 11-on-11 drills because he's recovering from knee surgery. He received his first snaps Sunday. His replacement, Jamon Meredith, has been overwhelmed at times. The other tackles likely to make the 53-man roster -- Cornell Green, Kirk Chambers and rookie Ed Wang -- have looked ordinary at best.

[+] EnlargeSchobel
Bob Donnan/US PresswireThe Bills have decided to move forward without linebacker Aaron Schobel.
3. What will happen with vacillating pass-rusher Aaron Schobel? He spent the entire offseason at his home in Texas, perhaps playing possum. He didn’t return to the Bills' facility to collect his roster bonus or participate in offseason workouts. He told some media outlets he was all but retired.

Then, on the verge of camp, the two-time Pro Bowler with a $6 million base salary expressed a change of heart. Schobel might want to play after all. Or maybe he's posturing for a trade, threatening to show up a month before the regular season despite failing to attend so much as a chalk-board session on the team's transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4.

On Monday morning, the Bills provided a nebulous answer: In a news release, Nix announced the team is moving forward with plans that do not include Schobel.

Nix said: “Aaron has been contemplating retirement for the past seven months, but we are at the point where we are moving forward and have informed his agent of our plans.”

Schobel can improve the defense with his talents, but the team is rebuilding and going through a defensive transformation he has demurred from. If they cut him, then they forfeit an asset. A trade appears to be the best option to me.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Wide receiver Steve Johnson was an afterthought when the Bills drafted him in the seventh round three years ago. But the front office was quietly confident he would be a player someday. After getting buried on a depth chart that no longer includes Terrell Owens and Josh Reed, Johnson might be ready to emerge. Johnson opened camp as the starting No. 2 receiver opposite Evans. That puts James Hardy on the spot. The Bills took him in the second round the same year they drafted Johnson.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Rookie running back C.J. Spiller, the ninth overall draft choice, still hasn't been signed. Reports indicate it might be a while before he's under contract. The players around him in the draft order have come to terms, but Spiller was the first running back off the board and was considered the most electric playmaker in the draft. His agent, Gary Wichard, certainly is hammering home that point every time he speaks to the Bills. While it's true running backs can afford to miss practice more than other positions because their role is so reactionary, Spiller is more than that. The Bills also consider him a receiver, and that makes practice time more precious for learning the nuances of Gailey's offense.

[+] EnlargeChan Gailey
AP Photo/ David DupreyChan Gailey is trying to learn as much about his team by working them out in full gear.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • The atmosphere at St. John Fisher College has been lifeless. It hasn't mattered whether it's morning, afternoon, night, weekday or weekend. The few fans who have shown up are silent.
  • Fitzpatrick has been plagued by interceptions through the first few days of camp. Bills defenders seem to have developed a strong read on where he's going to throw.
  • Gailey has mandated knee braces at practice for the offensive linemen, whether they've had injuries or not. He has been doing that since he began working with O-line coach Joe D'Alessandris at Georgia Tech in 2002. The players can opt out of the knee braces for games if they don't like how they feel.
  • The Bills' defensive backs have sensational hands. In every drill I watched, it was rare to see a ball hit the ground.
  • Left cornerback Leodis McKelvin has demonstrated lapses in concentration. He seemed lost in a passing drill Saturday, getting beaten by Hardy for an easy touchdown. Secondary coach George Catavolos had trouble getting McKelvin's attention afterward for some instruction. Soon after, McKelvin was dropping punts in a return drill.
  • Inside linebacker Kawika Mitchell told me the unit relies on free-agent acquisition Andra Davis' insight when it comes to 3-4 questions. That also goes for inside linebackers coach DeMontie Cross, who hasn't coached an NFL 3-4 before.
  • Mitchell on the 3-4: "It gives you more freedom. It allows you to showcase your ability a lot more. It's going to be a lot more fun."
  • Brian Moorman and Rian Lindell are one of the NFL's best punter-kicker combos. The Bills didn't bother to bring in any additional legs.
  • Wood is a head knocker. His quick return from a shattered left leg and no-nonsense demeanor on the field will make him popular in Buffalo.
  • After obstructed media views on the opening day, the Bills did a fine job of reorganizing their access areas to allow better viewing of 11-on-11 drills.
  • Outside linebacker Aaron Maybin has a body shape that stands out the moment you see him. Maybin looks like a Wii character, with a tiny waist that flares upward toward his shoulder pads. He told me his waist is 36 inches, but in pads it seems like a 28.
  • I focused on the tight ends at the blocking sled Friday morning. I saw why sophomore Shawn Nelson is viewed as more receiver than blocker. He looked considerably less powerful than the rest. While Derek Schouman, Jonathan Stupar and Michael Matthews jacked the sled, Nelson merely budged it. Nelson is listed at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. Only Matthews is larger at 6-4 and 270.

Photoblog: Eyes on the ball

July, 30, 2010
7/30/10
4:32
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Andra DavisAP Photo/ David DupreyLinebacker Andra Davis intercepts a pass during Bills training camp in Pittsford, N.Y.

Big Question: Top AFC East move?

July, 6, 2010
7/06/10
1:00
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NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What was the top offseason move in the AFC East?

We've hit a rare dead period in the NFL, when all the teams have sent their players home to enjoy the summer for a few weeks. Offseason programs are complete. Training camps will begin at the end of the month.

[+] EnlargeMarshall
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireBrandon Marshall's trade to Miami was one of the biggest offseason moves in the AFC East.
Perfect time to review all of the offseason moves. With activity slowed to a crawl, we can safely evaluate the ones that should have the most impact on the upcoming season.

I've taken five decisions from each AFC East club and ranked them based on how important they'll prove to be in 2010.

But this list merely is to provide a reminder of what has happened the past few months. I'd like to see your list in the comments section below. Nominate your favorite move, give me your top five or rank them all.

NOTE: I was remiss in leaving out one of the bigger moves, but thanks to some friendly reminders in the comments section, I have corrected the list by inserting the Dolphins' switch at defensive coordinator at No. 4.

1. Dolphins trade two second-round draft picks for receiver Brandon Marshall.

2. Jets trade a third-round pick for cornerback Antonio Cromartie.

3. Patriots use franchise tag to ensure nose tackle Vince Wilfork's return.

4. Dolphins fire defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni and hire Mike Nolan.

5. Dolphins sign inside linebacker Karlos Dansby.

6. Bills name Buddy Nix general manager and hire head coach Chan Gailey.

7. Jets trade a fifth-round pick for receiver Santonio Holmes.

8. Bills switch to 3-4 defense.

9. Jets pass on re-signing kicker Jay Feely and sign pass-rusher Jason Taylor.

10. Bills draft Clemson running back C.J. Spiller ninth overall.

11. Patriots clean house at tight end, sign Alge Crumpler, draft Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

12. Dolphins move Randy Starks from defensive end to nose tackle.

13. Patriots sign defensive end Gerard Warren.

14. Jets sign safety Brodney Pool, trade Kerry Rhodes.

15. Patriots release outside linebacker Adalius Thomas.

16. Dolphins release outside linebacker Joey Porter.

17. Bills sign defensive end Dwan Edwards.

18. Jets replace running back Thomas Jones with LaDainian Tomlinson.

19. Bills sign inside linebacker Andra Davis.

20. Patriots sign receiver Torry Holt.

Bills want QBs sorted out by draft

March, 23, 2010
3/23/10
10:56
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Up until this week, the Buffalo Bills' front office didn't have much to say. In a couple of news conferences, new general manager Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey couldn't provide much of a roster analysis, repeatedly citing their "evaluation process" to learn what material they have to work with.

Now their ideas are starting to emerge.

Gailey gabbed between bites of muffin at an AFC coaches breakfast Tuesday morning. The get-together was part of the NFL owners meetings at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes.

I've already posted on some of Gailey's thoughts, including his interest in drafting a scatback and his thoughts on University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.

But here are a few more for ravenous Bills fans hungry for information on how their team's front office views the team:

Preference to have quarterback situation settled before draft: Gailey said he would like for the Bills' quarterback ambiguity to gain definition.

"That would be ideal," Gailey said. "You'd like to have everything settled before you went into the draft. The problem comes if you don't solve an issue before the draft. Then you have to try and solve it in the draft. Then if you don't solve it before the draft or in the draft, now your back's to the wall and everybody knows it. That's a bind you get into. Now they can hold you up."

No update on Schobel: Gailey said he's still waiting to learn whether two-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher Aaron Schobel will return to the Bills or retire.

"The biggest thing for him is his family," Gailey said. "He's been moving his kids back and forth. He wants to get them a little bit more established I think. Now, if he does that, then does he want to be gone for that long? That's a tough call, to be honest with you.

"I can see his dilemma. I'd love for him to play, but I understand being a husband and a daddy, too."

Defensive front seven: Gailey declined to name starters or designate a nose tackle, but he sketched out who will play where in the new 3-4 defense. On the defensive line, he listed Dwan Edwards, Spencer Johnson, Marcus Stroud, Kyle Williams. At inside linebacker, he named Andra Davis, Paul Posluszny and Kawika Mitchell. At outside linebacker, he named Chris Ellis, Chris Kelsay, Aaron Maybin and Schobel.

Intrigued by Bell at left tackle: Many looked at Demetrius Bell's season at left tackle and saw a train wreck. Gailey was shocked at how well Bell performed relative to how raw he was coming out of Northwestern State. But it sounded like Gailey viewed Bell as more of a work in progress than a genuine NFL left tackle.

"I was shocked at how well he played because I watched him just like everybody else did and said 'That guy is a loooong way away' when he was coming out and being drafted," Gailey said. "I was impressed with how he played last year. Everything's relative. I was impressed because of where he was compared to where I thought he would be, not because he's a seasoned pro, ready to take on the world and be an All-Pro player. But I was impressed with how far he'd come."

When asked how Bell looks as a reliable left tackle, Gailey's response was tempered.

"Got a lot of work to do, but has a lot of ability and a chance to get there," he said.

Nix wasn't afraid to snooze on free agency

March, 22, 2010
3/22/10
1:34
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- At 12:01 a.m. on the opening day of free agency, the Miami Dolphins were arranging to meet with linebacker Karlos Dansby, the New York Jets were burning the phone lines and the New England Patriots were finalizing a deal to bring back a franchise nose tackle.

[+] EnlargeBuddy Nix
Kirby Lee/NFLBills GM Buddy Nix believes being prudent in free agency leads to drafting more efficiently.
I asked Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix what he was doing at that moment.

"Sleep," he said Monday while taking a break from the NFL owners meetings at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes. "They asked me if I was going to be there, I said 'Hell, no. I ain't going to be there. I'm going to bed.'"

Bills fans probably won't like the sound of that strategy. While the rest of the division's personnel men were getting their heads around the free-agency market, Nix was getting his head around his pillow.

That wasn't laziness on his part. He merely was following the Bills' master plan of building through the draft and cautiously proceeding in free agency.

"I still think you build through the draft," Nix said, "but you can't fill every hole, especially if you haven't been very good.

"We don't get excited about the first week or being up there at midnight and 12:01, signing somebody. We let it play itself out and make sure that the guys we get fit what we need and fill a need."

The Bills have brought in three free agents: right tackle Cornell Green from the Oakland Raiders, inside linebacker Andra Davis from the Denver Broncos and defensive end Dwan Edwards from the Baltimore Ravens.

Nix said those types of acquisitions not only improve a roster, but also help a team draft more efficiently.

"If you do that, then you're going to get in trouble," Nix said. "It kills you two ways. You take a guy that [maybe can't] play, and then you're stuck with him and it keeps you from having a guy you can develop that can help you.

"Every time we sign a free agent, it frees a spot in the draft. You don't have to take that position. You can at least have choices and take the best player, and that's what usually helps you."

The rest of the AFC East has made splashy moves.

The Jets traded for cornerback Antonio Cromartie, dealt safety Kerry Rhodes and signed running back LaDainian Tomlinson. The Dolphins signed Dansby and guard Richie Incognito and made a push for safety Ryan Clark. The Patriots concentrated on re-signing their own players.

"Everybody else in the division has been proactive and aggressive, trying to improve themselves," Nix said, "and I think most of them have in the offseason."

But he said he wasn't concerned with losing ground in the AFC East.

"We're looking to build something solid so we can win consistently," Nix said. "We're not just trying to do it this year and then start over every year. Winning consistently is our goal."

Bills DE Edwards has something to prove

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
5:36
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Dwan Edwards thought he would be on the free-agent market for 48 hours tops.


Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireBills defensive end Dwan Edwards is determined to prove himself on the field after being passed over in free agency.
Two days turned into nearly two weeks. The former Baltimore Ravens defensive end visited the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, but both teams were bothered by concerns stemming from spinal fusion surgery he underwent in 2008.

"They had some issues with the neck," Edwards said. "I thought I'd be signed quick."

As his frustrations mounted over being labeled "damaged goods," he became more anxious about finding a team. The first one to give Edwards the OK was going to get him.

The Buffalo Bills saw no reason to worry and signed him to a four-year contract worth a reported $18 million.

Now Edwards' mission is to be a pain in the neck for opponents.

"They're getting a great player," Edwards said Wednesday afternoon at One Bills Drive. "I'm glad they took a chance on me.

"It motivates me, definitely, that teams dropped interest. I'm looking forward to getting back on the field with some of these teams."

Edwards injured his neck in a 2008 preseason game and was placed on injured reserve. He underwent a procedure to remove a disk and insert one from a cadaver. His C3 and C4 vertebrae were fused.

The physician to examine Edwards for the Bills was Dr. Andrew Cappuccino, who performed the emergency surgery on former Bills tight end Kevin Everett in 2007. Everett suffered a life-threatening spinal cord injury in the season opener, but cutting-edge procedures at the scene helped him miraculously regain his ability to walk.

"I'm coming off playing 18 games, and I played well," Edwards said. "It definitely was a frustrating free-agent period, and to get that label ... There's nothing you can do about it, but I know I can play."

Edwards started 13 games in 2007, missed 2008 with the injury but opened last year as a reserve. He reclaimed a starting spot in Week 6 and kept it for most of the year. He started nine regular-season games and once in the playoffs.

Edwards recorded 50 tackles and one sack in the regular season. He added nine tackles and one sack in Baltimore's two playoff games.

He agreed to terms the same day as inside linebacker Andra Davis, giving the Bills their first two acquisitions since announcing they would convert to a 3-4 defense.

Edwards admitted "3-4 end is not a glamorous position. You're not going to get a lot of sacks and whatnot, but the guys that can play it right are really key, especially if you're going to be successful running a 3-4.

"It's a physical, nasty, dirty spot. You take on double teams and get cut [blocked] and all sorts of stuff. To be successful, you're going to be holding up blockers for Andra Davis and those guys, who are free to the ball and can make a lot of tackles.

"They told me they needed me to be an integral part. That's all you can ask, to feel like you're wanted and to be a part of something special."

Edwards is coming from a locker room dominated by linebacker Ray Lewis, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and safety Ed Reed. But Edwards acknowledged he'll need to take on more of a leadership role with the Bills.

"You kind of take a back seat in Baltimore with all the great leaders we had," Edwards said. "But I think I really could be that guy. I don't want to come in here and start barking orders at guys. That's not my personality. But I think I'll show people the way I work and prepare. Hopefully, that can rub off on some young guys and I can pick up some things from them."

Draft Watch: AFC West

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Needs Revisited: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Biggest needs revisited.

Denver: The Broncos have added three potential starting defensive linemen and a backup quarterback (at least for the time being) in Brady Quinn. Those two positions are probably out of the question for Denver in the early rounds. The Broncos do have plenty of needs, though. The Broncos will be looking for an inside linebacker after the release of starter Andra Davis. Alabama’s Rolando McClain has to be considered a possibility at No. 11. Denver is also looking for help on the offensive line at guard and at center. The Broncos will surely take a young interior offensive linemen early. With Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall’s future in flux, Denver has to be on the hunt for a receiver. This is a position the Broncos could address early.

Kansas City: The Chiefs have been aggressive in free agency. But because the Chiefs have to improve in many areas, there is plenty to target in the draft. Kansas City has been targeting several veteran offensive linemen, but I think it will try to draft an offensive lineman in the first round or with one of its two second-round picks. The Chiefs still have a big need at safety. If he is available, Tennessee’s Eric Berry has to be a real possibility with the No. 5 pick. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kansas City looked at a linebacker in the first three rounds, either. Even though veteran receiver Chris Chambers has re-signed, look for the Chiefs to try to get younger at the position, perhaps in the second round. The team’s need for a running back was filled with veteran Thomas Jones in free agency.

Oakland: The Raiders have been shedding veterans much more than they have been bringing in players so far in free agency. The need wish list still starts at tackle. The Raiders have long had a dearth there. There probably will be several solid choices at tackle with the No. 8 overall pick. Oakland has to consider this a priority position. The Raiders could also use a young quarterback in the early-to-middle rounds. With running back Justin Fargas cut, the Raiders also could use another running back, but it won’t be a high-round priority. With veteran Gerard Warren cut, Oakland will need a defensive tackle, probably in the early rounds. Linebacker is also an area Oakland may try to address early.

San Diego: The Chargers have as many draft needs as they’ve had in several years. The Chargers have seen several veterans leave through free agency, trade or release. The team has a lot of depth, but reinforcements are needed at several areas. The two main areas of need remain running back and nose tackle. San Diego will address these areas early. It just depends how early. The Chargers could potentially take two running backs early. It is a deep running back class, so San Diego will have options. San Diego really needs a nose tackle now that veteran Jamal Williams has been released and signed by Denver. Because nose tackles are more difficult to find than running backs, the Chargers may address this area first. San Diego could use help at tight end in the middle rounds and perhaps even a third-string quarterback. Linebacker and cornerback could also be addressed in the late rounds.

Draft Watch: AFC East

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Needs Revisited: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Biggest needs revisited.

Buffalo Bills

The first "Draft Watch" installment broke down each team's biggest needs before the free-agency period began. Four weeks later, not much has changed for the Bills. Their positional priorities continue to be quarterback, left tackle and a nose tackle for their new 3-4 defense. The Bills have been judicious in their signings, and the players they've brought aboard haven't addressed major areas of concern. They've added right tackle Cornell Green, inside linebacker Andra Davis and defensive end Dwan Edwards.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins knew an inside linebacker was essential and threw a ton of money at the best one on the free-agent market. They made Karlos Dansby the highest-paid player at his position. But they haven't found a free safety after cutting last year's starter, Gibril Wilson, and failing to land Pittsburgh Steelers free agent Ryan Clark. Nose tackle remains a question mark. They re-signed veteran Jason Ferguson, but he'll be suspended for the first eight games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. The Dolphins' perennial need is at wide receiver, an area they've declined to address through free agency since misidentifying Ernest Wilford in 2008.

New England Patriots

The Patriots have four draft picks in the top 53 slots. They can address several positions that way. And maybe that's why they haven't been too active in free agency outside of re-signing their own players. Outside linebacker appears to remain a glaring need. Bill Belichick brought back last year's sacks leader, Tully Banta-Cain, but Adalius Thomas' future is in doubt. The Patriots may have tipped their hand about what they consider a need by getting involved in trade talks for Arizona Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin. Last week's news that slot receiver Wes Welker underwent rotator cuff surgery creates that much more concern.

New York Jets

No team's needs have changed as much in the past four weeks as the Jets. General manager Mike Tannenbaum has been busy through trades and free agency. Tannenbaum said the Jets were destined to draft a cornerback with their first-round pick until they traded with the San Diego Chargers for Antonio Cromartie. The Jets haven't brought in any new receivers yet (unless you want to count running back LaDainian Tomlinson for what he adds out of the backfield), but something tells me Tannenbaum will make a trade to improve the receiving corps. As for the draft, the Jets could use safety help after trading Kerry Rhodes and must fortify their general depth on both sides of the ball, particularly on the lines.
Elvis DumervilAP Photo/Rob CarrUndersized Denver linebacker Elvis Dumervil leads the league with 15 sacks this season.
After spending a week at the Pro Bowl in February 2006, the Denver Broncos' coaching staff returned to the Rocky Mountains with more than a late-winter Honolulu tan.

They came back with a plan to solve their pass-rush issues: Go small.

Mike Shanahan's staff was given a Hawaiian consolation prize for losing the AFC Championship Game to the Pittsburgh Steelers to end their 2005 season. The staff made the best out of the situation. Defensive coordinator Larry Coyer and Shanahan were smitten by Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney. The pair was amazed at how Freeney was such a dominant force as a pass-rusher despite being a smaller player. Freeney is listed as 6-foot-1, 268 pounds. He's probably smaller, though.

With Freeney serving an inspiration, the Broncos' staff became more open-minded about finding a pass-rusher. Then, studying prospects for the upcoming draft, the Broncos became smitten again.

Elvis entered the building.

The Broncos drafted Elvis Dumervil out of Louisville in the fourth round. A prolific sack master in high school and college, Dumervil was shunned by most teams because of his small stature. Dumervil is listed as 5-foot-11 and 248 pounds. However, that 5-11 claim should be investigated. He doesn't appear to be a shade over 5-10.

Still, the Broncos were not deterred.

“We think he could be another Freeney,” Coyer said then. Ironically, Coyer is now Freeney's defensive coordinator in Indianapolis.

So, if Coyer's quarterback, Peyton Manning, becomes another name on Dumervil's long list of sack victims Sunday when the 8-4 Broncos visit the 12-0 Colts, it will be partly Coyer's fault.

Dumervil, drafted in the same round as Denver star receiver Brandon Marshall, has been a major reason for the Broncos' success in the first year of the coach Josh McDaniels era.

Dumervil leads the NFL with 15 sacks. He needs one more sack to tie Simon Fletcher for the Denver season record of 16 sacks, which Fletcher set in 1992. Dumervil is on pace for 20 sacks. Only seven players have registered at least 20 sacks in a season since the NFL began to recognize the sack as an official statistic in 1982. Dumervil is eight sacks from breaking Michael Strahan's season sack record of 22.5 set in the 2001 season.

“ 'Doom' " is amazing,” said Denver linebacker Andra Davis, calling his teammate by his nickname. “God has blessed him with an incredible ability to sack the quarterback.”

While breaking the record this season might be a long shot, Dumervil has thrived against long odds.

“He's a guy you root for but then you ask yourself how he'd fit in the defense,” Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. said. “But he is just a natural pass-rusher. He may be small, but he engages. He knows how to use his pads and get leverage. He plays much bigger than he actually is.”

Dumervil showed sparks of becoming a high quality NFL pass-rusher in his first three NFL seasons. He had 26 sacks in three seasons entering this one, including 12.5 in 2007. However, Dumervil is having his best season, Horton believes, because he is playing the position that best suits him.

When McDaniels took over the Broncos in January, he hired former San Francisco head coach Mike Nolan to be the defensive coordinator and to run a 3-4 defense. Dumervil was a situational defensive end in the 4-3 for the past three seasons in Denver.

Now, though, he is an outside linebacker in the 3-4. Dumervil is an every-down player. When he isn't rushing, he darts back into coverage.

“He's a rugged player,” Horton said. “He can play every down.”

Dumervil, 25, said he feels at home in the new scheme. Despite his size, Dumervil said he knows he belongs on the field at all times. Speaking as if he were well aware of the pun, Dumervil said he prides himself on being on the field for “big-boy downs.”

“I'm still learning this defense and I think I have a long way to go,” Dumervil said. “But it fits me. I'm comfortable with this defense.”

While he is on the cusp of becoming an NFL household name because of his huge sack numbers this season, Dumervil said he is not overly enamored with collecting sacks. He enjoys getting sacks, but he enjoys the process better.

Dumervil had 78 sacks in high school. He set the NCAA single-game sack record with six and broke former Syracuse star Freeney's Big East single-season sack total as a senior. Now that's he is on pace to become part of the elite 20-sack club, Dumervil isn't going to stray from the process.

“I just enjoy playing well and the fact that I'm getting the opportunity to get to the quarterback,” Dumervil said. “Our defense is doing well (Denver's defense is ranked third in the NFL overall and second against the pass). That's what is satisfying. If I had all these sacks and we were ranked 30th, it wouldn't mean much. But I'm excited that my sacks are helping this team win. That's why I'm here.”

It all began with a trip to the beach.
 
 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
 Quarterback Kyle Orton looked uncomfortable and made uncharacteristic mistakes Monday night against the Steelers, throwing three interceptions.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

DENVER -- The Denver Broncos are suddenly no longer the charming story of the NFL and by no means have firm control of the AFC West.

Since coming out of their bye week at 6-0, the Broncos have transformed into the lackluster team they were expected to be prior to the season. Although the entire Denver team is reeling, the problems start with the offense and quarterback Kyle Orton.

Orton, acquired in the Jay Cutler trade with Chicago, is suddenly not the cool customer he was when he led Denver to a 6-0 start.

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Orton followed up a poor outing against Baltimore with his sloppiest game of the season as Denver lost to Pittsburgh 28-10 on Monday night. Orton couldn't get Denver into a rhythm and was forced into mistakes he wasn’t making during the early part of the season.

Orton looked uncomfortable and was unable to lead his team for the second straight week. Denver was beaten 30-7 at Baltimore in Week 8.

For his part, Orton kept his poise after the game.

“We lost to two good football teams,” Orton said. “We will try to come back and play better at Washington [on Sunday] … It’s a team game and the offense didn’t play very well.”

Although he deserves points for not panicking, Orton would probably be wise to feel some urgency.

The San Diego Chargers are roaring back into the AFC West race, which looked all but over three weeks ago. The Chargers have won three straight games and are now 5-3. They trail Denver by a game in the division. The two teams play in Denver on Nov. 22.

Orton needs to find his early-season rhythm by that game. Orton was intercepted three times Monday night after throwing just one interception in the first seven games. The first two interceptions (one was returned for a score) Monday led to Pittsburgh points and the final interception ended the game.

Orton had been so patient and instinctive early in the season. Last week and on Monday night, he was throwing into traffic, overthrowing targets and passing off of his back foot. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Orton had a passer rating of zero in the fourth quarter.

Essentially, he looked like the mediocre quarterback he was with the Bears, not the early-season MVP candidate he had been this season.

Denver never had a trip into the red zone against Pittsburgh. Its lone touchdown came on defense. In the past two games, Denver’s offense has scored 10 points. Against Baltimore, Denver entered Ravens territory just three times.

 
 AP Photo/David Zalubowski
 Correll Buckhalter and Knowshown Moreno (not pictured) couldn't get on track against Pittsburgh, gaining just 27 rushing yards combined.
Making matters worse for Orton was that he had no support from the ground game. Denver mustered just 27 yards on 14 carries on the ground. Pittsburgh was just teeing off on Orton.

“We didn’t execute at all,” Denver receiver Brandon Stokley said. “We didn’t make any plays.”

Denver coach Josh McDaniels came to town with a pedigree of offensive genius. Early in the season, he was working wonders with Orton & Co. McDaniels, the architect of New England’s record-breaking offense in 2007, has to find a way to reconstruct the Kyle Orton of the first six games of the season or this feel-good story could continue to turn for the worse.

Here are other key aspects of Denver’s loss:

Here come the Chargers: Denver travels to Washington on Sunday and the Chargers host Philadelphia. Denver hosts San Diego in a huge division game Nov. 22. No team has ever had a 3.5 game division lead, like Denver did earlier this season, and not made the playoffs.

Denver handed San Diego the division last season, losing its final three games of the year while the Chargers won their final three, including the season finale over the Broncos. It was the first time in NFL history a team blew a three-game lead in the final three weeks of the season.

Two weeks ago, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said it was the team’s goal to play well and hopefully look up in a month and realize that it had caught the Broncos. It could happen.

Still, Denver, with 30 new players from last year’s team, is not ready to worry about a repeat performance.

“We’re 6-2 and we’re still leading the division,” linebacker Andra Davis. “We’re not going to panic.”

What happened to the second-half magic? In the first six games, Denver outscored its opponents 76-10 in the second half. It had four late comebacks.

However, in the past two weeks, Denver, known early in the season for making great second-half adjustments, has been hammered in the final 30 minutes of games.

Pittsburgh outscored Denver 21-7 in the second half; Baltimore outscored Denver 24-7 in the second half last week. Suddenly, 76-10 has turned into 45-14 -- the wrong way.

Pittsburgh’s offense exploded in the second half as Orton imploded. The Steelers, who were held to 56 yards of offense in the first half, had 321 yards in the second half. Denver had 59 yards in the second half.

Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall had 130 yards rushing in the second half.

“It’s not hard to get back to playing better,” Denver cornerback Andre Goodman said. “Even when we were 6-0 we didn’t think we were playing great football. We have work to do, but we can get there.”

If the Broncos can't return to their early-season dominant form, we may see a second straight Rocky Mountain collapse.

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