NFL Nation: Brandon Spikes

Spikes, Dixon added to injury report

September, 4, 2014
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Linebacker Brandon Spikes (knee) and running back Anthony Dixon (hamstring) were added to the Buffalo Bills' injury report Thursday.

Spikes stepped off the practice field briefly to warm-up further on an exercise bike. After consulting with a trainer, he returned to practice and took part in team drills.

Meanwhile, the Bills upgraded cornerback Stephon Gilmore (groin) to full participation after he was limited Wednesday.

Did not participate:
TE Lee Smith (toe)

Limited participation:
S Jonathan Meeks (neck)
RB Anthony Dixon (hamstring)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)

Full participation:
CB Stephon Gilmore (groin)
LB Randell Johnson (ankle)
WR Sammy Watkins (ribs)

Brandon Spikes lands on ESPN Top 100

August, 18, 2014
Spikes is ranking NFL players and counting them down (follow on Twitter @ESPNNFL) from No. 100 to No. 1 on both offense and defense, 10 per day for 10 days. The top 10 on both sides of the ball will be revealed Friday, Aug. 29.

The rankings were based off votes from 85 ESPN NFL experts.

The first Buffalo Bills player to land on the Top 100 list is linebacker Brandon Spikes, who came in at No. 98 on defense with an average score of 6.25 (on a scale from 1-to-10).

Spikes, a newcomer to the Bills this season, wasn't ranked last season.

2014 Bills ESPN NFL Rank results:
LB Brandon Spikes -- No. 98 (defense)

2013 Bills ESPN NFL Rank results:
DT Marcell Dareus -- No. 100 (defense)
DT Kyle Williams -- No. 82 (defense)
WR Stevie Johnson -- No. 76 (offense)
RB C.J. Spiller -- No. 58 (offense)
DE Mario Williams -- No. 38 (defense)
S Jairus Byrd -- No. 26 (defense)

Bills Camp Report: Day 18

August, 6, 2014
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • Marcell Dareus' hamstring injury didn't appear to be anything major -- he stayed on the field and watched the remainder of practice -- but it's something that bears watching. The strength of the Bills defense is with its line, and any absence from Dareus, Kyle Williams, or Mario Williams would impact the rest of the unit. For now it looks like a minor issue, though.
  • Coming off his less than ideal performance Tuesday night, EJ Manuel looked better at points in Wednesday's practice. He rolled out and hit Robert Woods along the sideline early in the first 11-on-11 period. He also lofted a good pass down the right sideline later in practice but Mike Williams couldn't haul it in -- although cornerback Michael Carter might have gotten a hand on the ball. Otherwise, Manuel's passes were relegated to short-range throws.
  • The Bills offense was all over the map in red zone work. On the plus side, Manuel hit Mike Williams for a touchdown in 7-on-7 and lofted two well-thrown passes to Sammy Watkins and Scott Chandler that were either dropped or broken up. Jeff Tuel followed with a touchdowns to Lee Smith and Chris Gragg, as well as a beautiful one-handed grab by Woods in the end zone. On the negative end, Manuel badly overthrew Williams on a broken play where Williams was open in the end zone. On the next play, Manuel scrambled in the backfield and tried forcing a ball into coverage. He was intercepted by first-year safety Jajuan Harley.
  • Linebacker Brandon Spikes seemed to be dealing with a groin issue during 11-on-11 work. He reached for that area several times when he was on the field and was examined on the ground by trainers when he came off the field. Spikes returned to action but didn't appear 100 percent. Safeties Derek Brim and Kenny Ladler both spent time on exercise bikes during team drills, while safety Jonathan Meeks dealt with a neck injury.
  • Tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring) and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (hamstring) didn't take part in team drills. That could put their status for Friday's game in doubt.
  • Cornerback Leodis McKelvin wasn't in pads or a helmet for the the second straight day after beginning camp practicing with his teammates for at least a portion of practice. Asked if McKelvin had suffered a setback in his recovery from hip surgery, coach Doug Marrone said the team was simply following their plan with McKelvin.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A hush went over the crowd.

After jumping up to catch a pass and coming down hard, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins was slow to get up following a play late in Monday's practice.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Bill Wippert/AP PhotoBills trainer Bud Carpenter tends to receiver Sammy Watkins during Monday's practice.
Watkins' teammates called for trainers, who escorted him to the sidelines. Coach Doug Marrone even went over to check on his first-round pick.

As it turned out, Watkins simply had his eye poked.

He was back into practice soon after but it was the sort of moment that captured fans' attention both at St. John Fisher College and across social media.

Watkins' scare was the highlight of Monday's practice, one that also included linebacker Brandon Spikes leaving for apparent heat-related issues. Spikes removed his gear and was placed in a cooling tent about halfway through practice.

Meanwhile, rookie linebacker Darrin Kitchens was carted off during a special teams drill, while cornerback Brandon Smith limped off the field in a subsequent drill.

The back-to-back injuries are a reminder that the Bills, with the NFL's longest training camp, will have to endure the summer. An injury to Watkins -- or second-year quarterback EJ Manuel -- will be a major setback. The Bills dodged a bullet with Watkins on Monday.

Fortunately for the team, they had two more players avoid serious problems after leaving Sunday's practice. Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, who dealt with complications from sickle cell anemia on Sunday, was back practicing Monday, as was Seantrel Henderson, who left Sunday's session with a hip injury.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills' luck with the weather ran out as they held their ninth and final organized team activities session Thursday.

Skies opened about halfway through the outdoor practice, with players initially toughing it out during an 11-on-11 drill before moving indoors to their practice facility.

Even before the weather was a factor, it was a practice to forget for quarterback EJ Manuel and first-round pick Sammy Watkins. In a routes-versus-air drill, three of Manuel's throws directed towards Watkins in the end zone were off-target. Watkins got his hands on each but couldn't haul them in.

Later in the practice, back indoors, Manuel hit Watkins with a well-thrown pass but Watkins couldn't get ahold of the ball. Manuel also had multiple passes on fade patterns sail over receivers in the end zone, a trend during the three weeks of OTAs.

The Bills wrapped up practice with a full-team red zone drill. Manuel's first pass was an incomplete fade pattern, while his second pass was overthrown. Following a hand-off to Anthony Dixon that went for a touchdown, Manuel's next pass was thrown away, while his final pass was intended for Dixon on a dump-off but was off the mark.

From a big-picture standpoint, the one sequence of the one OTA doesn't mean much, but it wasn't the way the Bills wanted to end their three weeks of practice. Manuel and Watkins will look to bounce back next week at mandatory minicamp.

Attendance-wise, linebacker Brandon Spikes was not spotted Thursday after participating in the first eight OTAs. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin, who has been practicing on a limited basis following hip surgery, was also not on the field.

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore took a step forward in his recovery from hip surgery, taking reps at first-team cornerback in an 11-on-11 drill. Linebacker Kiko Alonso (hip surgery) also had an increased workload Thursday.

Offensive lineman Doug Legursky returned to practice for the first time in a week.

Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin participated in positional drills Thursday but was limited as he recovers from a knee injury suffered earlier this week.

Defensive end Bryan Johnson, who was carted off the field with an apparent left leg injury Monday, will be out until training camp, coach Doug Marrone said.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- With several players not fully participating in organized team activities, the Buffalo Bills' defense is hardly a complete unit.

When it returns to full strength, linebacker Brandon Spikes has a message: Watch out.

"I think we're gonna shock the world this year," Spikes said after Monday's practice. "I'm anxious and I think the defense is anxious too. So we're ready to open some eyes."

Spikes joins linebacker Keith Rivers and cornerback Corey Graham as veteran additions to a unit that will also have a new coordinator, Jim Schwartz. However, there are question marks at safety, where the Bills lost Jairus Byrd this offseason, and at defensive tackle, where Marcell Dareus has run into legal and disciplinary issues in recent months.

It's possible that Spikes will help shore up a run defense that ranked 28th last season. It's also possible that the unit will take a step back against the pass. Last season, Mike Pettine's blitz-heavy scheme led to a franchise record in sacks and had some of the NFL's better stats against opposing quarterbacks.

The best way for the Bills' defense to open eyes this season will be if the Bills offense can take a step forward. If the addition of Sammy Watkins and the development of EJ Manuel don't produce more wins, the defense's performances could be for naught, the equivalent of a pitcher losing a 1-0 shutout in baseball.

But if the Bills' defense can hold their opponents to fewer yards, their chances of finishing with a winning record are strong. Over the past five seasons, no team that has finished in the NFL's top five in yards allowed per game has finished with a losing record:

2013: 13-3, 12-4, 11-5, 11-5, 12-4
2012: 8-8, 13-3, 11-4-1, 11-5, 10-6
2011: 12-4, 10-6, 12-4, 13-3, 8-8
2010: 9-7, 12-4, 11-5, 11-5, 10-6
2009: 9-7, 11-5, 9-7, 10-6, 9-7

The Bills finished 10th in yards allowed per game last season. How realistic would it be for them to jump up five spots in that ranking?
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Linebacker Brandon Spikes did not take part in the voluntary portion of the New England Patriots' offseason program last spring, but he was present for the start of the Buffalo Bills' offseason workouts Tuesday.

Spikes, who signed a one-year deal with the Bills last month, said he views the next stop of his career as a challenge.

"This offseason program, I'm all in. I'll be here all day, trying to get better," he said. "It just feels right. I've always been the type to embrace challenges."

Spikes has made headlines earlier this month when he called his time in New England "4 years a slave," but brushed off the comments Tuesday.

"It's a free country," Spikes said. "That's what Twitter is for. I use it just to interact with my fans. ... People are gonna love you. People are gonna hate you. I just know how to be myself."

Former Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick once called Spikes "a punk at times," and Spikes hasn't shied away from trash talking in his career. He didn't back down from his style of play Tuesday.

"Everybody got a theme. You gotta respect that," he said. "I got a big mouth, I talk a lot of trash. I feel like I can back it up. ... If I can get in a guy's head, I'll take advantage of it."

Spikes then took it a step further.

"You've seen a lot of the greats do it, with Floyd [Mayweather] and [Muhammad] Ali," he said. "I'm not saying on their level, but hey they personally might use it the same way. For me, it just gives me that edge."

Coach Doug Marrone said Tuesday that he met with Spikes to make sure "it was a good fit" before he signed.

"I like his personality," Marrone said. I have no issues at all with his personality."

As for Spikes' remarks on Twitter, Marrone doesn't view them as a problem.

"Obviously we live in a democratic society, where free speech, you would know better than anyone about what we have," Marrone said. "I don't have any issues when players say what they believe and what they really feel is in their hearts. As long as its being productive, productive for the team."

Whether it's on the field or on social media, Spikes' sometimes-edgy comments have even drawn the attention of his mother.

"It just rubs people the wrong way. My momma always tells me, 'Baby, some stuff you shouldn't say. Some people make take offense to it,'" Spikes said. "I say, you got an opinion, you either like it or you don't. The world turns and it'll be over."

Spikes said he looks forward each morning to reading tweets from the "Bills Mafia" and has embraced the fan base in Buffalo.

"Another thing, reason why I came here, was because the fan base here. I never felt that type of love, even though there hasn't been much success around here, really you can't deny, it's right there in your face. I've embraced it, I've used it as an advantage," he said. "I hadn't had that since I was in Gainesville. "Gator Nation" was the same way. It's just good to have it on your side as you were going about it."

Buffalo Bills linebacker Brandon Spikes became the first NFL player to publicly criticize Ray Rice since the Baltimore Ravens running back was arrested for allegedly striking his then-fiancee unconscious.

Spikes' criticism began after he learned that Rice and Janay Palmer were married Friday, one day after Rice was indicted by a grand jury on third-degree aggravated assault.

Spikes tweeted: "That’s him trying to save his image duh"

Spikes said that he got mad when he saw the TMZ video showed Rice lifting Palmer by her arms out of an elevator and laying her on the floor. Rice's attorney, Michael Diamondstein, has said the footage is authentic but incomplete.

That led to Spikes tweeting: "I don’t see how anyone can respect him. Put your hands on a woman. The woman that had ur child"

Spikes then tweeted: "Someone should choke him out. See how he likes it."

The Ravens and the Bills don't play each other in the 2014 regular season.

It was not too long ago when Rice was the one criticizing another NFL player. In 2011, Rice had some harsh words on Twitter for Hines Ward after the former Steelers wide receiver was arrested for drunken driving, saying a DUI charge is "not a good look."

Rice hasn't posted anything on his Twitter account since Feb. 12, three days before his arrest.
Last month, San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said the team could look at some veteran inside linebackers as star NaVorro Bowman recovers from a torn ACL in his knee. Bowman could be out for half the season.

The 49ers have yet to add any veteran help, but they have been looking. The team showed interest in free agent Brandon Spikes before he signed with Buffalo. Spikes’ price tag was too big for the 49ers, who are simply looking for some depth and a veteran option in case they must turn to one. The 49ers like Michael Wilhoite, who spelled inside linebacker Patrick Willis successfully for a short period last season, and second-year player Nick Moody. CSN Bay Area reported this week that the 49ers are still exploring the veteran market.

Perhaps one reason why the 49ers haven’t signed anyone is that there are not a lot of great options.

Here are some names that could potentially interest the 49ers: Desmond Bishop, Dan Connor, Jonathan Vilma, Paris Lenon, Larry Grant, Nick Barnett, Bryan Kehl and Larry Foote. Bishop and Kehl are coming off torn ACLs themselves, and players like Vilma, Barnett and Foote are at the end of their careers.

The bright side for the 49ers is they don’t need much from any addition. They are just looking for depth options.
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.

Spikes wants fresh start in Buffalo

March, 17, 2014
The newest member of the Buffalo Bills, linebacker Brandon Spikes, held an introductory conference call with reporters Monday.

Here are a few highlights from Spikes' comments:

Impact of Pepper Johnson: Asked why he chose the Bills, Spikes didn't waste time mentioning the presence of his former coach in New England -- current Bills defensive line coach Pepper Johnson. Right off the bat, Spikes cited the chance to reunite with Johnson as a reason he picked the Bills. "He's a great coach and a great inspiration to the game. He loves the game and he is definitely what I want to be down the road," Spikes said. "He's a legendary ballplayer and coach. He just knows the game. I respect him as a man and as a coach."

[+] EnlargeBrandon Spikes
Winslow Townson/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Spikes said he's already dreamed about facing the Patriots, his former team, twice in the upcoming season.
One-year deal is motivation: Spikes' contract is unique among the free agents that the Bills have inked this past week. He's only signed for one year, which creates a "prove-it" situation where he can potentially earn more on the market next offseason with a strong performance this season. "My whole life I've had something to prove so it just helps put some fuel on the fire," Spikes said of his deal. "It keeps that burning sensation I have inside of me for the game and, like I said, whatever, if they say I have something to prove, I just have to go out there and do it."

Closing book on New England: Spikes didn't have much to say about his final days with the New England Patriots, which included him being placed on injured reserve in January, partially because he was late to practice. Spikes said he wanted to "close that chapter" and that it "feels great to have a new beginning." Later in the call, Spikes admitted that there will be a different feeling when he plays against the Patriots twice this season. "It's going to be emotional for me. Right now I've had dreams about it already. It's going to be an emotional game; I'm probably going to be in tears the entire game," he said. "I know it's going to be a battle; it's definitely going to be a battle, at all times. I'm looking forward to that and I'll probably dream about it every night until it comes this fall."

Spikes deflects criticism on coverage: The greatest limitation of Spikes' game may he his abilities in pass protection. Spikes played in some sub packages earlier in his career with the Patriots but was largely phased out of that unit by last season. Spikes said he "delivered" when called upon in coverage and noted that he had a strong performance on third downs in Super Bowl XLVI two seasons ago. "That whole entire [2011] season when I was given the opportunity and play on third down, I delivered," he said. As for his role in that phase being diminished, Spikes said: "I was in all of them on third down. I don't know what happened, but I guess I just couldn't cover out there for a few years. I don't know, that's what they said."

Ranking the Bills' free-agent moves

March, 17, 2014
After a flurry of activity last week, the Buffalo Bills were quiet on the free-agent front this weekend.

That gives us a chance to take a step back and assess what the team has done thus far. It's still early in the process -- the free-agent signing period began less than a week ago -- but the following is our early read on the Bills' moves.

Let's rank them, best to worst:

[+] EnlargeBrandon Spikes
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaSigning Brandon Spikes should shore up the Bills' run defense.
1. Signing Brandon Spikes: This is the player Bills fans wanted in Buffalo. Spikes adds toughness and physicality to a run defense that struggled at times last season. The Bills wanted to free up Kiko Alonso to make more plays, so they moved Alonso to the weak side and signed Spikes to take on more blockers at the line of scrimmage. Spikes can handle that load, and he'll have help in front of him from a pair of Pro Bowl defensive tackles: Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Spikes got a one-year, $3.25 million deal that can reach $3.5 million with incentives. The contract is incentive enough for Spikes; he'll be in a "prove-it" situation that could allow him to have greater value on the open market next offseason with a strong season in Buffalo.

2. Signing Corey Graham: The Bills may have overpaid a little here, but that's OK. Even if Graham doesn't slide into a starting spot, he figures to play the majority of defensive snaps. Cornerback play is as important as ever in the NFL, especially at the depth levels. If opposing offenses spread the field, Graham will be an asset in the slot or on the outside. Signing Graham also helps the Bills avoid a situation like early last season, when injuries forced Justin Rogers into the starting lineup. That wasn't a good fit for Rogers, but paying Graham $4 million per season is insurance against that happening again. Graham also adds value on special teams, where the Bills had issues last season.

3. Signing Keith Rivers: Of the Bills' moves thus far, this one may have flown under the radar the most, yet Rivers could have a significant role in the Bills' new defense. Since Spikes is a weaker player against the pass, Rivers will likely be part of sub packages on passing downs. He'll need to show off some athleticism that the New York Giants didn't see in him, as they turned to Jacquian Williams in that role instead. Overall, Rivers is expected to have a bigger role than he had in New York, which is where the Bills are gambling a bit. Still, it's a low-risk, high-upside signing, as the Bills signed Rivers for $5 million over the next two seasons. Their best move is to supplement the position in the draft.

4. Re-signing Dan Carpenter: The Bills got Carpenter back at an affordable price, paying him an average of $2.49 million over the next four seasons. If Carpenter keeps up his pace from last season -- when he didn't miss a kick after the first quarter -- he'll continue to be a quality find by the Bills' front office. Then again, if Dustin Hopkins is eventually waived and performs just as well elsewhere for a lesser price, the move to go with Carpenter won't look quite as good. Carpenter still needs to improve on his kickoffs, but he wasn't phased by the Buffalo weather on his field goals last season.

5. Signing Chris Williams: The Bills had a need at left guard. Was Chris Williams the best option available? Possibly. But why sign him to a deal with $5 million in guaranteed money? As much as general manager Doug Whaley disagrees with the term here, Williams was a bust with the Chicago Bears. Yes, he's still in the league -- but his play was shaky last season for the St. Louis Rams, and now the Bills are banking on him as their starting left guard. It's not going to crush the salary cap or doom the team if Williams flops, but it's just an odd move. Why not limit your contract offer to a one-year, "prove-it" deal and make Williams fight for a starting job?

Note: Financial terms for tight end Scott Chandler and running back Anthony Dixon are not yet available, so we'll hold them out of the ranking for now.

Following up on Brandon Spikes

March, 14, 2014
When considering the possibility of linebacker Brandon Spikes signing with the Buffalo Bills, a few thoughts came to mind.

I covered Spikes from 2010-12 in New England. On the field, he brought a physical presence to the Patriots that they missed when he wasn't in the lineup. Off the field, Spikes drew attention for often the wrong reasons.

Here's my attempt to sort through some of those observations about Spikes:

Commitment to team: It became increasingly clear last summer that Spikes and the Patriots were destined for a divorce. Spikes was the only Patriots player not to participate in voluntary workouts in Foxboro. Spikes was training back home in Florida and word was that he wanted to become a "three-down player," something that he had trouble proving in New England. When Spikes reported to mandatory minicamp in June, he answered for his absence. "I just feel like I was trying to put myself in the best position to compete for a spot on the team, and also help this team win a championship," Spikes said. "You guys know me -- I do things a little different from everybody else. I don't think that's bad or a shocker. Honestly, if everybody in this world was a [conformist], it would be one boring place." It's hard to fault Spikes for wanting to be different, but it was also easier to question Spikes' commitment to the team after that decision. Along those lines, his participation in offseason workouts would be something to watch if he signs with the Bills.

Twitter comments: The Patriots had to deal with a public relations stir in October 2012, when Spikes tweeted the following: "I'm homophobic just like I'm arachnophobic. I have nothing against homosexuals or spiders, but I'd still scream if I found one in my bathtub !" He later called the tweet a "joke," but I remember the incident attracted national media attention that week. One local TV station sent a reporter into the locker room to ask players if they felt there was a problem with tolerance on the team. It created an uncomfortable situation and was surely something the team wanted to avoid. I'm assuming that the Bills would also prefer not to have something similar arise.

And if Spikes signs with the Bills, this is a tweet he would probably want back.

Effect of upbringing: Adding to the complexity of Spikes was his upbringing in North Carolina. Spikes' brother was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder, while his mother worked 12-hour days in a fiberglass plant. In an interview with the Boston Herald -- available in whole here -- Spikes talked about his childhood and his style of play. Spikes described himself as, "a crazed dog just looking to seek, destroy, kill anything that moves. If you're not in that red, blue and white, I don't know what to say. I'm trying to destroy you any way I can, any chance I get. Any edge I can get to beat you on that play, I'm going to do it. I feel like I leave it all out there on the field. I feel like my teammates know I leave it all out, and they respect that. A lot of people respect that."

Fitzpatrick's thoughts: Spikes' style of play crossed the line at times. After a helmet-removing hit on Ryan Fitzpatrick in November 2012, the former Bills quarterback called Spikes a "punk ... he's not one of my favorite players." Fitzpatrick isn't on the Bills anymore, but another player who was outspoken about Spikes still is -- center Eric Wood. "He's a headhunter," Wood said after that same game. If Spikes signs with the Bills, his reception within the locker room would be something to monitor.

Influence of Pepper Johnson: If Spikes lands in Buffalo, one of the most important factors could be the presence of defensive line coach Pepper Johnson, who coached Spikes for the past two seasons in New England. As a former player, Johnson seemed to connect well with Spikes, even where there was an apparent disconnect between Spikes and Bill Belichick. If there was ever an incident that created tension between Doug Marrone and Spikes, having Johnson as an intermediary may help.
Fans have been clamoring for the Buffalo Bills to sign Brandon Spikes.

Well, that might be closer to happening, as Spikes is making a free-agent visit Friday to Buffalo.

The Bills have a glaring need at middle linebacker, with Kiko Alonso moving to the weak side in Jim Schwartz's defensive scheme. The Bills hosted linebackers Jameel McClain and Jasper Brinkley on visits last week but both signed elsewhere. The only in-house options would be Ty Powell or Nigel Bradham, underwhelming in both cases.

Spikes has been a strong run-stopping linebacker for the New England Patriots since being drafted in 2010. His best season came in 2012, when he made 14 starts, recording 92 tackles, five forced fumbles, seven passes defensed and one sack.

He played in 16 games last season but his production dipped slightly. The Patriots began to phase out Spikes on passing downs, as he proved to be a liability in coverage. He was placed on injured reserve in January, partly because he was late to practice.

Spikes was hobbled by a knee injury for most of last season and has dealt with injuries for most of his career.

Spikes, 26, is known for having an off-the-beaten-path personality, with Bill Belichick once calling him an "interesting player to coach" whose "style is ... kind of not by the book but [it's] effective."

Former Patriots defensive coach Pepper Johnson now serves as the Bills' defensive line coach and is known to have a close relationship with Spikes.

The Bills also confirmed that running back Anthony Dixon is making a free-agent visit Friday.

Brandon Spikes tweets his goodbye

March, 11, 2014
During a guest appearance on NFL Network this past Friday, linebacker Brandon Spikes said he would "never say never" on a return to the Patriots but that he felt both sides would benefit from a fresh start.

It now appears as if Spikes is officially ready to shut the door.

Earlier today, the colorful Spikes tweeted his official goodbye.