NFL Nation: Chris Kelsay

The Buffalo Bills spent more than $100 million in free agency on defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. They also had a former starter and veteran holdover -- Chris Kelsay -- as the first player off the bench.

That made it much easier for Buffalo to turn the lights out on defensive end Shawne Merriman.

The Bills cut the former Pro Bowler on Monday. The move isn't a surprise. Merriman was never the same player after back-to-back, season-ending Achilles injuries. He lost the explosive burst that made him a once-dominant player with the San Diego Chargers.

Buffalo took a risk that Merriman could get healthy and become the "Lights Out" player he was several years ago -- or at least close to it. That never came to fruition, and the Bills decided to cut ties.

Buffalo's pass rush was horrendous last season, in part, because the Bills relied on an injured Merriman with few pass-rushers behind him. Merriman, if healthy, can still be an asset to an NFL team. But he was no longer a needed commodity in Buffalo.

Bills Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: We will see a big improvement in talent at Bills training camp. This is the most talented team head coach Chan Gailey has had in his three seasons in Buffalo. It’s not even close, especially after a series of solid acquisitions this offseason.

It started with the $100 million signing of former Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams. It continued with the signing of fellow defensive end Mark Anderson, the selections of cornerback Stephon Gilmore and left tackle Cordy Glenn in the draft, and the extensions given to No. 1 receiver Steve Johnson and starting tailback Fred Jackson. Expectations are running high in Buffalo. The pressure begins this week in training camp.

One thing that might happen: We might finally see a healthy Shawne Merriman in training camp. It’s been awhile since "Lights Out" has been 100 percent. But offseason Achilles surgery has Merriman feeling good about his chances to be healthy and productive again in 2012.

Merriman is a role player at this point of his career. But Buffalo can definitely use him in the rotation at defensive end in its new 4-3 defense. The Bills could have a formidable and deep pass rush at defensive end with Williams, Anderson, Chris Kelsay and a healthy Merriman. The Bills have enough depth this season that they are not relying on Merriman. But it would be a nice bonus if Merriman returns close to his old form.

One thing we won't see: We will not see a quarterback controversy at Bills camp. Some initially thought backup Vince Young, because of his big name, was signed to push starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. Instead, Young will be in a battle with incumbent No. 2 quarterback Tyler Thigpen for the backup job.

The Bills are behind Fitzpatrick, especially after paying him $59 million. But they also realize the importance of quarterback depth, after Fitzpatrick played the second half of the season with injured ribs and struggled. Young has 30 career wins and can fill in for Fitzpatrick if he is injured. But Young must get by Thigpen first, and I think that’s going to be a tougher battle than people think.

AFC East Stock Watch

October, 25, 2011
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


1. Miami Dolphins' poise: The Dolphins (0-6) are setting records for being inept. They are the first team to blow a 15-point lead in the final three minutes since the NFL-AFL merger, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Once Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow got hot, Miami completely unraveled on offense, defense and special teams. The Dolphins' defense allowed two late touchdown drives to Tebow, the special teams failed to recover an onside kick, and Miami quarterback Matt Moore's sack and fumble led to Denver's game-winning field goal. It was a teamwide collapse.

2. Tony Sparano, Miami head coach: The Dolphins' coach is one of the AFC East leaders in the "falling" category this season. He dropped his ninth straight game as head coach. The Dolphins also are an astounding 1-12 in Sparano's last 13 home games. It's just a matter of time before Miami makes a coaching change. It could happen next week or at the end of the season. But Miami can't continue down this path beyond the 2011 season.

3. New York Jets in the first half: This may sound like nitpicking -- New York eventually came back to beat the Chargers -- but the Jets have started slow for the past month. New York trailed at halftime in three of its past four games. The Jets led at halftime only against the winless Dolphins, 14-6, in that span. New York overcame a 21-10 deficit last week against the Chargers. The Jets are 4-3 and cannot continue to rely on second-half rallies if they want to make the playoffs.


[+] EnlargeNew York Jets running back Shonn Greene
Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE After a slow start to the season, New York Jets running back Shonn Greene rushed for his first 100-yard game against the Chargers.
1. Shonn Greene, Jets tailback: The AFC East blog has been critical of Greene's lack of production all season. So it's fair to give Greene credit when he has a great game. Green rushed for a season-high 112 yards on 20 carries. He ran strong between the tackles against the Chargers and averaged 5.6 yards per carry. The Jets can win a lot of games if Greene runs this way more consistently. This is the first 100-yard game for Greene in 2011.

2. Plaxico Burress, Jets receiver: Burress had the most impressive four-catch, 25-yard performance a receiver can have. Burress was unstoppable in the red zone against San Diego. He scored all three of New York's touchdowns to lead the Jets to a 27-21 win. The Jets invested $3 million into Burress for games like this. He's a big body who can make quarterback Mark Sanchez's job a lot easier when the offense is clicking.

3. Rest for Patriots and Bills: The Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots should benefit from the bye week. Both teams had injuries and gave key players two weeks to heal. For the Patriots, Pro Bowl linebacker Jerod Mayo is improving and has a chance to return against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Buffalo is expected to get back starting linebacker Chris Kelsay. Linebacker Shawne Merriman (Achilles) also said last week he expects to play against Washington, but nothing has been made official by the Bills.
Justin SmithAP Photo/Paul SakumThe 49ers' Justin Smith has collected 8.5 of his 21.5 sacks after the third quarter since 2008.

The try-hard guy, long revered by NFL fans for overcoming physical limitations with all-out effort, has not been universally loved.

Established veterans with a feel for how to practice during long, demanding regular seasons can become resentful when the try-hard guy's misplaced fury produces unwanted collisions.

So, for the sake of clarity, the try-hard guy is excused from this conversation about pass-rushers so relentless, they wear down opponents over the course of a game.

We're talking about players with enough talent to command significant playing time, many as high draft choices or big-ticket free agents. We're talking about the San Francisco 49ers' Justin Smith, one of two NFC West players to receive votes in's Power Rankings for defensive players. Patrick Willis was the other.

"Justin Smith is a relentless player who wears down opponents by coming after them each and every play," BigBrad184 wrote in response to this item Wednesday morning. "I don't have any stats to back this up, but it seems like he often gets many of his sacks in the fourth quarter because of the fatigue he causes to offensive lineman."

Interesting thought.

"Maybe breaking out Smith's sacks by quarter over the past few years is a project for Sando," BigBrad184 concluded.

Done deal. John Fisher of ESPN Stats & Information responded to my request for the statistical evidence BigBrad184 was seeking. Smith does rank among the NFL leaders for fourth-quarter sacks in recent seasons, but two other NFC West players, including one of Smith's teammates, rank higher on the list.

More on the results in a bit. First, a look at the methodology.

Fisher provided a file with quarter-by-quarter sack totals for every player since 2001. I filtered the information to consider:

  • The last three seasons. There was no sense comparing totals for eight-year veterans against players entering the league more recently. At the same time, three seasons was long enough to pile up adequate numbers.
  • Players with at least 10 sacks. This reduced qualifying players from 668 to 99, a more manageable number featuring more "name" players.
  • Late-game production. I then divided the remaining 99 players' fourth-quarter and overtime sack totals by their total sacks, producing percentages that might tell us which players tend to wear down opponents.

The 49ers' Smith collected 8.5 of his 21.5 sacks in fourth quarters or overtimes since 2008. That worked out to 39.5 percent, which ranked 22nd among the 99 qualifying players.

Philadelphia's Darren Howard, who did not play in 2010, led the way with 75.8 percent of his sacks (11.5 of 16.5) after the third quarter. He was on the Eagles' roster for two of the three seasons in question and never played even half the defensive snaps in either year. But he was highly effective as a situational player, at least when measured by sack totals. Only Jared Allen (15) and Joey Porter (14) had more total sacks after the first three quarters.

There was no way to tell whether players with higher late-game sack percentages had more or better late-game opportunities for reasons unrelated to being relentless. Players operating within superior schemes or alongside better teammates certainly benefited. Overall, players collected more sacks in second and fourth quarters, no surprise given that teams attempted 6,130 additional passes during those quarters over the past three seasons, a likely reflection of two-minute situations.

The San Francisco 49ers' Parys Haralson (52.9 percent) and the St. Louis Rams' Chris Long (48.6 percent) ranked highest in fourth-quarter sack percentage among current NFC West players with at least 10 sacks over the past three seasons. Haralson was seventh in the league. Long was ninth. Former 49er Tully Banta-Cain was 10th (48.4 percent), while Arizona's Joey Porter (44.4 percent), St. Louis' Fred Robbins (44.4 percent), ex-Seahawk Lawrence Jackson (44.0 percent) and current Seahawk Chris Clemons (41.0 percent) ranked among the top 20.

Were these guys merely slow starters? Were they strong finishers? Did they wear down opponents over the course of games? The numbers do not answer those questions definitively, but they provide a starting point for discussion.

I was also interested in seeing which players collected a disproportionate number of sacks earlier in games. They were, at best, tone setters. At worst, they failed to finish or failed to adequately wear down opponents. The previous disclaimers applied to them as well.

As the chart below shows, three of the 10 qualifying players with the lowest percentages of late-game sacks have NFC West roots.

Arizona's Calais Campbell has 5.5 of his 13 sacks in first quarters, but only one in fourth quarters or overtimes. The 49ers' Manny Lawson collected 11 of his 12 sacks in the first three quarters. Darryl Tapp, traded from Seattle to Philadelphia in the deal for Clemons, has 4.5 sacks in each of the first two quarters, but only two in second halves (one after the third quarter).

A few other observations with an eye toward the NFC West:

  • Porter (six) and Campbell (5.5) rank among the top seven in most first-quarter sacks. The 49ers' Smith is right behind with five.
  • Arizona's Darnell Dockett has nine of his 16 sacks in second quarters. Eight players have more second-quarter sacks over the past three seasons, but all are edge-rusher types. Dockett plays end in a 3-4 scheme.
  • Pittsburgh's James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are a third-quarter nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. Harrison leads the NFL with 15.5 sacks in third quarters. Woodley is second with 12. Former Cardinal Calvin Pace ranks in the top 10 with 7.5.
  • Porter and Allen are tied for the most fourth-quarter sacks in the NFL over the past three seasons. Each has 14 (Allen also had one in overtime). DeMarcus Ware and Robert Mathis are next with 13.5, followed by Dwight Freeney and Julius Peppers with 12.5.

Back to the original question: Is the 49ers' Smith a relentless player who wears down opponents, producing fourth-quarter payoffs?

He might be, but he produces well enough across all quarters to transcend the try-hard label and probably even the relentless label as well. He's a beast.

Five to consider for Patriots and Bills

April, 29, 2011
The New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills own the first two picks of the second round Friday night.

Let's take a look at five possibilities for each.

No. 33 New England Patriots
  1. Trade: The Patriots' track record and added time to work the phones suggests they'll deal this pick for additional assets. Who knows? Maybe they collect a third 2012 first-round draft choice.
  2. Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers: Always on the lookout for value, Bill Belichick might be intrigued enough with Bowers to stash him on injured reserve for a year. Bowers once was considered a legitimate candidate to be the first pick overall.
  3. Pittsburgh defensive end Jabaal Sheard: The Patriots need to improve their pass rush and Sheard could be in their crosshairs.'s Mike Reiss predicts this should be the pick.
  4. UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers: He's third on ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper's list of best-available players behind Bowers and Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea. Ayers is a versatile defender who can rush the passer and handle coverage.
  5. A running back: Only one has been drafted. The New Orleans Saints traded into the Patriots' spot to grab Alabama's Mark Ingram at No. 28. Scouts Inc. considers Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams the fifth-best player still on the board. Kiper has Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure seventh.
No. 34 Buffalo Bills
  1. Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph: The Bills are woefully inadequate at tight end. They haven't drafted one earlier than the third round since Lonnie Johnson in 1994. Head coach Chan Gailey could use a skilled tight end to diversify his offense and Rudolph is considered this year's best.
  2. Texas cornerback Aaron Williams: In a division that has Tom Brady, Brandon Marshall and a Jets squad that hopes to re-sign Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards, the Bills should solidify their coverage. Williams is considered by Kiper and Scouts Inc. to be the best defensive back on the board.
  3. Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett: He's considered the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft. If the Bills can rationalize Mallett's off-field issues, they could have their quarterback of the future.
  4. Illinois inside linebacker Martez Wilson: The Bills need help here, and Wilson is considered the best in this -- albeit weak -- draft class. Kiper predicts the Bills will make this pick.
  5. UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers: The Bills have invested serious money in outside linebackers already. They gave Chris Kelsay a handsome new contract last season and extended Shawne Merriman in the offseason. They'd also love to get a return out of Aaron Maybin. But Ayers might be too talented to pass up.

Mallett on Bills' board and other draft talk

April, 19, 2011
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix and vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak held a draft media luncheon Tuesday at the team's facility.

Some of the highlights:

Nix reiterated the Bills don't want to trade out of the No. 3 pick.

"I wouldn't rule out anything, but there'll be a guy there we really want, I think," Nix said. "Probably wouldn't move down. It would have to be a rare situation, I think."

The Bills love Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

One of them should still be on the board when the Bills pick. Nix and head coach Chan Gailey have praised Newton for the past couple months, but the front office talked up Gabbert a little Tuesday.

Nix said Gabbert didn't shoot up the Bills' draft board after the season -- as he did in many mocks -- because Modrak had Gabbert rated highly since a few games into last season.

"His stock hasn't risen with us," Nix said. "It's always been high."

Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett still is on their draft board.

[+] EnlargeRyan Mallett
Dale Zanine/US PresswireThe Buffalo Bills are still considering selecting Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett with their second round draft pick.
The Bills own the 34th pick, territory where Mallett could be taken. They claimed they aren't (totally) scared off by Mallett's vague off-field concerns.

"There are issues that we've talked about," Modrak said. "They're there. We interviewed him at the combine. We've done our due diligence. We know [the issues] are there. Are they a deal-breaker? Not necessarily. It's not cut and dry, where 'You're outta here.' But it is a part that we've talked about.

"We'll see how we feel about it. We're reasonably OK with it, but that's as vague as I can think of. ... But I don't know if it's a game-changer."

Said Nix: "We think we know some people there [at Arkansas], like everywhere else when you've done it this long. We think we got pretty good information on him."

The Bills didn't bring Mallett to One Bills Drive for a visit like they did Newton, Gabbert and Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder.

Nix offered another version of his quote about drafting a quarterback when you already have one.

The Bills consider quarterback a priority even with incumbent starter Ryan Fitzpatrick on the roster. Nix was in the San Diego Chargers front office when they acquired Philip Rivers even though they already had Drew Brees.

"We think we're in a good position," Nix said. "Actually, as hard as it is to say that when you got other needs, it's probably a perfect time to take a guy.

"I go back to San Diego, and I have to draw from that. But if you can do it that way, with the way we did it, with Drew Brees ... That makes it easier if you got Drew Brees, now. But if you can take a guy and sit him a year or two until he's hungry and knowledgeable and ready to play, the success rate is going to be pretty high."

Nix indicated stopping the run was more important than rushing the passer.

They need help in both areas. Only three teams recorded fewer sacks than the Bills last year, but they also ranked dead last in run defense.

"The highest-paid guys are the ones that rush the passer," Nix said. "But with us, it's more important probably to stop the run. I don't think you're going to get where you want to be unless you stop the run. Then you rush the passer."

Nix dismissed the notion the Bills won't draft an outside linebacker at No. 3 because of money.

The Bills already have invested a lot of dollars in the position, giving Chris Kelsay a new deal last season, Shawne Merriman an extension and, of course, Aaron Maybin his lucrative rookie contract.

Nix said there was "no merit" to speculating they would steer away from using a premium pick on another outside linebacker. Texas A&M's Von Miller perhaps?

"You can't have too many good players," Nix said. "If you go into a year -- and I've had this happen a lot of times -- where you think 'This is a strong position. We don't need anybody here.' And you wind up with two or three injuries and you're always glad you got the guy."

Pro Bowl defensive lineman Kyle Williams' position isn't set.

I asked Nix and Modrak where they envision Williams and how it will affect what other D-line positions to focus on in the draft. The answer was ambiguous.

"No matter how many [defensive linemen] we get, Kyle will find a place," Nix said. "He's a good football player for us, and he was every Sunday. He'll be in the 3-technique. He'll be shaded on the nose sometimes. He'll be in there on nickel. He won't get out much.

"If the best player was a defensive end or a guy that could play first or second down at defensive end and then you move him inside on nickel on third down, he'd be one and Kyle would be the other."

Making millions in the AFC East

March, 4, 2011
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

A look at AFC East union player reps

March, 3, 2011
With the NFL's collective bargaining agreement hours from expiring, I thought it would be a good time to provide a rundown of the NFL Players Association representatives for each AFC East team.

These players essentially are the shop stewards, the 32 liaisons who are in closest contact with union executives and the ones responsible for keeping their teammates abreast on all developments.

Three of the four AFC East representatives are free agents, but that's not uncommon. In these cases, union responsibilities often are maintained until players have new teams or retire. Teams cannot sign or trade players until a new CBA is negotiated.

Buffalo Bills

Representative: Safety George Wilson. He's the only AFC East rep under contract, having re-signed Tuesday. Wilson is known as one of the hardest-working and classiest players in the game. The two-time captain entered the NFL in 2004 as a receiver and switched positions to stick around.

Alternates: Outside linebacker Chris Kelsay, punter Brian Moorman.

Miami Dolphins

Representative: Running back Ricky Williams. A running joke in the Dolphins' locker room is that Williams is a good choice because nobody has met with the commissioner more often than he has. Williams just completed his 10th season and is a free agent.

Alternates: Quarterback Chad Pennington, receiver Brandon Marshall, long-snapper John Denney.

New England Patriots

Representative: Left tackle Matt Light. He's one of the Patriots' most charitable and entertaining players. Light just finished his 10th NFL season and was chosen for his third Pro Bowl. He also is a free agent.

Alternates: Quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Alge Crumpler.

New York Jets

Representative: Fullback Tony Richardson. He has played 16 NFL seasons and also sits on the NFLPA's 11-man executive committee. He recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Huffington Post about the looming lockout.

Alternates: Right guard Brandon Moore, safety Jim Leonhard.

Highlights from Chan Gailey at combine

February, 24, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS -- Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey and Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland have completed their media responsibilities at the NFL scouting combine.

Here are some quick highlights from Gailey's gathering, with an Ireland report to follow. I'll elaborate on the more interesting issues later:
  • How Gailey would describe the roster: "I think we're on the right track. I do. I believe we have character on the team. I believe they understand. Hopefully, we're going to get better in each phase. You've just got to get them to understand how to win that close game."
  • On the No. 3 overall pick, Gailey said the general philosophy was to "take care of immediate needs and, at the same time, take care of the long-term franchise good. You have to consider all scenarios."
  • Gailey said that includes possibly trading up or trading down: "We don't turn our phone off at night."
  • He is "anxious" to see Auburn quarterback Cam Newton work out in Lucas Oil Stadium and called him "a big athlete that's in that Wildcat mode, but obviously has the ability to go to the dropback-passer mode."
  • Gailey claimed he wasn't concerned with Newton being a one-year starter at Auburn.
  • Ten years ago, the NFL dictated to colleges how quarterbacks should play. In the next decade, Gailey foresees college football dictating how the NFL uses the quarterbacks who emerge from whatever offenses are popular.
  • Gailey also declared he's "extremely confident" in incumbent starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and admitted he made a big mistake in not going with him instead of Trent Edwards last year: "Shoot, yeah! If I knew then what I knew now, I wouldn't do that. But you do what you can with the information you have, make a decision, hope you learn from it quickly and rectify the situation."
  • Gailey noted he's never been on a team where he thought he had too many good cornerbacks, there's always room for more. Drayton Florence and Ashton Youboty are about to become free agents. Gailey bluntly added former first-round pick Leodis McKelvin "left something on the table," but still has the chance to be a top-notch cornerback. I hope he'll commit to what he needs to commit to," Gailey said.
  • Reports on outside linebacker Shawne Merriman's recovery from Achilles surgery have been "all positive."
  • Last year's first-round pick, running back C.J. Spiller, needs to become better with ball security and pass blocking: "It didn't work out like anybody planned -- he planned, I planned, any fan out there planned. I still think he's going to be a very good to great player for the Buffalo Bills. I'll do better at finding ways to use him more."
  • The Bills consider their defense neither 3-4 nor 4-3, but a mixture: "If we are a hybrid, which I think we will be, it allows you to take Chris Kelsay and shift all the 3-4 over and now Kelsay or Merriman is a rush guy. We feel like we can massage that as we need to, getting the best football players on the field."
  • The Bills plan to draft defensive linemen based on talent more than positional fit and then find ways to use them.
  • New assistant head coach Dave Wannstedt, who has overseen great 4-3 defenses, will have wide-ranging roles as Gailey's top consultant on both sides of the ball.
  • Free-agent safety Bob Sanders visited the Bills while Gailey was out of town and he didn't have an update on where that stands.
  • The Bills have made an organizational decision not to comment on the NFL labor situation.

Shawne Merriman worth a shot for Buffalo

November, 3, 2010
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills, with nothing to lose aside from nine more football games and some cash, took a flyer on outside linebacker Shawne Merriman.

The Bills salvaged Merriman from the waiver wire Wednesday, acquiring a player who made three Pro Bowls in five seasons with the San Diego Chargers.

Merriman has before him an opportunity to rejuvenate his stalled career, a half-season tryout to show he still can play. He amassed 39.5 sacks in his first three seasons, but has just four sacks since. He has been plagued with injuries and saddled with a reputation as a problem child. He's only 26.

In a previous item on the AFC East blog, I theorized Merriman would not make sense for Buffalo because he's playing on a one-year contract. My belief is that rental players are meant for contending teams. The Bills are 0-7, and my stance was that Merriman simply would be a waste of money.

[+] EnlargeShawne Merriman
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireShawne Merriman brings 43.5 career sacks and a reputation as a problem child to the winless Bills.
The more I spoke with NFL people about Buffalo's decision to pick him up, the more I've come around to a neutral position and might even lean toward Merriman being a move that's worth the risk for Buffalo.

The Bills are winless. Why not bring him in?

The Bills are desperate for a victory. As each week passes, the misery grows. Maybe someone like Merriman would've made a play that helped the Bills actually pull out of those back-to-back overtime road losses.

Buffalo has a weak pass rush and has made some dubious moves at outside linebacker.

Aaron Maybin, the 11th overall draft choice last year, has been a healthy scratch. Veteran Chris Kelsay was given a curious and seemingly excessive contract extension earlier this year. All of Buffalo's outside linebackers have combined for two sacks. One of them belongs to Chris Ellis, who has been cut.

If healthy (Merriman had to pass an exit physical before San Diego could place him on waivers), he immediately becomes Buffalo's best pass-rusher.

Still, my prediction is that Merriman won't be with Buffalo beyond this season.

What will transpire over the next two months will provide a stage, with the rest of the league his audience. If he fails to make an impression, then there's no reason for the Bills to bring him back. If he does show he still can be a force, then the Bills either will have to place the franchise tag on him (it was $9.68 million for 2010) or compete with other teams for his services through free agency.

Would Merriman be open to signing a contract extension before the end of the season? That's doubtful. Maybe if the Bills were the only team to put in a waiver claim Wednesday, but two others showed interest. Merriman already knows the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted him, and it doesn't snow in Florida.

Also, a source close to Merriman told me he "wasn't thrilled" to be going to Buffalo, even though Bills general manager Buddy Nix oversaw the Chargers' college scouting department when they drafted him in 2005.

Merriman has been an auxiliary member of the Southern California glitterati for six years. He walks red carpets. He has appeared in the HBO show "Entourage" and music videos and pro wrestling events. He dated infamous reality celebrity Tila Tequila.

AFC West blogger Bill Williamson wrote: "Merriman loves the spotlight. He loves being a celebrity. He never missed an opportunity to hobnob with the rich and famous. It was well known that it bothered some in the San Diego organization."

With no playoff appearances over the past decade and no klieg lights, Buffalo will be a difficult long-term sell to Merriman.

But one NFL executive who knows him well believes Buffalo could be the perfect place for Merriman to restart his career.

"It might be the best thing to get him away from Hollywood, from San Diego, from the bright lights," the executive told me. "In Buffalo it's all about football and only football. Maybe he will remember what football means to him."

Merriman would be retracing Terrell Owens' footsteps. Owens, of course, came to Buffalo by choice, signing last year as a free agent. But Merriman's goal essentially would be the same, to reclaim his career by proving to the rest of the league he has been misunderstood and is worth their attention in 2011.

Merriman, like Owens, is known as a dedicated player who leaves it all on the field. Merriman is a warrior who's passionate about football and yearns mightily to win.

But there were too many distractions that went against the team dynamic. The Chargers got fed up with repeated acts of selfishness and immaturity, and found him no longer worth a roster spot.

He was suspended four games in 2006 for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He declined to undergo surgery on two torn knee ligaments before the 2008 season and ended up playing one game that year. He was arrested before last season over a domestic incident with Tequila. He missed the first two weeks of training camp this year in a contract dispute.

But there's minimal risk for the Bills. They're on the hook for the pro-rated remainder of Merriman's $3.27 million contract. They'll get a player who can help them avoid a winless season, perhaps spark Maybin and possibly stick around if he falls in love with the place.

Maybe -- just maybe -- Merriman will regain a semblance of his Pro Bowl form and maybe the Bills will have a fiery leader who maybe will want to stick around so they can build their 3-4 defense around him.

And if Merriman does leave via free agency, then the Bills likely would receive a compensatory draft pick dependent upon the size of the contract he signs and any additional guidelines set forth in the new collective bargaining agreement. Maybe the Bills get a fourth- or fifth-round pick out of the experience.

Thus far in 2010, the Bills have been in lose-only mode.

With Merriman, it's more like a no-lose situation.

Analyzing the Chris Kelsay extension

October, 8, 2010
The Buffalo Bills have made some controversial personnel moves over the past two weeks.

They dumped quarterback Trent Edwards, their opening-day starter.

They traded Marshawn Lynch, their leading rusher, for a fourth-round draft pick.

They're perhaps the worst team in the league, but their top prospects can't get on the field.

[+] EnlargeChris Kelsay
Tim Steadman/Icon SMIChris Kelsay's contract extension takes him through the 2014 season.
They didn't feel rookie quarterback Levi Brown was worthy of their practice squad but re-signed him to the active roster.

One of the moves that really flummoxed Bills followers had nothing to do with the lineup. The Bills last week signed outside linebacker Chris Kelsay to a four-year contract extension worth about $24 million. In addition to the extension, he received an immediate $2 million bonus.

Kelsay has been a nice player for the Bills, but nothing phenomenal. He's a standup guy in the locker room. He has been a starter for seven seasons and has missed only two games since the Bills drafted him 48th overall in 2003. He has 22 sacks in 114 career games.

Readers have asked for my take on the contract, but I decided to hold off until I could gather enough information on how the deal was broken down.

With help from NFL Players Association documents and the Elias Sports Bureau, I can give you a look at Kelsay's deal with league-wide context and then ask: How would you choose to spend $5 million a year on a defensive player?

The way the math is done, Kelsay's per-year average works out to $5 million. The average consists of base salaries plus what the league calls "likely to be earned bonuses" divided by the length of the deal.

"Likely to be earned bonuses" are incentives that are easy to reach or that a player has a history of achieving. "Unlikely to be earned bonuses," such as winning the Super Bowl MVP or leading the league in kickoff return yardage (don't laugh; these types of things actually appear in some deals), are not factored into the annual average.

To determine whether Kelsay was worth the new contract, I did what a lot of agents would do when it's time to negotiate a contract for a specific client. They research for comparable players, using key criteria such as age, games played, statistics and team success.

I asked the Elias Sports Bureau to run a crosscheck of its data base to find all of the 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers who are 30 or 31 years old (Kelsay will turn 31 on Halloween) and have played at least 100 games.

The list is surprisingly small. The attached chart gives the complete rundown of 10 players who fit the description with their sack totals and average annual salary.

Of that group, Kelsay is the highest-paid 3-4 outside linebacker and fourth overall, behind superstar defensive ends Julius Peppers and Dwight Freeney and three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch. All three have at least twice as many sacks as Kelsay.

"The thing you don't want to do is take your core guys and your leaders out of your system," Bills general manager Buddy Nix said Thursday, the first time he commented on Kelsay's extension. "We decided, obviously, that we've got four, five or six guys like that. They maybe are not great players, but good players that set the tone for what you want everybody else to be.

"Chris Kelsay is a good player. He exemplifies what we want players to do and how we want them to be. So that's the reason he's here."

Strange as it might seem, Kelsay's average per year actually went down with his new deal. The NFLPA still had him categorized as a defensive end heading into 2010 because that's the position he played his entire career before the Bills switched to a 3-4 scheme.

His average salary was $5.75 million, making him the 15th highest-paid defensive end regardless of age or experience. He was listed ahead of Robert Mathis, Shaun Ellis, Trent Cole and Chris Long, who received a gaudy contract as the second overall draft pick in 2008.

With all that in mind, I ask again why the Bills needed to sign Kelsay to an extension, and why now? Who else would have paid Kelsay this much? Did the Bills feel like they would be in danger of losing him as a free agent?

I think those are good questions.

Bills admittedly disgraceful in loss to Jets

October, 3, 2010
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Four games into their season, the Buffalo Bills are a team in crisis.

The New York Jets strutted into Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday afternoon and obliterated the Bills 38-14.

It could have been much, much worse for the Bills.

[+] EnlargeBills
Kevin Hoffman/US PresswireFour games into the season, the Buffalo Bills are already 0-3 in their division.
Jets kicker Nick Folk shanked an easy field goal in the first quarter. The Jets pulled their starters at the beginning of the fourth quarter and by the end of the game were handing off to their third-string running back, who hadn't been good enough to dress the first three weeks.

The Bills were shamed, disgusted and raw.

"I'm mad. I'm pissed the f--- off. Flat out," said Bills safety Donte Whitner, his hands dropped at his waist and balled into fists. His body was shaking. "Everybody should be pissed the f--- off.

"It's not even about money. It's not about anything else. It's about going out and playing hard and coming out with a win. That's what it's about. We haven't done it, and we're not doing it. If we continue to play like we're playing, we're not going to get there, and that's the truth."

Bills coach Chan Gailey was revolted by what transpired.

"Maybe I can answer some of your questions before you ask them," Gailey said as soon as he stepped behind the lectern for this postgame news conference. "We were a bad football team today.

"When we protected, we couldn't catch it. We couldn't protect.

"We had people going into the wrong spots, getting to the wrong people.

"We couldn't get off the field on third down. We couldn't convert a third down.

"We were not good on special teams.

"We turned the ball over twice. We didn't get any turnovers.

"We got sacked three times. We didn't get any sacks.

"If you play that way, you're not going to win. You're not even going to look decent in this league.

"Now, do you have any questions?"

The first question: Are the Bills the worst team in the NFL?

Gailey couldn't say they weren't.

Roster changes could be coming. The Bills already have dumped their starting quarterback. They're 0-3 in the division and likely aren't going to mount any serious threat to a .500 record.

"The thing is, this is the team that we have," Bills inside linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "So I don't ... Bring in guys off the street? I don't know what you can do personnel-wise.

"It's on the players. We have to look at ourselves and say 'I'm not playing as well as I can, and I know that, and I got to get that fixed.' Each one of us. The team that we have in this locker room, that's our personnel. We've got to win with those guys."

No, the Bills could have even less to work with.

The trade deadline is Oct. 19.

Does the front office embrace the lost season as inevitable and trade players for draft picks? Marshawn Lynch? Lee Evans? Drayton Florence? Whitner?

"I have no answers," said outside linebacker Chris Kelsay, one of the few players with some security after signing a four-year contract extension this week. "I wouldn't be surprised."

The Bills conceded they knew exactly what the Jets were going to do yet still were powerless to stop them. LaDainian Tomlinson ran 19 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns before he was pulled at the end of the third quarter. Shonn Greene rushed 22 times for 117 yards before he was removed from the game.

Jets tight end Dustin Keller hasn't been a secret. He caught a pair of passes in the back of the end zone.

"This isn't even about X's and O's," Whitner said. "This is about looking at the film and understanding who wants to be here, who wants to play.

"We knew everything they were going to do. They didn't do anything we didn't expect them to do. So if you know everything they're going to do, it can't be about X's and O's. It's about who wants to play football here and who don't want to play football here. It's about who wants to come out and play with some heart."

Buffalo was just as miserable on offense. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick led the team in rushing with 74 yards, nearly four times the output of their top running back. Fred Jackson and Lynch combined for seven carries and 29 yards.

Evans made his first catch with 20 seconds left in the game.

Brian Moorman punted for 172 more yards than the offense netted.

The Jets had the ball for 40 minutes.

"I feel for the fans because that was terrible," Whitner said. "That was embarrassing in each aspect of the game.

"They came out and punched us in the mouth each and every snap."

Seven years of misery for Bills versus Pats

September, 22, 2010
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- One position player on the Buffalo Bills' roster was on the field the last time they defeated the New England Patriots.

That was seven years and 14 games ago.

The Bills will try to snap their losing streak at 13 games Sunday in Gillette Stadium, a place they've never won.

[+] EnlargeLindell
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesRian Lindell made his NFL debut in 2003 against the Patriots -- the last time Buffalo defeated New England.
"You have to have the mentality you're going to win every game," said outside linebacker Chris Kelsay, who played in the last victory and has endured the entire skid. "We'll go there with confidence. We're going to go out there and perform the best to our ability."

The Bills came heartbreakingly close to upsetting the Patriots on opening night last year, but Leodis McKelvin fumbled a kickoff in the final minutes to place Tom Brady on the doorstep of triumph.

The Bills have lost 18 of their past 19 meetings with the Patriots and haven't won on the road since 2000.

"We really haven't done enough to win against them," Bills receiver Lee Evans said. "They've just made plays later in games to win, especially in the close games. That's what the story of this league is. It comes down to making plays down the stretch. They've made more than we have."

Buffalo's last victory over New England was a doozy. Buffalo won 31-0 on opening day 2003. Travis Henry rushed for two touchdowns. Drew Bledsoe passed for one. Sam Adams ran back a Brady interception for another. Brady finished with a 22.5 passer rating.

Buffalo's roster has four players who were around then. Kelsay and kicker Rian Lindell made their NFL debuts. Punter Brian Moorman was there. Cornerback Terrence McGee was on the team but inactive for the game.

New England went on to win its second Super Bowl in three years. Buffalo finished 6-10.

Kelsay said he can't help but daydream about what it would be like to play for a winning organization such as the Patriots.

"I've thought about that before," Kelsay said. "You think what it would be like to be in their shoes. They're winning week in and week out. Anybody that's been in this league for an extended period of time and has lost more games than they've won, I think it's human nature to be curious about that.

"We need to get there. There's no way to beat around it. It's just something we haven't done around here, and somehow, some way we have to win more football games."

AFC East captains selected

September, 11, 2010
A look at 2010 captains in the AFC East and how they were chosen ...

Buffalo Bills (player vote)

Miami Dolphins (player vote)

New England Patriots (player vote)

New York Jets

  • Selected on game-by-game basis by head coach Rex Ryan.

Were big AFC East offseason needs filled?

August, 31, 2010
On the day the New Orleans Saints held their Super Bowl parade, long before the free-agency period opened and the draft took place, Scouts Inc. analyst Gary Horton examined the top three needs of every NFL team heading into the offseason.

Now that we've gone through offseason workouts, minicamps, training camps and three preseason games, let's take a look at each AFC East need and determine whether it was addressed.

Buffalo Bills

1. Outside linebacker: At the time of Horton's analysis, he didn't know Aaron Schobel would retire. Schobel would have been Buffalo's best pass-rusher in its new 3-4 defense. The Bills signed free agent Reggie Torbor and are hoping a group that also includes Chris Kelsay, Chris Ellis and Aaron Maybin will suffice. Need addressed? No.

2. Left tackle: The Bills chose to stick with Demetrius Bell. The Bills still haven't drafted a tackle earlier than the fifth round since 2002. Of the two they did draft, fifth-rounder Ed Wang is hurt and seventh-rounder Kyle Calloway already has been released. The Bills did sign Oakland Raiders free agent Cornell Green to play right tackle. Need addressed? No.

3. Quarterback: The Bills did next to nothing at quarterback, drafting long-term project Levi Brown in the seventh round and letting Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm shoot it out. Edwards won a not-so-open competition. Need addressed? No.

[+] EnlargeMarshall
Jonathan Brownfield/US PresswireThe acquisition of Brandon Marshall filled a huge void in the Dolphins' passing game.
Miami Dolphins

1. Wide receiver: Did the Dolphins address this need? Hmmm ... Let's see ... Oh, wait. That's right. They traded for Brandon Marshall, who has recorded triple-digit receptions in three straight seasons. Marshall was one of the most enormous transactions of the offseason. Need addressed? Yes.

2. Free safety: The Dolphins drafted Reshad Jones in the fifth round, but sophomore Chris Clemons has held down the position admirably. It won't be tough to outplay last year's starter, Gibril Wilson. Need addressed? Yes.

3. Nose tackle: The situation actually got worse and worse after Horton formed his analysis. Jason Ferguson was suspended eight games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. The Dolphins re-signed Ferguson, but then he retired. The Dolphins didn't draft a nose tackle, choosing to convert defensive end Randy Starks instead. Starks is undersized for a traditional 3-4 nose tackle, but Dolphins coach Tony Sparano has claimed Starks' speed has upgraded the position. Need addressed? Yes.

New England Patriots

1. Outside linebacker: Horton wrote "This defense must generate pass-rush pressure from its outside linebackers, but the Pats are devoid of playmakers and have virtually no depth at this position." They've gotten shallower with the release of Adalius Thomas, who started their playoff game. Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess are back and penciled in as the starters. The Patriots drafted pass-rusher Jermaine Cunningham 53rd overall, but he has been too hurt to get on the practice field. Need addressed? No.

2. Wide receiver: Wes Welker was looking at a potentially long rehab at the time Horton wrote his offseason preview. Randy Moss' age also was a concern. But Welker's recovery has been quick. Moss has looked phenomenal. Emerging youngsters Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate and third-round draft pick Taylor Price should be more than enough. Need addressed? Yes.

3. Defensive end: Little did Horton know how badly the Patriots would need help here. Left end Ty Warren is done for the year because of a hip injury. Right end Jarvis Green split for the Denver Broncos. The Patriots signed free agent Gerard Warren and have moved last year's super reserve, Mike Wright, into the starting lineup. Need addressed? No.

New York Jets

1. Defensive end: Horton's concern was with the age of incumbents Shaun Ellis and Marques Douglas. Ellis is back. Douglas was a free agent who departed for the Dolphins. The Jets didn't draft any defensive linemen and didn't sign any notable free agents there. They did move Vernon Gholston from outside linebacker to defensive end. Need addressed? No.

2. Safety: Compared to the Jets' banner acquisitions, Brodney Pool was a blip. The Cleveland Browns gave up on him because of recurring concussions, but the Jets' medical staff found his problem was related to migraine headaches. He's a multifaceted safety with a nose for the ball, interception four passes in 10 games last year. Need addressed? Yes.

3. Wide receiver: The Jets practically stole Santonio Holmes from the Pittsburgh Steelers for a fifth-round draft choice. Holmes was the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII and was coming off a 1,248-yard season. But character issues, underscored by a four-game suspension to start the season, made him a bargain. Need addressed? Yes.


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