NFL Nation: Terrence McGee

Observation deck: Bills-Steelers

August, 25, 2012

The Buffalo Bills had their third and most important game of the preseason Saturday night. The Steelers won 38-7.

Here are some notes and observations:

What I liked: The Bills finally started fast, and they did it against a good team. Buffalo took its second drive 49 yards on five plays and briefly showed the kind of offense it can be in the regular season. Fred Jackson capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams also showed by the Bills gave him a $100 million contract with a pair of sacks. It's good momentum for Williams heading into the regular season.

What I didn’t like: Preseason or not, I don't like the fact that Buffalo gave up 38 unanswered points at home. I know these games don't count, and I know it was 14-7 at halftime with the starters. But the Bills should have more depth and pride than to let it get this out of hand. The Steelers pounded the Bills after Buffalo's only touchdown. Pittsburgh forced three turnovers and had 21 points off turnovers. The Bills are winless this preseason, which might not matter. But at times, the Bills have appeared to play as though they know they can turn it on when it matters. That's a dangerous game. The Bills haven't proven they know how to win.

Inconsistent Young: Buffalo backup quarterback Vince Young did a great job in the second preseason game to establish himself as the favorite to backup starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. But Young took a step back against the Steelers. Young was 12-of-26 for 103 yards and two interceptions. He had a passer rating of 25.0 and made some mistakes a veteran with plenty of starting experience should not make. Young had a chance to finalize his backup status but didn't. He left the door open for Tyler Thigpen to try to make another push in the final week.

McGee makes his case: Buffalo cornerback Terrence McGee was concerned this summer that his knee might not be healthy enough in time to show he deserves a roster spot. But the veteran is feeling better and had a good performance against Pittsburgh, making four tackles and two for a loss. He can help Buffalo’s young corners if he stays healthy. But the Bills have to make a tough decision in the next week due to the injury risk.

What's next: The Bills play their final preseason game Thursday against the Detroit Lions. This will be just a survival game, one Buffalo hopes to escape without major injuries ahead of the regular-season opener against the New York Jets on Sept. 9 at MetLife Stadium.
AFC hidden treasures: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

Last year Buffalo was 19th against the pass. It wasn't all on the cornerbacks, but that position was certainly part of the problem. Safeties George Wilson and Jairus Byrd had solid seasons, but the cornerback play was mostly uneven. There were a lot of penalties, missed assignments and injuries at the position.

Enter hidden treasures Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams. Gilmore was taken in the first round this year, and Williams was a second-rounder in 2011. Both are expected to contribute right away and could be Buffalo's starting tandem in 2012. Gilmore wasn't a big name in this draft but is considered an NFL-ready player. The South Carolina product has been impressive in offseason workouts. Williams was in and out of the lineup last year due to injuries. But when healthy, Williams showed flashes of being a solid and athletic corner. Ten-year veteran Terrence McGee also will compete for a starting job.

Keep in mind that Buffalo's not-so-hidden treasure -- its pass rush -- should be a tremendous boost to its cover corners. The team spent more than $100 million to add pass-rushing defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to the defense. Both players should set the edge and make it uncomfortable for quarterbacks. Teams will have less time to throw against the Bills, and that means less time for the corners to worry about coverage. This could result in more turnovers and more aggressive play.

Gilmore, Williams and McGee are not a trio of corners many are thinking about in June. But the mixture of youth and experience could pay off for the Bills this season if all three players stay healthy and productive.

Bills' defense not holding up its end

October, 16, 2011
Ahmad BradshawChris Trotman/Getty ImagesBuffalo could not stop Ahmad Bradshaw as he scored three touchdowns and rushed for 104 yards.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With the game tied and 4:02 remaining, Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw an untimely interception deep in New York Giants' territory.

It was an awful mistake by Fitzpatrick. But it also provided a golden opportunity for Buffalo's defense to pick up the offense, which had carried the team all season.

Instead, the Bills' defense allowed the Giants to march 76 yards in nine plays to set up the winning field goal during a 27-24 win for New York. Buffalo's defense offered little resistance when it mattered most and allowed 400-plus yards for the fifth straight game.

"If you want to be a good team, those are the drives where we have to come up with stops," said Bills veteran cornerback Terrence McGee, who had a game-high 11 tackles. "We did the best we could [to hold New York to a field goal]. But we want it to be where they don’t score anything."

Here is the harsh truth: Buffalo's defense is not at that point where it can carry the team. Keep an eye on this development the rest of the season. It could be the difference in the upstart Bills (4-2) making the postseason or watching the playoffs from home.

The numbers were once again ugly for Buffalo, which entered the weekend with the 30th-ranked defense. The Bills allowed 414 total yards, 24 first downs, three rushing touchdowns by Giants tailback Ahmad Bradshaw and didn't force a turnover for the first time all season. New York's five scoring drives were for 69, 84, 89, 75 and 76 yards.

Buffalo's offense was good but not great. The group registered 374 total yards and a respectable 24 points on the road. But every offensive mistake is magnified, because Buffalo's defense hasn't dominated an opponent since a 41-7 win against Kansas City in Week 1.

It is easy to look the other way when the offense outscores opponents, or the defense allows 400 yards but forces several big turnovers. But that is not happening often in Buffalo, and the spotlight is now on the defense after the team lost for the second time in three weeks.

"We have to improve," Bills safety George Wilson said. "If we expect to be able to get a playoff spot and expect to be able to win consistently, we have to. We're going into a bye week. We have some guys banged up and some things to work on. And we gotta get those things accomplished."

Here is how I rank the Bills' three biggest issues on defense:

1. Not winning individual battles: Buffalo rarely wins its one-on-one matchups -- whether it is a pass-rusher trying to beat an offensive lineman, or a defensive back making a key tackle in the open field to prevent a bigger play. The Bills, as a whole, do not have a lot of star power and it is showing every week. The biggest names on the defense are defensive tackle Kyle Williams and outside linebacker Shawne Merriman. Both were injured and didn't play against the Giants.

2. The blitz doesn't work: The Bills are last in the NFL in sacks. They have just four sacks in six games, including zero against New York. Part of this goes back to winning individual battles. But Buffalo has tried to turn up the blitzes in recent weeks, and it still has not disrupted offenses. Giants quarterback Eli Manning looked very comfortable in the pocket against Buffalo. He threw for 292 yards and had a 94.8 passer rating.

"We do have a problem. No bones about it," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "And we tried to come after [Manning] with five on a lot of third downs in the first half: we still didn't get there. We're going to have to figure something out to generate some kind of pass rush."

3. Up-and-down corners: No group summarizes Buffalo's defense better this season than its cornerbacks. Drayton Florence and Leodis McKelvin have taken turns with bad performances. This week, it was Florence's turn to struggle. He had troubles with penalties and in coverage against Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks (four receptions, 96 yards). Nicks beat Florence for a big, 60-yard catch before halftime that led to a touchdown. Florence also had three pass-interference penalties for 45 yards trying to keep up with Nicks and fellow Giants receiver Mario Manningham (five receptions, 56 yards). McKelvin also had some inconsistent games earlier this season. Buffalo hopes the return of McGee will add depth and stability to this group.

If Buffalo's defense was marginally better and more consistent, who knows? The Bills might be 5-1 or even 6-0 right now. But six games in, you wonder if Buffalo's defense has the potential to drastically improve.

The Bills have a lot to fix during the bye. They won't take the field next until Oct. 30 against the Washington Redskins in Toronto.

But in the big picture, Buffalo is 4-2. Any Bills fans would have taken that record at the beginning of the season. Whether Buffalo continues winning at this pace will come down to the team's ability -- or inability -- to strengthen its weakest link.

Camp Confidential: Buffalo Bills

August, 15, 2011
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills inside linebacker Nick Barnett knew bad news was coming this summer, and he still couldn’t fully accept it. Despite his eight seasons with Green Bay, the speculation was that the Packers had to trade or release him this offseason. Barnett had been placed on injured reserve in both the 2008 and 2010 seasons, and his heir apparent, Desmond Bishop, already was in place. It was a no-brainer move to most observers, even though Barnett was still thinking about the possibility of helping the Packers repeat as Super Bowl champions. “If you read my tweets,” he said, “that’s all I kept talking about.”

These days Barnett is talking about something different -- how he can help the Bills transform one of the league’s worst defenses into a sturdy, reliable unit. No team in the NFL was worse against the run in 2010 (Buffalo allowed 169.6 yards per game), and that was one key reason the team signed Barnett so quickly after the Packers released him in late July. At 30, he still has the quickness and playmaking ability that allowed him to amass 787 tackles, 15.5 sacks and nine interceptions during his Green Bay career. He’s also aware that his energy and leadership will be invaluable to a team that lost its top tackler, Paul Posluszny, in free agency.

Bills assistant head coach and linebackers coach Dave Wannstedt said Barnett already is the team’s best linebacker. Head coach Chan Gailey has raved about his new player’s approach. “He brings experience and speed to this defense,” Gailey said. “He’s a guy who always plays fast.” Added Barnett: “I’m just trying to be myself. I haven’t played since Week 4 [a dislocated wrist ended his season] so I’m still finding my way. But the biggest thing I wanted to bring to this team was an attitude. I want to help the younger guys relax and have fun out there because that’s what I do.”

Though Barnett needed some time to accept his release from the Packers -- “I’ve never been fired from anything before,” he said -- he quickly sensed that Buffalo was the right place for him. He liked the team atmosphere, the family environment and the die-hard fans who are the city’s trademark. In many ways, Barnett felt like he was going to a place quite similar to Green Bay. “The talent level is there,” Barnett said. “But like everything, it’s going to come down to communication and attitude. If we do those things, we’ll be productive.”


1. Will Ryan Fitzpatrick be better? Yes. Fitzpatrick was a decent quarterback in 2010 -- 3,000 yards, 23 touchdowns, 15 interceptions -- especially considering that he was basically thrown into the job after the Bills gave up on former starter Trent Edwards. Fitzpatrick also has far more advantages coming into this season, despite not having an entire offseason to work with coaches. The major areas that he needs to improve? Accuracy and consistency. What he doesn’t have to worry about any longer? Proving to his teammates that he can lead this team and knowing whether the job is his alone. “Last season was interesting, but my whole career has been about being ready to show what you can do when the opportunity comes,” said Fitzpatrick, who spent his first five NFL seasons as a backup before getting his shot as a full-time starter three games into 2010. “One of the good things we have as an offense is that we have a lot of guys who’ve spent an entire season playing together and getting familiar with each other. When you look at the offenses in New England and Indianapolis, that continuity is what makes them so successful, and now we’re one step closer to that.”

[+] EnlargeShawne Merriman
Richard Mackson/US PresswireBuffalo defense is relying on Shawne Merriman to return to Pro-Bowl form.
2. Can Shawne Merriman return to an elite level? As long as he’s healthy. Right now the three-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker thinks that the strained Achilles that limited him to only three games last season won’t be an issue. The bigger challenge for him is finding a comfort level after registering only four sacks over the past three seasons. The Bills are banking on his getting up to speed in a hurry. For a team that tied for 27th in the NFL in sacks last season (with 27), having a rejuvenated Merriman harassing opposing quarterbacks would be a much-needed blessing. “I don’t feel like I need to respond to people who’ve been counting me out over the last couple years because all you have to do is watch me practice,” said Merriman, who had 43.5 sacks in his first 60 career games. “It’s definitely been hard [not playing] but I also feel like I’ve done everything I’ve needed to do to get back. I can see good things happening this season.”

3. What role will C.J. Spiller play in the offense? One of the more disappointing aspects of the Bills' offense in 2010 was the lack of productivity from Spiller. Drafted ninth overall in last year’s draft, he was supposed to bring breathtaking speed and elusiveness to the Bills. Instead, Spiller wound up with only 283 rushing yards and 24 receptions in his rookie season. Those numbers should increase now that Buffalo has a less crowded backfield (the team traded Marshawn Lynch to Seattle midway through last season) and a greater sense of urgency about involving Spiller. “We need to get him more touches,” Gailey said. “We need to find more ways to get him in space so he can use that speed. He’s already grown as a runner because he’s better at running inside, and he’s shown more patience. The one thing I’d really like to see him improve on now is ball security. He had some problems with fumbles last year [Spiller had five fumbles and lost three], and we can’t have that.”


Roscoe Parrish: The Bills' offensive players know that Parrish has developed into a valuable receiver after being used mainly as a returner early in his career. They realize it even more now that he’s healthy. After missing the last eight games of 2010 with a broken wrist, Parrish has been impressing teammates with his trademark speed and quickness. The explosiveness he brings to the offense after sitting out half a year also hasn’t gone unnoticed. “Now that he’s back, you remember how much he means to this offense,” Fitzpatrick said. “He really adds another dimension.”


Brad Smith: Don’t be surprised if Smith becomes a more dangerous playmaker in the Bills’ offense. He made his name as a kick returner/wide receiver/Wildcat quarterback with the New York Jets, and rule changes should allow him to increase his playing time in Buffalo. The NFL agreed to abolish the rule requiring teams to determine a third quarterback on game-day rosters -- that player could participate only in emergency situations, and his presence would prevent the team from using any other quarterback during a game. Now a player like Smith can be used far more often in Wildcat situations. Even if Smith appears as a quarterback in three or four plays a game, his involvement won’t limit his coaches’ options. “We were going to use him in a similar role anyway, but that rule really helps,” said Gailey, who has gained a reputation for finding creative roles for versatile players. “Now you don’t have to wonder about whether he needs to be listed as a third quarterback who can only play in emergency situations or if he can be used as a Wildcat quarterback whenever we like. It’s going to make a big difference.”


  • [+] EnlargeMarcell Dareus
    Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesFirst round draft pick Marcell Dareus has impressed his coaches in training camp.
    Rookie defensive end Marcell Dareus hasn’t needed much time to make a strong impression on his coaches. Wannstedt called him a “special kid with the right approach to the game,” and Gailey thinks it shouldn’t take long for Dareus to prove why he was worthy of the third overall pick in this year’s draft. “He’s a big, physical guy and he’s got an edge to him,” Gailey said of Dareus, who's 6-3 and weighs 323. “You have to like that about him.”

  • Even though the Bills lost their second-best tackler from last season -- strong safety Donte Whitner -- the loss may not be as troubling as it looks. Though he was a strong presence in run support, the team thinks strong safety George Wilson can help the Bills more in the playmaking department. When Whitner was injured two years ago, the tandem of Wilson and Jairus Byrd gave the secondary a bigger boost with their pass defense skills.

  • The emphasis on stopping the run is going to put more pressure on the Bills cornerbacks this season. Gailey believes he has the personnel to handle the increased responsibility, and Terrence McGee is essential to this approach. He has spent more time covering slot receivers in training camp, which will allow Leodis McKelvin and Drayton Florence to handle outside receivers when the defense faces three-receiver looks.

  • Wide receiver Donald Jones is another player worth watching. When asked about teammates who have caught his eye early in training camp, Fitzpatrick said Jones had elevated his game in his second season. An undrafted rookie in 2010, Jones was a nice surprise in camp and finished with 18 receptions. This year he’s using his size and strength to make himself a tough receiver to handle at the line of scrimmage.

  • The Bills recognize that their biggest challenge this season will be learning how to change expectations. Gailey has talked about the difference between hoping to win and expecting to win, and his players believe they can make great strides. Fitzpatrick agreed that last season, too many players were worried about losing their jobs as the team transitioned into Gailey’s tenure. This year, there is far more comfort and a sense of purpose on a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999. “We definitely need to take the approach that we deserve to win,” Fitzpatrick said. “And we have a chip on our shoulders. We hear all the people talking about how tough the AFC East is, and nobody mentions our name. That can be fuel for our fire, and we have to believe we can surprise people.”

Bills stick with defense on 34th pick

April, 29, 2011
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- With some sexy players still on the board at No. 34, the Buffalo Bills went with another safe defensive pick Friday night, taking Texas cornerback Aaron Williams.

Why the Bills took him: In a division with Tom Brady and some big, play-making receivers, Bills general manager Buddy Nix wanted to upgrade coverage skills with the 6-foot defensive back. Some scouts projected Williams as a safety, but Nix said they would keep him at cornerback.

How it affects the roster: Right cornerback Drayton Florence and backup Ashton Youboty are free agents. Although Nix wouldn't rule out re-signing Florence, the odds don't look good. Terrence McGee, Leodis McKelvin and Reggie Corner (nickel) are back, which will put Williams in a competitive mix.

Scouts Inc. says: Inconsistent but talented and most weaknesses can be improved. High in backpedal. Can allow some separation out of breaks and recovery burst is just average. Can give receivers too much of a cushion. Too quick to open and turn on comeback routes. Not as physical in press coverage as in run support and doesn't always re-route receivers with powerful stab at the line of scrimmage. On the other hand, has fluid hips. Can open and run with receivers in press-bail coverage. Quick feet and changes directions well for size. Closes quickly when receivers catch the ball in front of him and can limit production after the catch.

Bills draft record not as bad as you think

April, 21, 2011
Kyle Williams and Steve JohnsonUS PresswirePro Bowler Kyle Williams (left) and receiver Steve Johnson were both drafted in the later rounds.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills fans have pondered some persistent questions over the years.

How would life have changed if Scott Norwood made that kick?

What will happen to the team when Ralph Wilson passes away?

Was the Music City Miracle really a forward lateral?

How on earth does Tom Modrak still have a job?

Modrak is Buffalo's vice president of college scouting. Modrak, formerly a Pittsburgh Steelers scout during their Steel Curtain years and director of football operations with the Philadelphia Eagles, has held the Bills' top scouting job since May 2001 and worked his first draft for them in 2002.

In that time, the Bills' streak of seasons without a playoff appearance has extended to 11 and counting. Despite holding prime draft-order slots, they have repeatedly squandered them with maddening first-round decisions.

The list is enough to make the most optimistic Bills fan groan: pass-rusher Aaron Maybin (zero sacks) 11th overall instead of Brian Orakpo (19.5 sacks) two years ago; small-school cornerback Leodis McKelvin 11th overall instead of Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady in 2008; safety Donte Whitner with the eighth pick in 2006 and then trading up for defensive tackle John McCargo; trading up for quarterback J.P. Losman in 2004; useless tackle Mike Williams fifth in 2002.

"Certainly we've had our misses up at the top," Modrak said Tuesday at a news conference to preview next week's draft. "We've done pretty well in the middle and at the end, the non-glamour kind of picks. But we've missed some. That is regrettable."

There are additional selections one can criticize: wide receiver James Hardy in the second round; running back C.J. Spiller ninth overall even though the Bills had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers already ...

[+] EnlargeTom Modrak
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesDespite some high-profile misses, Tom Modrak's draftees have performed well on the whole.
OK. I'll stop now. That's enough to illustrate why there's frustration over Modrak and his scouting department's evaluation skills.

The fact Modrak joined the Bills to serve under former president Tom Donahoe -- an executive Wilson and Bills fans came to despise -- only adds to fascination of Modrak's continued employment.

Now that I've set the table, let's yank the tablecloth out from underneath the plasticware.

Draft data suggest the Bills haven't drafted much worse than the average NFL team since 2002.

ESPN researcher John Fisher -- he claims no relation to St. John Fisher, the namesake of the college where the Bills hold their training camp -- shuffled some spreadsheets and came up with some information that's not particularly damning when compared to the rest of the NFL.

  • The Bills have drafted five Pro Bowlers with Modrak in charge of scouting. That's tied for 14th in the league. One of those Pro Bowlers was Willis McGahee for the Baltimore Ravens, but Modrak was the chief scout who drafted him. What the Bills did with McGahee afterward that isn't his fault. Same goes for Marshawn Lynch.
  • Although a game started for the Bills isn't as impressive as a game started for the New England Patriots the past nine years, Bills draftees from the first through third rounds have started 804 games, 15th in the league.
  • Bills draftees from the fourth round or later have started 417 games, eighth in the league.
  • When it comes to individual statistics accumulated with the teams that drafted them, Bills taken from 2002 onward have ranked third in 1,000-yard rushing seasons, tied for seventh in 1,000-yard receiving seasons, 20th in total sacks and 19th in total interceptions.

While the Bills have missed badly on several of their prominent selections, they have done quite well in the latter part of the draft with gems such as cornerback and Pro Bowl kick returner Terrence McGee (fourth round in 2003), Pro Bowl defensive lineman Kyle Williams (fifth round in 2006), receiver Steve Johnson (seventh round in 2008) and left tackle Demetrius Bell (seventh round in 2008).

Top running back Fred Jackson and perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters -- traded to Philly two years ago -- weren't drafted at all.

"If you look at other teams, they do it. They miss at the top," Modrak said. "When you don't win, it's magnified. It looks bad.

"But I think from a strictly homer point-of-view [late-round success] is the work and the labor that goes into it and the detail that's paid to those kinds of things. That does not say that other teams don't do the same thing, but we have a good group, and we fortunately have done that."

The Bills have had some obvious blind spots in the draft.

A refusal to pick a tackle earlier than the fifth round since 2002 has hurt them. Peters' success as a converted tight end is a factor in that trend, but the Bills were having contract problems with him while he still was on the roster. Foresight would've been helpful. But that's an organizational philosophy more than Modrak's domain.

The Bills' track record at tight end is miserable, too. They've drafted five: Tim Euhus, Kevin Everett, Derek Schouman, Derek Fine and Shawn Nelson. Everett was the lone selection sooner than the fourth round. A broken neck while covering a kickoff on opening day in 2007 ended his career.

That tight end quintet has combined to score five NFL touchdowns. Of the 143 tight ends drafted since Modrak joined the Bills, 43 of them have scored more than five touchdowns individually.

Some might also say finding a quarterback has been a failure. Starting quarterbacks, however, aren't easy for any team to locate.

Forty-seven quarterbacks have been drafted within the first three rounds since 2002. The only three teams not included in this pursuit have been the Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys. The Bills took two within the first three rounds, Losman 22nd overall in 2004 and Trent Edwards 92nd in 2007.

That league-wide group yielded nine Pro Bowlers, but just two of them -- 24th overall pick Aaron Rodgers and third-rounder Matt Schaub -- weren't selected in the top 11. Rodgers and Schaub served as backups for three seasons before they became starters.

Bills general manager Buddy Nix explained that scouting is only one of three critical phases that determine whether a draft pick explodes or fizzles.

"You've got to pick the right guy," Nix said Tuesday. "He's got to have enough athletic ability and enough intelligence, production to do the job, which is what you spend the year doing. We're scouts and personnel guys.

"The second phase, now -- and don't make light of it because it's just as important -- is coaching, strength coaches, trainers. That's the second phase, and both of those things have to be in place. If not, the development of the guy is retarded.

"I'm not going to name teams, but you can name teams every year that get top guys and they don't get any better. They actually may go the other way, and it's the developmental part."

Chan Gailey is Buffalo's fourth head coach -- fifth if you count interim coach Perry Fewell -- since Modrak came aboard. Coordinators have passed through a revolving door. The Bills also have overhauled their strength and conditioning program a couple times.

Nix then stressed that even if the precisely correct draft choice is made and the proper infrastructure is in place, a third phase still can torpedo development. The player can ruin his future if he's "not willing to be a professional and do everything it takes."

"You can go back and look at the so-called busts, and it's one of these three phases," Nix said. "You've got to have it all for them to be really good.

"So even though we put it all on one thing -- 'That was a terrible draft. That was a bust. Those idiots don't know.' -- that's just about a third of it."

Another element that must be considered when discussing Buffalo drafts is the question of who makes the final pick.

Nix and Gailey have been clear Nix makes the final call, although Wilson still can exercise his ownership privilege.

Before Nix became GM last year, trying to decipher who was to credit or blame for a Bills draft choice was like a "Three Stooges" scene. The irate boss hears a commotion, storms into the room and asks "Say! What's the wise idea? Who did this?" Moe pointed at Larry. Curly pointed at Moe. Larry pointed at Curly.

Modrak has been a constant since 2002, but there have been many voices in the Bills' draft room in that period, from Donahoe to GM Marv Levy to chief operating officer Russ Brandon to the various opinionated head coaches who lobbied for prospects they hotly desired.

The Bills' scouting department clearly needs to step its game up to help turn around the franchise. They'll never be the kind of team that lures top free agents because of their market conditions. Buffalo simply isn't as sexy as Miami or San Diego or New York and doesn't offer a perennial chance to win like New England or Pittsburgh does.

But, believe it or not, the Bills' drafts could have been substantially worse since Modrak arrived.

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

No burn zone in Oakland

January, 24, 2011
The AFC West is known for its strong cornerback play and 2010 proved that it is a deep position, especially in Oakland.

According to Stats Inc., four AFC West cornerbacks -- including three Oakland Raiders -- were among the top six cornerbacks in the NFL in “burn” percentage rates (minimum of 20 targets).

Oakland clearly enjoyed strong cornerback play. Nnamdi Asomugha and Stanford Routt were tied for third place -- giving up completions on 39.4 percent of the attempts thrown their way.

Routt’s numbers are particularly interesting. He had 99 passes thrown at him, mostly because he was playing opposite Asomugha most of the year. Yet Routt only allowed 39 catches. Asomugha had just 33 passes thrown at him -- an average of just two a game. Asomugha gave up 13 catches. Routt was up to the task of playing opposite a superstar cornerback. That could earn Routt a lot of money as both he and Asomugha are free agents.

Cornerback is always a premium position in free agency. Routt’s ability to withstand a storm in 2010 will make him attractive on the open market. If the Raiders give Asomugha a huge contract, it may be difficult to keep Routt.

Kansas City's Brandon Carr and Oakland's Chris Johnson rounded out the list, each giving up roughly 40 percent of the passes thrown at players they were covering.

Jets, Bills dodged 'starter games lost'

January, 20, 2011
Back in my days covering the National Hockey League, "man games lost" were insightful stats we used frequently. The figures helped illustrate how injuries were impacting a team's season.

Man games lost aren't avidly tracked in the NFL. Rosters are more volatile than in the NHL, where fully guaranteed contracts generally cement a roster coming out of training camp.

NFL teams cut and sign players more frequently. Injured players can dress because there's one game a week, and they can be used situationally. In the NHL, you have to play offense and defense. There are no third-down specialists you can safely insert for a shift or two.

Football Outsiders managing editor Bill Barnwell has compiled a worthwhile chart for the NFL.

Better than man games lost, it's starter games lost.

The Indianapolis Colts led the NFL with 89. The Chicago Bears and Kansas City Chiefs were tied for fewest at 11.

In the AFC East, the Miami Dolphins had the most with 62, ranking seventh in the league. They were banged-up all along the offensive and defensive lines. Receiver Brian Hartline, cornerback Will Allen and rookie defensive end Jared Odrick went to injured reserve among a few others.

The New England Patriots were tied for 10th with 54 starter games lost. Tom Brady played through a foot fracture, but they most notably lost cornerback Leigh Bodden and offensive linemen Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur.

The Buffalo Bills were tied for 21st with 42 starter games lost. That's a great development after what happened to them in 2009, when they finished with 21 players on injured reserve, including left tackle Demetrius Bell, right tackle Brad Butler, inside linebacker Kawika Mitchell, starting cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee and Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd.

The New York Jets lost starters 38 times, ranking 23rd in the league. Their biggest losses were nose tackle Kris Jenkins, safety Jim Leonhard and right tackle Damien Woody.

What do these numbers say, especially when four of the top five most injury-riddled teams (Colts, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles) made the playoffs?

It means that depth (or playing in the NFC West) is imperative to surviving.

Barnwell offered to break down the chart by upper-body and lower-body injuries, but I haven't gotten that file yet.

Inactive list intrigue for AFC East games

December, 5, 2010
There are some notable inactives to report for Sunday's games involving AFC East teams.

For their must-win game against the Cleveland Browns in Sun Life Stadium, the Miami Dolphins have scratched receiver Brandon Marshall, linebacker Channing Crowder and cornerback Al Harris.

The absences of Crowder and Harris might be more significant than Marshall. The Dolphins won without him last week in Oakland, and quarterback Chad Henne played one of his best games.

Dolphins defensive end Phillip Merling is back from his Achilles injury and active for the first time this year.

For the Buffalo Bills' game at the Metrodome, guard Eric Wood, tight end Shawn Nelson and cornerback Terrence McGee are out, as expected.

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will play, but receivers Percy Harvin, Greg Lewis and Hank Baskett are out. So is right guard Steve Hutchinson. That might help Bills nose tackle Kyle Williams add to his sack total.

As NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert notes, the Vikings have just three receivers: Sidney Rice, Bernard Berrian and Greg Camarillo. Rookie quarterback Joe Webb could see some action as a target.

Aaron Maybin active for Buffalo

November, 28, 2010
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Aaron Maybin will wear shoulder pads on Sunday.

Maybin, the struggling Buffalo Bills outside linebacker, doesn't appear on the inactive list for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Ralph Wilson Stadium. The 11th pick in last year's draft has been a healthy scratch the five previous games.

These players have been deactivated:

Pittsburgh Steelers
Buffalo Bills

Bills bench first-round pick Aaron Maybin

October, 24, 2010
Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Aaron Maybin might already be nearing the end of the line.

The 11th overall pick of last year's draft has struggled to get on the field for one of the NFL's worst defenses. Maybin's playing time has dwindled over the past few weeks, and on Sunday he was deactivated against the Baltimore Ravens in M&T Stadium.

The move not only is symbolic of his failure to develop as an NFL pass-rusher, but also must be extra difficult for Maybin to take. Maybin is from Ellicott City, Md., and considers Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis one of his mentors.

Here are the rest of Buffalo's scratches:

Bye week inventory: Buffalo Bills

October, 14, 2010
A look at the Buffalo Bills heading into their bye weekend ...

Reason for hope: I considered leaving this section blank because it's difficult to envision the Bills making serious headway this year. They're 0-5, have allowed at least 30 points in four straight games and won't play another game at home for about a month. They're not going to the playoffs, and even a game-to-game spoiler role seems ambitious. Owner Ralph Wilson recently said the rebuilding process will take three more years.

[+] EnlargeFred Jackson
Tom Croke/Icon SMIFred Jackson is averaging 5.0 yards per carry this season.
So what is there to root for? Individual players, I guess. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been decent, which for the Bills is a coup. In his three starts he has thrown seven touchdowns and just two interceptions. Running back Fred Jackson is an overachiever who leaves it all out on the field. Head coach Chan Gailey hasn't yet figured out how to use ninth overall draft choice C.J. Spiller in the offense, but the rookie playmaker is almost certain to provide a few highlight-reel plays over the last 11 games.

Cause for concern: Perhaps most alarming is the "reason for hope" category should be rife with the names of prospects who are contributing, but too many of them have failed to develop. Last year's 11th overall pick, pass-rusher Aaron Maybin, can't get on the field. Top draft choices over the past three years -- Trent Edwards, Marshawn Lynch and James Hardy to name a few -- have been released or traded. Those players should have been the young nucleus of a rebuilding team.

The Bills are weak at critical infrastructure positions: quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive line, linebacker. Their biggest strength heading into the season was their secondary, a unit that helped the Bills rank second in pass defense and second in interceptions last year. Through five games, the Bills rank 11th in pass defense and have one interception. They spent the entire offseason switching to a 3-4 defense, but now they're gravitating back to four-man fronts because they're getting physically overpowered on a weekly basis.

Time to heal: The week off especially will help cornerback Terrence McGee (back), safety Bryan Scott (knee), linebacker Keith Ellison (knee) and tackle Cornell Green (knee). Tight end Shawn Nelson was suspended for the first four games and will benefit from the extra week of practice.

AccuScore forecast: The Bills have not been mathematically eliminated, but AccuScore's computers give them a zero percent chance of winning the division or going to the playoffs. They're pegged for a 3-13 record.

Jaguars at Bills inactives

October, 10, 2010
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Here are the scratches from Sunday afternoon's game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium:

Jacksonville Jaguars
Buffalo Bills

Trent Edwards, Marshawn Lynch, then who?

October, 5, 2010
The Buffalo Bills know they're not going to be able to compete this year and have traded one of their most talented players for middling draft considerations.

The Bills on Tuesday traded running back Marshawn Lynch to the Seattle Seahawks. For a Pro Bowler two seasons ago and a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, the Bills received a fourth-round draft choice next year and a conditional pick for 2012.

[+] EnlargeMarshawn Lynch
Icon SMIA Pro Bowler just two seasons ago, Marshawn Lynch was traded to Seattle for a fourth-rounder and a conditional draft choice.
It's hard to imagine the Bills being unable to get at least that much for Lynch before this year's draft.

And based on Buffalo's track record at the draft, over the past decade, you can safely assume that fourth-round pick won't turn out to be a steal.

Buffalo's front office made the move eight days after releasing Trent Edwards, the quarterback who won the starting job after six months of evaluation by head coach and play-caller Chan Gailey. A couple of days later, linebacker Kawika Mitchell asked to be released from the team and accepted an injury settlement.

The Lynch trade could be a harbinger of more moves to come. The Bills are 0-4 and considered among the worst few teams in the NFL. They ranked at the bottom of's latest Power Rankings.

The trade deadline is Oct. 19.

Other veterans who might be able to help the Bills accumulate some draft picks for their rebuilding phase include receiver Lee Evans, defensive lineman Marcus Stroud, safety Donte Whitner and cornerbacks Terrence McGee and Drayton Florence.

From an on-field standpoint, the Lynch trade provides some clarity in the backfield. Gailey hasn't been able to get all of his running backs involved on a consistent basis.

Fred Jackson finished last year as Buffalo's feature back, but he has just 20 rushing attempts for 87 yards and the team's only ground touchdown through four games. The Bills drafted C.J. Spiller ninth overall, but he has 14 carries for 49 yards and no touchdowns.

Lynch was Buffalo's leading rusher with 167 yards. He had been getting a bulk of the carries, but that apparently was to showcase him for a possible trade.

Lynch's stay in Buffalo was checkered.

He sparked a civic controversy for his involvement in a hit-and-run incident in Buffalo's nightclub district two years ago. Last offseason he was cited for multiple gun charges and was accused of being in possession of marijuana in California. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Lynch for the first three games of 2009.

But the new Bills' front office chose to stick with him -- as they did with Edwards -- before figuring out weeks into the regular season they'd rather not have him on the roster anymore.