AFC East: Buffalo Bills

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Well, nobody will accuse the Buffalo Bills of being boring this offseason.

Less than 24 hours after swinging a headline-grabbing trade to acquire Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, the Bills announced another deal Wednesday for Minnesota Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel.

Just think: We're still six days away from the start of free agency, when the NFL's hot stove will heat up for real.

By signing offensive lineman Richie Incognito last month and trading for McCoy and Cassel this week, the Bills have gotten a head start on the frenzy and have positioned themselves to make additional moves this March.

Cassel will undoubtedly compete with EJ Manuel this summer for the starting quarterback role, but there's no reason why it can't be a three-man race. Given the relatively cheap cost of acquiring Cassel and the lack of guaranteed money in his contract, which has one season remaining, the Bills could add another quarterback to the mix.

Might it be Mark Sanchez? Brian Hoyer? Matt Moore? That's still unclear, but I wouldn't expect the Bills to stop here. Whether it's the draft or free agency, throwing a third quarterback into the ring would only strengthen the chances of finding a suitable starter for the 2015 season.

No matter what they do next, there's been a clear pattern to the Bills' moves so far this offseason: They are at least trying to bolster their offense.

There's no guarantee Incognito will get his career back on the right path and become a full-time starter at guard, just as there's no guarantee Cassel will be able to win the starting job at quarterback. But they're both low-risk moves that prove the Bills are intent on improving one of the NFL's worst offenses last season.

Adding McCoy, who comes with a much steeper cost, was an aggressive move that gives the Bills more flexibility in this year's draft. With running back less of a need and another arm in the mix at quarterback, the Bills can focus on finding a tight end or helping their offensive line with their second- and third-round picks.

It's the right approach. It would be considerably premature to say the Bills have gotten over the hump and can topple the New England Patriots in the AFC East, but if they Bills are ever going to do that, this is how it will happen.

Are the Bills being aggressive? Yes. Will it work out for them? Who knows.

But you certainly can't accuse them of being boring.
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So much of the legend of Kiko Alonso.

Less than two years after Alonso burst out of the gate as a rookie and became a fan favorite for his carefree personality, the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles worked out a deal Tuesday to swap Alonso for three-time Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy.

Rarely do player-for-player trades happen in the NFL, but this one makes plenty of sense for both sides, as long as McCoy is happy with the deal. A source to McCoy told ESPN's Josina Anderson that McCoy is "frustrated" and is "not going to make it easy. That's for sure." So stay tuned on that end of the story.

But assuming the deal is finalized next week, the Eagles will clear most of McCoy's $11.95 million cap hit off the books and will have a shot to find another stud running back in what's considered a deep draft class this April. Coach Chip Kelly is also reunited with Alonso -- one of his former players at Oregon -- who comes at a cheap price and brings plenty of upside to the Eagles' defense.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsLeSean McCoy should fill a huge hole in the Bills' offense assuming that Tuesday's reported trade is completed next week.
The Bills address one of their biggest offseason needs by adding McCoy. With Fred Jackson turning 34 last month and C.J. Spiller set to hit free agency this weekend, the Bills needed an infusion of talent at running back. McCoy is one of the most talented at his position in the NFL.

It just makes sense.

McCoy tallied nearly 1,500 all-purpose yards last season and eclipsed 2,100 all-purpose yards in 2013. He's only 26 and should have enough tread on his tires to play out the final three years of his current deal, and probably longer.

The question for the Bills will be their ability to block for McCoy. There were some issues with the Eagles' offensive line last season, which caused McCoy's average yards before contact per rush to drop from 3.59 in 2013 (second best in the NFL) to 2.71 last season.

The Bills' offensive line was a mess last season, and, even though they've already added Richie Incognito this offseason, they'll need to do more to upgrade that unit.

The good news is they'll have more flexibility in the draft to address their other needs. A week ago, I would have pegged running back as one of the Bills' top draft needs and considered it a serious possibility they'd take one with their second-round pick, their first of the draft.

Now, they don't need to draft a running back until the late rounds, if at all. That means quarterback, tight end and offensive line come to the forefront for the Bills' second- and third-round picks this April.

The Bills will take a $10.25 million cap hit by acquiring McCoy and save less than $1 million by trading Alonso, so the Bills' cap space -- which NFLPA records listed at $27.1 million earlier Tuesday -- will be cut considerably. Re-signing defensive end Jerry Hughes will put another dent in that number and limit what the Bills could do elsewhere in free agency.

Still, the point of free agency is to acquire good players. The Bills were able to do that Tuesday by agreeing to the deal for McCoy, so the fact that their spending power this March will be limited because of the trade is hardly a setback.

The impact on the Bills' defense shouldn't be substantial, either. They lose a cheap, rising young player in Alonso but they already have a replacement: Preston Brown, a 2014 third-round pick who played the second-most snaps of any defensive rookie in the NFL last season and held his own.

If there was any position at which the Bills could afford to lose a player such as Alonso, it was linebacker. And truth be told, the Bills got by just fine without Alonso last season. With strong performances from Brown and Nigel Bradham at linebacker, they were considerably better in run defense, jumping from 28th in yards allowed per game in 2013 to 11th last season.

Unless McCoy gives the Bills headaches all summer about coming to Buffalo, or if he drops off a cliff after posting four 1,000-yard rushing seasons in his first six years in the league, there is little reason to fret about this trade.

Savor the moment, Bills fans, because it's not often that teams can draw up player-for-player swaps that make this much sense for both sides.
ESPN's Josina Anderson tweeted the following Tuesday night, hours after news broke of the Buffalo Bills' trade with the Philadelphia Eagles:
A source close to LeSean McCoy to me on how the #Eagles RB feels about news of an agreement to trade McCoy to Buffalo: "He’s a Pennsylvania kid. He’s never played football outside of Pennsylvania—high school, college, pro. So of course he's not happy. Sounds like it’s pretty final to me unless LeSean is refusing to go to Buffalo."

On whether the source believes McCoy will make a trade to Buffalo difficult, in light of McCoy’s initial reaction to the news:
"It'll be interesting to see how this process plays itself out because he's an interesting individual. In your mind, when you think of Buffalo you think of cold and losing games. It’s not like it’s the Philadelphia market where you’re always on t.v. and you’re playing for like the division title or that type of thing…It was unexpected. I'll tell you that much.”

The source on how McCoy is feeling at the moment:
"Honestly, he's frustrated ... It's alright. It's the league. I told him that. I guess he just never experienced that, but he was like 'why me.'"

The source said he thinks McCoy is "not going to make it easy, that's for sure."

The source on whether the trade news was a surprise:
"Honestly we were under the impression the whole time, that eventually at some point, Chip [Kelly] was going to ask LeSean to restructure his contract--not a pay cut, but convert some of his signing bonus."
The C.J. Spiller era is over in Buffalo.

With the Buffalo Bills set to trade linebacker Kiko Alonso to the Philadelphia Eagles for running back LeSean McCoy, there is no room for Spiller, who will hit the free-agent market next week for the first time in his career.

Spiller
Appearing on NFL Network shortly after news of the trade broke Tuesday evening, Spiller closed the door on any return to the Bills.

"Management called me and told me that they were [trading for McCoy] and pretty much giving me a thank you for your service," he said. "I feel still the same. Nothing's changed. The game plan is still the same. The only thing is that I won't be returning to Buffalo."

Spiller hadn't yet ruled out coming back to the Bills before the trade.

"I did [wish] have a chance, hoping I could return there," he said. "Very few guys get to play their whole careers with one team. But unfortunately that don't happen in this business, and I found out today that that don't happen in this business."

With the Eagles now down their top running back, Spiller offered his services to the Eagles.

"I'm pretty sure that Chip [Kelly] has my agent's phone number," he said, smiling. "I'm pretty sure that we might have to make a call over there."
The Buffalo Bills have $27.1 million in salary-cap space for 2015, according to the latest figures from the NFL Players Association.

The NFL set its league-wide salary cap Monday at $143.28 million. The Bills are carrying over $2.65 million in unused 2014 cap space to 2015, so their adjusted 2015 salary cap is $145.78 million.

As of Tuesday, the Bills have the NFL's 12th-most cap space.

That number could change over the coming days, as teams make final adjustments and roster moves before the 2015 league year, and free agency, begins next Tuesday.

The Bills passed Monday on assigning the franchise tag to any of their free agents, and for good reason: Had they given Jerry Hughes the tag, it would have cost them $14.813 million, or about 55 percent of their 2015 cap space. That would have left the Bills with $12.3 million to make other free-agent moves.

In general, teams prefer to enter the regular season with a cushion of salary-cap space -- at least $2 million-3 million -- to make in-season pickups and account for injured players.
The Buffalo Bills did not use the franchise or transition tag by Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline.

Hughes
Hughes
The news most closely affects defensive end Jerry Hughes, who is the highest priority among the Bills' 10 free agents. Hughes will now be free to negotiate with other teams beginning Saturday, and can finalize a new deal elsewhere as soon as next Tuesday.

This doesn't mean the Bills aren't continuing to strike a long-term deal with Hughes. Instead, it means the Bills decided that assigning Hughes the franchise tag, which would guarantee him a one-year, $14.813 million deal if he signed his tender, was too expensive.

Elsewhere in the NFL, two prominent defensive ends were assigned the franchise tag Monday: Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul. That thins out the market for defensive ends, which is good news for Hughes as he seeks a lucrative new deal.
If the pursuit from several NFL teams of free-agent quarterback Josh McCown could ever have been considered a sweepstakes, the Buffalo Bills have come out on the losing end.

McCown, 35, agreed to a three-year deal Friday with the Cleveland Browns, choosing Buffalo's neighbors on Lake Erie over the quarterback-needy Bills.

McCown
Plenty of Bills fans seem to be breathing a sigh of relief that McCown, a career backup who went 1-10 as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starter last season, isn't the veteran the Bills ensured would arrive to compete with EJ Manuel. After all, McCown was an underwhelming option on what is a generally underwhelming quarterback market.

But the Bills wanted McCown and were in negotiations to sign him as recently as Thursday. They only carried two quarterbacks last season, and adding McCown to the mix with Manuel could have completed the team's offseason shopping at the position.

In that sense, this is a setback for the Bills. They had their sights set on McCown above the other available options. Now they'll have to turn to Plan B.

Who could that be? Brian Hoyer vaults toward the top of the list now that it's a virtual lock that he won't be back in Cleveland when he hits free agency next month. Hoyer didn't lead the Browns much of anywhere the past two seasons, but represents a younger option with potentially more upside.

Beyond that, it's the usual suspects: Mark Sanchez, Jake Locker, Matt Moore, and other available free agents. There are also dominoes that could fall during the draft this April that could lead to Nick Foles being available on the trade market.

It's slim pickings, and the Bills aren't going to find a quality starter at quarterback before next offseason, at the earliest.
These days in Buffalo, nothing comes as much of a surprise.

From Doug Marrone opting out to the arrival of Rex Ryan and Richie Incognito, Buffalo Bills fans have learned to expect the unexpected in 2015.

Would a trade for Adrian Peterson come as a shock?

Peterson
Peterson
The concept has become a hot topic this week after Peterson's agent and a Minnesota Vikings executive were involved in an altercation at the NFL combine in Indianapolis in which Peterson's agent told the Vikings official that his client would never again play in Minnesota.

That, along with a court ruling in Peterson's favor Thursday, has opened the door to speculation on Peterson's future, including the potential for a trade.

Would the Vikings entertain the idea? That's not known. Would the Bills have any interest? That's not clear. But it's still an idea worth exploring. Here are some key points:

Lack of assets for deal: The Bills don't have much trade bait, lacking a first-round pick and having no additional picks in the second or third rounds of this spring's draft. That could limit their chances of landing Peterson even if they were actual suitors.

Bills could absorb cost: What the Bills do have, however, is cap space. They're among the top third of the NFL in 2015 cap space, with close to $30 million by the most accounts. Some of that will be chewed up if Jerry Hughes signs a new deal in the coming weeks, but it's still enough to take on the roughly $13 million due on Peterson's contract this season.

Position of need: Another factor in the equation is a Bills need at running back. With Fred Jackson turning 34 last week and C.J. Spiller potentially departing through free agency, the Bills could use another bruiser in their backfield, especially in offensive coordinator Greg Roman's system. Peterson would be the most ideal fit. Still, this is considered a deep draft class for running backs, and the Bills could find a younger back than Peterson at a much lower cost in the middle rounds, helping to fill their need at that position.

It's important to note that any Peterson-to-Buffalo trade is pure water-cooler talk at this point. Yet in an offseason when nothing seems to be off the table in Buffalo, it's a discussion worth having for the Bills and their fans.
The winds of free agency will soon blow through Buffalo, and running back C.J. Spiller is among several players who could find a new home within the next month.

Spiller
Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley told reporters in Indianapolis last week that "there’s going to be some work that has to be done" if Spiller returns to Buffalo, making it likely that the former first-round pick will test the open market for the first time in his career.

That doesn't mean the Bills are off the table, however. In an appearance Tuesday on Sirius XM NFL Radio, Spiller praised new Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

"I haven't had a chance to sit down with him. They've been busy with combine stuff," he said. "From everything that I hear -- also I've studied some of the 49ers, what they do -- he's a guy that loves to run the football. As a running back, that's what you want: a guy that loves to run the ball, no matter what. Coach Roman, he does a good job of sticking with his guns. He's gonna be physical. You've got to be excited as a runner."

If Spiller can't agree to a deal with the Bills, his most likely landing spot remains the New York Jets, where former Bills coach Chain Gailey is installing the same offense that made Spiller a star earlier in his Bills career.

"His offense is gonna be very creative," Spiller said of Gailey. "He's gonna put his players in the best situations to win matchups. Just a humble guy. First class, goes about his business the right way. He's gonna treat his men like men.

"Obviously it will be different now, since he's just gonna be the offensive coordinator. He's gonna have more time just to spend on the offense, compared to his time in Buffalo when he was the head coach and pretty much had the full plate. Now he's just gonna be able to focus in on that offense and do what he does well."
Speaking Thursday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley updated the status of talks with the Bills' top four free agents: defensive end Jerry Hughes, running back C.J. Spiller, safety Da'Norris Searcy and linebacker Brandon Spikes.

In total, the Bills have 10 unrestricted free agents set to hit the open market on March 10, with an open negotiation period beginning March 7.

Outside of those top four free agents, here's what I've learned:

DE Jarius Wynn -- The Bills have expressed interest in re-signing Wynn, according to a source. However, a deal is not imminent and there is not expected to be movement until March. Wynn, 28, was part of a rotation at defensive end last season in Jim Schwartz's scheme, making one start. He's expected to compete for a starting role at defensive end in Rex Ryan's scheme, which is a different position than last season but one that he's played before in his career. At 6-foot-3, 285 pounds, Wynn should be sturdy enough for the job.

Pears
G Erik Pears -- There hasn't been any movement between the Bills and Pears, according to a source. It's unlikely the Bills will re-sign Pears after adding free-agent guard Richie Incognito earlier this month. Last week, Whaley called the Bills' guard play last season "lackluster," which is a sign they're looking to move on from Pears.

LB Larry Dean -- There have been initial talks between Dean and the Bills, according to a source, but no deal is imminent. Signed in September, the veteran was a quiet contributor to the Bills, finishing third on the team with nine special teams tackles. There's a possibility he could return to the Bills, but they are deep at linebacker and playing time on defense could be hard to come by.

WR Marcus Easley -- The Bills' top special teams player from the past two seasons is in a good position to return in the same role. Whaley told reporters in Indianapolis last week the Bills are interested in re-signing him.

Sylvester
TE Lee Smith -- There's no word on whether the Bills are interested in bringing Smith back next season. The burly blocking tight end doesn't provide much upside as a pass-catcher, and the Bills could use a boost in athleticism at the position next season. Free agency (Charles Clay, Jordan Cameron, etc.) and the draft (Maxx Williams, Clive Walford, etc.) are both options, which could be bad news for Smith.

LB Stevenson Sylvester -- There's also no word on whether the Bills want Sylvester back next season. The former Pittsburgh Steelers special teams maven was signed last summer to add depth at linebacker, but he suffered a torn patella tendon in the preseason. There's no word on if he's healthy again and ready to play.

Picked-up Bills pieces from combine

February, 21, 2015
Feb 21
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The portion of the NFL combine open to reporters wraps up Saturday.

Here are some Buffalo- and Bills-based stories from around the Web, from reporters who made the trip to Indianapolis:
The San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders aren't the only divisional rivals making friends on Friday.

Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick arrived together for the third day of the NFL combine in Indianapolis, with NFL Network cameras catching the moment:

 

It's not just the AFC East rival coaches spotted together that drew attention Friday morning. Check out their outfits. Ryan is wearing a Thurman Thomas jersey with a Super Bowl XXV patch, while Belichick is wearing a hoodie that his foundation sells for charity.
On Wednesday, Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan touted the benefits of having a franchise quarterback, adding that "it would be nice to get somebody like that."

General manager Doug Whaley has been a vocal supporter of EJ Manuel since the team selected him in the first round in 2013, but joining Sirius XM NFL radio Thursday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, Whaley spoke about the quarterback position without mentioning Manuel by name.

"We don't have a marquee quarterback. Everybody knows that," Whaley said. "But we have a championship defense and if we can build it inside out on the offensive line and run the ball, that was the recipe that took the Jets to two straight AFC championships when Rex got the job."

"So we're excited and that's the blueprint that we're gonna have to play until we find that franchise quarterback."

Whaley's comments aren't necessarily revelatory, but notable nonetheless. Compare it to how Whaley and president Russ Brandon spoke of Manuel and the quarterback position after the 2013 season, and there is a marked difference in tone.
You can bet on this: There will be no hotter a topic for the Buffalo Bills this offseason than quarterback.

That held true when Rex Ryan took the podium on Wednesday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. While there wasn't any new information, Ryan's assessment of the Bills' quarterback situation was the biggest takeaway.

"I think this league has proven that when you have a great quarterback, you almost -- it's rare that you don't go to the playoffs with a great quarterback," Ryan said. "So obviously that's a priority and not just for our team, but any team in this league. But it's a lot easier said than done.

Manuel
"It would be nice to get somebody like that. I'm not saying that we have that situation right now. I'm excited about EJ Manuel, though, I'll tell you that much. He's a young man that has some potential. We'll see how that pans out."

It's not exactly a ringing endorsement of Manuel, who is one of just two quarterbacks, along with Jeff Tuel, on the Bills' roster.

The Bills brought in veteran quarterback Josh McCown for a free-agent visit Monday, a meeting that Ryan addressed on Wednesday.

"We did bring Josh in," Ryan said. "So obviously there's some interest there on our part. We wanted to bring him in, just to get to know this young man and also for him to get to know us. I'm excited about our coaching staff, and I think that's probably the best selling point that I have right now, along with the players that we have. Obviously, we got an outstanding group of players, too, that I like to show off to a lot of guys."

McCown met with the Chicago Bears on Wednesday in Indianapolis.

Once free agency opens next month, the Bills could have a shot to sign Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez, but Ryan dodged a question about his former signal-caller on Wednesday.

"All right, here we go, I’m going to bat right-handed on this one,” Ryan said, stepping away from the podium and pretending to hold a baseball bat. “I’m going to let that bad boy go, too. Nah, he’s on somebody else’s team I think."
Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan enters his seventh consecutive season as an AFC East head coach. As such, he continues to be a target for questions about the New England Patriots.

In fact, three of the first four questions directed to Ryan during his news conference Wednesday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis were about the Patriots, including a question off the top about how he felt about the Patriots' recent Super Bowl win.

"It was terrible. Next question," Ryan deadpanned. "Nah, you know what? That was a great game. Obviously a great game. I think it was anticipated that it was going to be a great game. You had two outstanding teams, both of them really well coached, and obviously it was an outstanding game."

Revis
The highlight from Ryan's news conference, though, was his baseball references. He began his news conference with a two-minute monologue about a trip to see the Buffalo Bisons and later stepped away from the podium and pretended to stand in the batter's box when asked about Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis.

"I was waiting [for that question]," Ryan said. "I knew it would come from somebody. See, my first year I would have done this and swung at that pitch and probably been fined for tampering or something like that. This time, no way am I going to talk about somebody else's player. So I refuse to do that."

The Bills have interest in luring Revis to Buffalo this offseason, sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. The Patriots, however, have already filed tampering charges against the Jets after owner Woody Johnson made comments about Revis in December.

Ryan stepped away from the podium again when asked about a possible reunion with Mark Sanchez, who will become a free agent next month, in Buffalo.

"All right, here we go, I'm gonna bat right-handed on this one," Ryan said, drawing laughter. "I'm gonna let that bad boy go, too. Nah, he's on somebody else's team, I think."

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