The Buffalo Bills had one of the NFL's worst special-teams units in 2013, an across-the-board problem that included poor punting from Shawn Powell and Brian Moorman, shaky kickoffs from Dan Carpenter and a lack of capable coverage men.
Re-stocked in 2014 with first-year punter Colton Schmidt, a kickoff specialist in Jordan Gay and the addition of special-teams mavens Larry Dean, Corey Graham and Anthony Dixon, the Bills were near the top of the NFL in most special-teams categories this past season.
The dramatic improvement didn't go unnoticed. Well-respected Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin, who has used a formula to rank special-teams units for decades, has pegged the Bills as having the NFL's second-best special teams in 2014.
Last year, they were 31st in Gosselin's rankings.
With those sorts of results, it's hard to argue with Rex Ryan's decision to keep special-teams coordinator Danny Crossman in the fold.
More than eight months later, Kiper views the Bills' draft in a slightly more positive light in his 2014 regrade.
Here is what Kiper had to say one day after the 2014 draft:
My issue is that this draft is loaded with wide receivers -- there are good ones already signing as undrafted free agents as I type this, in fact -- and the Bills paid a significant price to get Watkins. A future first-round pick is always a heavy price, but they threw in a fourth as well, and they could have gotten a very good wide receiver in Odell Beckham Jr. without moving.
The Beckham comparison dominated discussion about Watkins in the second half of the season. In 16 games, Watkins caught 65 passes for 982 yards and six touchdowns. In 12 games, Beckham caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns.
"This is pure speculation, but the reality is the Bills paid a huge price to move up a few spots for Watkins when they could have added picks and moved a couple spots down and still gotten Beckham," Kiper writes in his re-grade.
The Bills' other six selections in the draft produced two full-time players -- linebacker Preston Brown (third round) and tackle Seantrel Henderson (seventh round) -- and not much else, with tackle Cyrus Kouandjio (second round) and cornerback Ross Cockrell (fourth round) barely seeing the field.
As for Henderson, Kiper adds a word of caution.
"I know Seantrel Henderson started, but based on performance that was pure necessity -- he really struggled and should be challenged to keep the job," he writes.
That could be the starting defensive line for one Pro Bowl team after the trio of Buffalo Bills defensive linemen and the Houston Texans' defensive star were all selected by Cris Carter in Wednesday night's Pro Bowl draft.
For the second consecutive year, the NFL used an "unconferenced" format to select teams for the annual all-star game. Carter, one of two captains choosing players, picked up all three Bills linemen for his squad.
Jerry Hughes, who had 10 sacks this season, was a quality fourth lineman for the Bills. But he's not J.J. Watt, the MVP candidate who finished second in the NFL this season with 20.5 sacks.
It's too bad the Pro Bowl won't feature much pass-rushing -- or blocking -- because Watt's addition to the Bills' already-ferocious defensive line would be must-see television. The game kicks off at 8 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Chiefs will have what is probably their first early morning (Central time) kickoff for the Nov. 1 game against the Detroit Lions at Wembley Stadium in London. The NFL announced a 2:30 p.m. local time kickoff for the game, which translates to 8:30 a.m. in Kansas City.
All three NFL games in London next season, including an Oct. 4 matchup between the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins and an Oct. 25 game between the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars, will start at 8:30 a.m. CT (9:30 ET).
The NFL started a London game at 8:30 a.m. CT for the first time last season when the Lions played against the Atlanta Falcons. Otherwise, the games have started at the traditional early TV window beginning at noon CT.
Naturally Ryan denied it, calling it "100 percent false." He also insisted there wasn't a rift between himself and Mornhinweg, saying, "I’m tight with every single coach here. I believe in every single coach that I have, and that’s the truth."
Actions speak louder than words, as they say, and Ryan's actions in the last couple of weeks suggest that he and Mornhinweg weren't simpatico.
If you're keeping score, only four coaches (we're talking coordinators and position coaches) haven't gone to the Bills -- Mornhinweg, special-teams coach Thomas McGaughey, offensive line coach Mike Devlin and tight ends coach Steve Hagen.
Devlin jumped at an early offer to coach the Houston Texans' offensive line. McGaughey never was a consideration because Ryan ended up retaining Danny Crossman. So, basically, Mornhinweg and Hagen are the only ones who didn't follow Ryan to the Bills.
Before he was hired by the Bills, Ryan already had aligned himself with Greg Roman as his coordinator. Unlike Mornhinweg, Roman, a former offensive line coach, will happily run the ball as much as Ryan wants.
Ryan and Mornhinweg weren't a philosophical fit for the Jets. They made it through 2013 thanks to a strong running game and a feel-good finish, but they clashed last season on how to handle Geno Smith. Mornhinweg put more on Smith's plate at the start of the season, but he was reeled in by Ryan. In the end, it all backfired. Hence, 4-12.
Mornhinweg ended up taking a job as the Baltimore Ravens' quarterbacks coach, a move down the coaching ladder. We'll see how things shake out with Hagen and McGaughey, who has been linked to the San Francisco 49ers' special-teams job, but Mornhinweg is the only member of Ryan's 2014 staff to take a demotion.
Lynn, 46, spent the past three seasons in that position with the Jets under current Bills coach Rex Ryan. The former NFL running back joined the Jets' coaching staff in 2009 after stints coaching with four other teams.
The Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars both interviewed Lynn for their offensive coordinator vacancies.
Lynn's hire essentially completes Ryan's coaching staff with the Bills. He becomes the 11th assistant coach to follow Ryan from the Jets to the Bills.
NFL Network's Kimberly Jones first reported the hiring.
"That’s the business. He’s taking care of himself, his family. That’s the No. 1 thing you do as a man, all right?" Fred Pagac, who served as linebackers coach for the Bills last season, told ESPN by phone this week.
Pagac, who is currently without a job, was speaking in reference to Marrone's decision to use an escape clause in his contract, triggered by the Bills' ownership change.
"He wanted to take care of himself, his family and his staff,” Pagac said. “It’s hard to coach when you’re under the gun, I guess. If they wanted him, they would have given the extensions to him and to the coaching staff.
"Hey, I’m fine. You know what I mean? It’s not going to affect me that much. But hey, that’s a decision that he made. He didn’t feel any support behind him, I guess, is the way I understand it."
After Marrone interviewed for several head-coaching vacancies this offseason but was not hired by any of those teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars brought him aboard as their assistant head coach and offensive line coach Tuesday.
"Doug Marrone is a hell of a coach. I’m surprised that he didn’t get another head job," Pagac said. "He brought Buffalo to a 9-7 record this year, which was tough with an off-the-street quarterback. And I have a lot of respect for Doug. I like him a lot.
"I’d work for him tomorrow."
Pagac, 62, never worked with Marrone prior to last season and knew little about the former New York Jets and New Orleans Saints assistant before joining his staff. His initial impression of Marrone was positive.
"I’ve been coaching for 37 years. I guess you might call me one of those old-school coaches," Pagac said. "I thought he did a great job. He was demanding, wants things done his way. And that’s how you win football games.”
Some Bills players, including running back Fred Jackson, were critical of Marrone's decision to leave the team after completing its first winning season since 2004.
"I’m an old-school coach, OK? I think players talk too f---ing much to begin with, OK?" Pagac said. "They shouldn’t have any f---ing input on what happens there.”
Pagac was an assistant coach at Ohio State from 1978-2000 before making the jump to the NFL. He is now looking to find a job with his third team in the past three seasons.
“I’m waiting to find out what happens in a couple different situations and go from there," he said. "Hopefully I’m not going to be riding out to the dark sunset and having somebody put a bullet behind my ear in the desert somewhere, like they do to all the horses."
I didn't head south this year, but Bills coach Rex Ryan and general manager Doug Whaley caught up with reporters Tuesday.
Here are some nuggets:
Rex Ryan defends Sammy Watkins trade: Not surprisingly, Ryan backed Whaley's decision last May to trade up in the draft for Sammy Watkins, saying it was "a bold move, but it wasn't a brash move," according to the Buffalo News' Vic Carucci. The Bills' brass has referred to Watkins as a "generational talent," a line that Ryan essentially repeated Tuesday. "A guy like Sammy Watkins comes down the pike once every 10 years," he said, per the Buffalo News. Watkins was inconsistent last season, partly the result of below-average quarterback play, and he still has a lot to prove before that label is true.
Ryan addresses quarterback situation: As they should, Ryan and Whaley have kept their options open at quarterback this offseason. Finding a franchise quarterback, Ryan says, isn't a piece of cake. "If it was easy, everyone would have one," he said, according to Matthew Fairburn of Syracuse.com. "It's not the easiest thing in the world." Last season, the Senior Bowl roster included two second-round picks (Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo), a fourth-round pick (Logan Thomas) and a sixth-round pick (David Fales). The crop is thinner this year, with Baylor's Bryce Petty and Alabama's Blake Sims the two big names of the group.
Gus Bradley didn't ask Doug Marrone about Bills' exit: Former Bills coach Doug Marrone finally landed a job Tuesday, as the offensive line and assistant head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. His exit from Buffalo has been one of the biggest stories of the NFL offseason to this point, but Jaguars coach Gus Bradley didn't bring it up with Marrone. "No, no, I really didn’t get into it," Bradley said, according to the Toronto Sun's John Kryk. "For me it was, obviously, that he’s a good teacher and a good developer, and then a good person." Bradley also used a word that many Bills fans wouldn't associate with Marrone: humility. "I just felt a great sense of humility (in Marrone)," he said. "It was an unbelievable visit." Well then.
Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) are joined by four other NFL Nation reporters to discuss the recent hirings made by the teams they cover.
Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter) discusses the hiring of Gary Kubiak, minutes before Kubiak was introduced to media in the Mile High City. Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears reporter) chats about former Broncos head coach John Fox's recent hiring in the Windy City. Rich Cimini (New York Jets reporter) talks about Todd Bowles becoming the Jets' new head coach. And Bill Williamson (Oakland Raiders reporter) and Gutierrez break down the decisions that brought Jack Del Rio back to the Bay Area, and kept Jim Tomsula there.
Be sure to watch NFL Nation TV live on ESPN.com each Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT, and give the show's podcast a listen following each taping.
Listen to this week's podcast here.
Marrone went 15-17 in the past two seasons with the Bills before opting out of his contract earlier this month because of uncertainty over possible organizational changes. The clause in his contract that allowed him to do that also guaranteed his $4 million salary in 2015.
Marrone's hiring means offensive line coach George Yarno will not return to the Jaguars in 2015, according to a team spokesman. The Jaguars announced on May 29 that Yarno had been diagnosed with cancer and he continues to receive treatment. He remains under contract.
Marrone, who went 23-25 as Syracuse's coach from 2009 to 2012, has coached in the NFL for nine seasons, including three seasons as the offensive coordinator in New Orleans (2006-08).
The Jaguars are still searching for an offensive coordinator to replace Jedd Fisch, whom coach Gus Bradley fired on Dec. 30. Oakland Raiders quarterbacks coach Greg Olson is expected to be hired for that position.
The Jaguars play the Bills next season in London on Oct. 4.
Bills co-owner Terry Pegula has said he was "shocked,'' by Marrone's abrupt departure on New Year's Eve. Safety Aaron Williams
Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by four other NFL Nation reporters throughout the show.
Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter) will let us know what the Gary Kubiak hire means for Peyton Manning, while Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears reporter) will break down how a defensive-minded John Fox affects Jay Cutler.
Plus, Rich Cimini (New York Jets reporter) will talk all things Todd Bowles and his search for an offensive coordinator before Vaughn McClure (Atlanta Falcons reporter) gives us the latest on the Dirty Birds' search for a head coach and if it’s essentially a package deal with Dan Quinn and Adam Gase.
Gutierrez will also discuss the Bay Area goings-on with the Niners’ choice of Jim Tomsula, why Lane Kiffin would be a curious choice as his offensive coordinator and the Oakland Raiders bringing Jack Del Rio home to the East Bay.
Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.
Consulting firm AECOM, commissioned by New York State last year to study potential stadium sites, completed its report and the findings were reported by the Buffalo News and also posted to an Internet website this week.
Without diving too deeply into the growing web of political and business threads to the project, here are some need-to-know bullet points from this week's developments:
1. Not the Bills' study: It's most important to note that the Bills didn't commission the study and hadn't even read the report as of Sunday, according to a comment from co-owner Kim Pegula to the Buffalo News. Since last year, the Bills have been careful to keep their options open between renovating Ralph Wilson Stadium or building a new facility, and where any new stadium would be relocated. This study was considered background research conducted for New York State, one of the parties that would be involved in a publicly-funded stadium, but by no means are the Bills bound to the results of the study.
2. Focus on downtown stadium sites: The firm analyzed several sites in and around Buffalo and suggested that three downtown sites, as well as the Bills' existing plot in Orchard Park, would be the best locations for a new stadium. All three downtown sites are relatively close to the First Niagara Center, where the Pegula-owned Buffalo Sabres play. The cost of building a downtown stadium, which could be domed or open air depending on the site, would range from $700-$900 million, according to the study. The report estimated a renovation to Ralph Wilson Stadium, which underwent $130 million in renovations this past offseason, at $555 million.
3. No meetings scheduled: New York lieutenant governor Kathy Hochul, a member of the Bills' "new stadium working group," told WGRZ-TV that the committee has no meetings scheduled after briefly meeting last spring. There isn't a sense of urgency around the project because of two factors: (1) The Bills' current lease on Ralph Wilson Stadium has eight seasons remaining, and (2) The Bills' ownership situation has been settled, easing fears of relocation. At this point, the Bills are moving at their own pace on this project, so don't expect any further developments soon.
As he hops on a plane, Ryan can rest easier knowing that his Bills' coaching staff is nearly complete.
The team has yet to announce all of its hires and titles for next season, but few openings remain just a week after Ryan took the reins.
Here is an overview of each coaching spot:
Quick take: At this point, Roman won't be working with any of his former assistants from San Francisco. Instead, a group of Jets offensive coaches have migrated north with Ryan. How they mesh with Roman will be something to watch.
Quarterbacks: David Lee
Quick take: The Bills haven't announced Lee yet but he is expected to take the job with the Bills, according to multiple reports. He returns to Buffalo after serving as Bills' quarterbacks coach in 2012. Lee is known for bringing the "Wildcat" offense to the NFL, but his results with Geno Smith the past two seasons leave something to be desired.
Running backs: None
Quick take: Anthony Lynn, who served as Jets' running backs coach last season, will interview with the Cleveland Browns for their offensive coordinator vacancy. If he doesn't get the job, he could follow Ryan to Buffalo.
Wide receivers: Sanjay Lal
Quick take: Lal, a native of London believed to be the first NFL coach of Indian descent, served as Ryan's receivers coach the past three seasons. Like Lee, his results with the Jets' receivers (notably Stephen Hill, a 2012 second-round pick) don't exactly inspire confidence. However, Lal is known as a bright coach who will now have young talent (Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods) to coach up.
Tight ends: Tony Sparano, Jr.
Quick take: One of the youngest coaches on the Bills' new staff, Sparano now has his first position-coaching duties in the NFL. He spent the 2012 as an intern with the Jets and was promoted to a full-time offensive assistant this past season.
Offensive line: Aaron Kromer
Defensive coordinator: Dennis Thurman
Quick take: This will be Thurman's third season as an NFL coordinator after a long playing career. He'll work closely with Ryan in running the defense.
Defensive line: Karl Dunbar
Quick take: Dunbar follows Ryan from the Jets, where like the Bills, their defensive line was one of the strengths of the team. Dunbar takes over for Pepper Johnson, who lost out on the New York Giants' defensive coordinator vacancy this week. Where Johnson lands now is unclear.
Assistant defensive line: Jeff Weeks
Quick take: A long-time college coach, Weeks joined the Bills in 2009 and assisted their defensive staff in a variety of roles. He takes over for Jason Rebrovich, who the Buffalo News reported will have a role working with outside linebackers.
Linebackers: Bobby April III
Quick take: One of the younger coaches on the staff, April joined the Jets in 2013 and was promoted to full-time linebackers coach this past season.
Defensive backs: Tim McDonald
Quick take: The six-time Pro Bowl cornerback played for the St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals, as well as the San Francisco 49ers. He joined the Jets in 2013 after Thurman was promoted to defensive coordinator.
Defensive backs: Donnie Henderson
Quick take: The Bills are retaining Henderson, a long-time NFL assistant who has done well with the Bills' secondary the past two seasons. It's unclear how he and McDonald will split duties in the defensive backfield; one could focus on safeties while the other handles cornerbacks.
Special teams coordinator: Danny Crossman
Quick take: Crossman, a close friend of Doug Marrone, is one of the few holdovers from Marrone's staff. The Bills' special teams saw across-the-board improvement last season, so Crossman is deserving to stick.
Special teams assistant: Eric Smith
Quick take: The former Jets safety (2006-12) gets his first full-time coaching gig after serving as an intern for Ryan last season.
Lal, 45, spent the past three seasons with the New York Jets under current Bills coach Rex Ryan.
The London, England, native played for both UCLA and the University of Washington before a brief career in the NFL and NFL Europe.
The Bills' receivers were coached last season by Rob Moore, who previously coached at Syracuse.