After the Seattle Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII, all 32 teams officially entered the offseason and started plotting how they could position themselves for a shot at Super Bowl XLIX. Shutdown Corner will look at the offseason blueprint for each of the 32 NFL teams, presenting one team a day (using the 2014 draft order, starting with the Houston Texans and finishing with the Seahawks), leading you right up to the start of free agency on March 11.
2013 record: 6-10
Projected current salary-cap space (according to Spotrac): $18.7 million
Draft situation: Have ninth overall pick, own all of their original picks
Revisiting 2013: It was a bit of a strange season, and yet the Bills actually were in decent shape early on, sitting at 2-2 after respectable wins over the Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens and close losses to the New England Patriots and New York Jets. But the wheels fell off when first-round quarterback EJ Manuel bounced in and out of the lineup (and clearly looked rusty after missing portions of the offseason), and then pinging between Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel in his absence. The defense finished as a top-10 unit, turning in some strong efforts along the way, but there were a few late collapses — such as a three-TD loss in Week 14 to the Buccaneers — that contained the optimism in Doug Marrone's first season.
Reasons for optimism: This could be a top-five defense (really) if they can upgrade the secondary and add just a little more depth across the board. New coordinator Jim Schwartz's scheme will be a little different from that of Mike Pettine, who left after a year to take the Cleveland Browns' head coaching job, but it won't be a massive switch. This front seven could be special. If Manuel can make a big jump in Year 2 with a full offseason of work and the Bills can add a few more playmakers and blockers, the offense won't be a liability anymore.
Glaring hole to fill: The good news is that there is no massive single hole to fix, but there are a few positions that must improve. Right tackle was a problem last season, and Pears is not the answer; you can expect the team to seek an immediate upgrade over him. Tight end is a spot that is underwhelming, and the Bills could find a new starter if Chandler doesn't return at a reasonable cost. With Byrd possibly on the way out, and depth a bit of a question, safety could need a little bolstering.
Toughest decision: Do the Bills need to provide Manuel with some competition? He turned in a mixed bag in his rookie season, highlighted by gutsy efforts early against the Patriots and Panthers but then undercut by some real clunkers against the Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers and Bucs. Kolb is almost certainly gone, and the idea of having only Lewis and Tuel in tow doesn't sound appealing, so the Bills must kick around the idea of bringing in a veteran to push Manuel. There are no great shakes in free agency, really, except for Mike Vick and Matt Cassel, but there are a number of potential salary-cap cuts who could work — among them, Matt Schaub, Jason Campbell, Mark Sanchez, Brandon Weeden, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Orton and others. If Manuel isn't tough enough to handle the competition, then he was a mistake pick a year ago.
Best-case offseason scenario: The Bills can let Byrd walk in free agency and save the cap space to fill a number of needs of lower and medium urgency, and they probably can take the best player available with the No. 9 overall pick — someone talented should be there for them. The offense needs another playmaker — a big receiver or tight end would be ideal — to pair with C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and Johnson, if he's still on the team. Manuel must make strides from now until training camp, but pressing him a little with some competition is a smart idea.
Previous Blueprints: 32. Houston Texans; 31. Washington Redskins; 30. Jacksonville Jaguars; 29. Cleveland Browns; 28. Oakland Raiders; 27. Atlanta Falcons; 26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers; 25. Minnesota Vikings
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