‘Shutdown Corner’ offseason TPS report: Buffalo Bills

Brian McIntyre
Shutdown Corner

Over the next few weeks, "Shutdown Corner" will pay homage to "Office Space" (TPS reports) as we take a quick look back at each team's 2012 season and a look at what lies ahead for the 2013 offseason. We begin our tour in the AFC East and the Buffalo Bills.

2012 record: 6-10

What went wrong in 2012: Despite losing eight of their last nine games in 2011, the Buffalo Bills did enough last offseason – scrapped the 3-4 defense, landed big-money free agent Mario Williams, retained wide receiver Stevie Johnson, etc.. – to be considered by many as a possible playoff contender in 2012. At one point, the Bills were 3-3 and tied for first place in the AFC East, but the wheels would come off the bus.

Running back C.J. Spiller, who ran for 292 yards and three touchdowns in the first two weeks before injuring his shoulder in Week 3. Though Spiller would not miss a game, his playing-time and role in the offense sharply decreased for two months in the middle of the season. At one point during the season, Spiller lamented his lack of carries and Stevie Johnson questioned Chan Gailey's play calling, suggesting that quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick should have more freedom to get the Bills out of bad plays. As for Fitzpatrick, the former Harvard star had a third consecutive 3,000-yard/20-touchdown season, but was intercepted six times, lost a career-high six fumbles and does not appear to be the long-term quarterback solution that Buddy Nix previously thought.

The Bills defense was once again helpless against the run, regressing from a 28th-place ranking in 2011 to finish 31st in 2012, allowing an alarming 145.8 yards per game on the ground. Buffalo's pass defense improved slightly, but for the second time in three seasons, the Bills were one of worst third-down defenses in the league. In 2012, the Bills spent $33 million in cash on Williams and defensive end Mark Anderson to improve a pass rush that got to opposing quarterback 29 times in 2011. The Bills finished with 36 sacks, most of them by Williams, who had a team-high 10.5. Anderson had just one sack as a knee injury limited him to 244 snaps over five games.

What went right in 2012: The emergence of Spiller has to be the bright spot in what was another dismal season for the Bills. Spiller, a 2010 first-round pick out of Clemson, had just 181 carries for 844 yards and four touchdowns his first seasons in the league before carrying the ball 207 times for 1,244 yards and six touchdowns in 2012. Spiller was sixth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage and advanced metrics were high on him, too. Football Outsiders had Spiller ranked third in DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) and first in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) last season. Imagine what he'll do in an offense that uses him in more than 56.28 percent of the offensive snaps. On a related note, another bright spot for the Bills was an offensive line that ranked eighth in Football Outsiders' "Adjusted Line Yards" and 10th in "Adjusted Sack Rate" despite a lack of continuity. Guard Andy Levitre, an unestricted free agent this offseason, didn't miss a snap, but center Eric Wood was the only other offensive lineman to play in over 80 percent of the Bills' snaps last season.

While the defense clearly needs work, safety Jairus Byrd (five interceptions, four forced fumbles) and 2012 first-round cornerback Stephon Gilmore are building blocks in the secondary and Marcell Dareus emerged as another solid pass-rushing presence alongside Kyle Williams in the interior of the Bills' defensive line. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin, a 2008 first-round pick, earned All-Pro honors, but as a punt returner who averaged 18.7 yards per return, scoring two touchdowns and tying for the league lead with seven returns of over 20 yards.

Coaching/front office changes: The Bills went 16-32 in three seasons under Gailey, resulting in his dismissal after the regular season. To replace Gailey, the Bills went the college route, hiring Doug Marrone away from Syracuse University. The Bills have not made the postseason since 1999 and Marrone will be the fifth full-time head coach the team has had since firing Wade Phillips after the 2000 season. Marrone replaced offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins with Nathaniel Hackett, who worked for the Bills as a quality control coach in 2008-09 before handling offensive coordinator duties under Marrone at Syracuse. Former New York Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine replaces Dave Wannstedt as defensive coordinator while Danny Crossman takes over for Bruce DeHaven as special teams coordinator.

In the front office, CEO Russ Brandon now has full authority over the entire organization, though Buddy Nix remains in charge of the football operation, but a succession plan is in place and assistant GM Doug Whaley will eventually take over the reins.

Estimated 2013 cap space: $15.46 million

Possible cap casualties: Considering the changes going on with the coaching staff and front office, Fitzpatrick could be on his way out this offseason. Fitzpatrick has five seasons remaining on a $62.2 million extension he signed on Oct. 29, 2011 and is scheduled to earn $7.45 million in 2013, making him the team's second-highest paid player behind Williams ($15 million). Fitzpatrick has a $3 million roster bonus due on the third day of the league year (March 14) that is guaranteed for injury only, so if they're going to make a move at quarterback, it will surely come before that date. The Bills have plenty of cap room, but may want to free up the $7.45 million in cash Fitzpatrick is scheduled to take up in this year's budget. Releasing Fitzpatrick would clear only $450,000 in cap space in 2013, though the team could place a "post-June 1" designation on the transaction and split the remaining signing and option bonus proration between the 2013 ($3 million) and 2014 ($7 million) seasons.

Defensive end Chris Kelsay dressed for over half the Bills' games last season, but played just 26.56 percent of the snaps before he was placed on injured reserve after tearing a ligament in his neck. Kelsay turns 33 in October, is due $4.575 million in 2013 and releasing him would clear $5.175 million on the Bills' salary cap. Veteran cornerback Terrence McGee could also be on his way out after suffering through another injury-plagued season. McGee took a pay cut last February to remain with the Bills and is scheduled to earn $2.35 million in 2013, including a $250,000 roster bonus due on March 18. McGee's release would save $2.35 million in cap space.

Unrestricted free agents

Jairus Byrd, S
Tashard Choice, RB
Tarvaris Jackson, QB
Spencer Johnson, DT
Andrew Levitre, G
Ruvell Martin, WR
Corey McIntyre, FB
Leodis McKelvin, CB/RS
Shawne Merriman, DE
Kyle Moore, DE
Kirk Morrison, LB
Chad Rinehart, G
Bryan Scott, LB
Tyler Thigpen, QB

Restricted free agents:

Colin Brown, C/G
Donald Jones, WR
David Nelson, WR

RFA tender amounts in 2013 are:

• $1.323 million for right of first refusal and/or original draft round compensation
• $2.023 for right of first refusal and second round draft selection
• $2.879 for right of first refusal and first round draft selection

Franchise Tag candidates: Re-signing Byrd should be the top priority of the Bills' front office this offseason. The 2009 second-round pick out of Oregon has started 57 of his 62 games in the NFL (including 41 straight starts), tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions as a rookie and has 308 tackles, two sacks and 18 interceptions over his four-year career. Byrd has been selected for two Pro Bowls (2009, 2012) and was named second-team All-Pro, giving him a resume that may prompt agent Eugene Parker to try and top the $8 million per season contracts that Eric Weddle and Michael Huff received in recent offseasons.

Based on a projected league-wide cap number of $121 million, the estimated value of the franchise tag for a safety is $6.483 million for 2013.

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