AFC East: Buffalo Bills

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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
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.

"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."

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."
Rex Ryan will take the podium at the NFL combine Wednesday, but when he takes the field as Buffalo Bills coach this fall, he'll have an army of coaches behind him.

According to data compiled by ESPN Green Bay Packers reporter Rob Demovsky, the Bills have the NFL's second-largest coaching staff, with 24 assistant coaches.

It's not unlike Ryan's tenure with the New York Jets, when he also had some of the NFL's largest staffs.

Why are Ryan's staffs so large? He tends to add extra young coaches for certain position groups. For example, his Bills staff this season will have three special-teams coaches -- coordinator Danny Crossman, assistant Eric Smith and quality control coach Michael Hamlin. Most NFL special-teams staffs are limited to a coordinator and, in some cases, one assistant.

Ryan also held over five members of Doug Marrone's coaching staff and kept in place his entire strength-and-conditioning staff.

Here is a look at Ryan's staff with the Bills:

Offensive coordinator: Greg Roman
Senior offensive assistant: Chris Palmer
Quarterbacks: David Lee
Assistant head coach/running backs: Anthony Lynn
Wide receivers: Sanjay Lal
Tight ends: Tony Sparano Jr.
Offensive line: Aaron Kromer
Offensive quality control: Jason Vrable
Offensive quality control: Kurt Anderson

Defensive coordinator: Dennis Thurman
Defensive line: Karl Dunbar
Assistant defensive line: Jeff Weeks
Assistant defensive line: Jason Rebrovich
Linebackers: Bobby April III
Defensive backs: Tim McDonald
Defensive backs: Donnie Henderson
Defensive assistant: D'Anton Lynn

Special teams coordinator: Danny Crossman
Special teams assistant: Eric Smith
Special teams quality control: Michael Hamlin

Head strength and conditioning: Eric Ciano
Assistant strength and conditioning: Hal Luther
Strength and conditioning assistant: Dan Liburd
Strength and conditioning assistant: Jason Oszvart
The Buffalo Bills continued to tweak their roster Tuesday, releasing linebacker Keith Rivers.

It's a move that doesn't come as much of a surprise, as Rivers barely saw the field in the second half of last season and wasn't expected to have a role at linebacker next season.

The transaction, however, is a chance to circle back on how the Bills plan to stock their defense under Rex Ryan's scheme next season. The best indicators are how Ryan used his personnel with the New York Jets last season and how his protege, Mike Pettine, used players when he implemented Ryan's scheme with the Bills in 2013.

Fitting the puzzle pieces into place isn't an exact science, as some players are capable of playing more than one role. There is also the issue of base versus sub defense. What follows is how Ryan figures to align his base defense, but his sub defense is becoming equally important, as teams are using it for 50 percent or more of their snaps in today's NFL.

Given that disclaimer, here is a look at how the Bills figure to construct their defense for next season:

"Mike" and "Will" linebackers
  • 2013 Bills: Kiko Alonso and Arthur Moats/Nigel Bradham
  • 2014 Jets: David Harris and Demario Davis
  • 2015 Bills candidates: Alonso, Bradham, Preston Brown and possibly Brandon Spikes (if re-signed). If retained, Rivers would have been part of this group.
  • Responsibilities: Varied, but usually aligned 4-6 yards off the line of scrimmage. Duties include taking on offensive guards in running game, protecting middle of the field in zone coverage and occasionally blitzing.
"Sam" linebacker
  • 2013 Bills: Manny Lawson
  • 2014 Jets: Calvin Pace
  • 2015 Bills candidates: Lawson, possibly Jerry Hughes (if re-signed) or other free agent/draft pick
  • Responsibilities: Typically aligned as a stand-up linebacker, on or near the line of scrimmage and sometimes over the tight end. Responsibilities include jamming tight ends and slot receivers, containing outside runs, dropping into short zone coverages and pass rushing.
Defensive end/rush end
  • 2013 Bills: Mario Williams
  • 2014 Jets: Quinton Coples
  • 2015 Bills candidates: Williams
  • Responsibilities: Most often aligned in a three-point stance as a defensive end. Responsibilities usually are limited to pass rushing and containing outside runs but can also stand up and drop into coverage on some zone-blitz-style schemes.
Defensive linemen
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown is visiting with the Buffalo Bills and the two sides are attempting to work out a deal Monday, sources told ESPN.

If McCown can't reach a deal with the Bills, he is expected to visit other teams in the next few days, a source said.

McCown, 35, was released by the Buccaneers last week. He started 11 games last season, completing 56.3 percent of his passes for 11 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a 70.5 quarterback rating.

The Bills are in need of help at quarterback this offseason. With Kyle Orton retiring, only EJ Manuel and Jeff Tuel remain on the Bills' roster at quarterback.

McCown has been with eight teams since entering the NFL in 2002 as a third-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals. His best season came in 2013, when he started five games for the Chicago Bears in place of Jay Cutler, posting 13 touchdowns, one interception and a 109.0 quarterback rating.
The Buffalo Bills' decision to sign controversial guard Richie Incognito last weekend was met with criticism from anti-bullying advocates in Buffalo.

Complicating matters was new coach Rex Ryan's choice of words at his introductory news conference last month, when he stated he wanted to "build a bully" with the Bills.

Ryan addressed the subject in a scheduled appearance Thursday on WGR 550.

"I'm anti-bully," Ryan said. "I'm about the biggest anti-bully guy there is, especially in the locker room and in the community. When I mentioned building a bully, it's funny, because [of] the old [Philadelphia] Flyers, the Broad Street Bullies.

"We want to have a mean, physical football team on the field, but we want to be gentlemen off it. And I believe Richie will be that."

Incognito met with Ryan, general manager Doug Whaley and owners Terry and Kim Pegula before signing with the Bills. Terry Pegula released a statement Monday saying he felt convinced Incognito had moved on from a troubled tenure in Miami that ended in an eight-game suspension in 2013, and Ryan echoed those thoughts Thursday.

"Needless to say, we feel very good about him moving forward," Ryan said. "He does, too. He recognizes that he's made mistakes, obviously, in the past. But he wants to prove now, that he's not that person anymore. I feel great about it.

"One thing you can't take away from him is, the guy is an outstanding football player. There's no question about it. The guy was a Pro Bowl guard, then he had this happen. I'm not making an excuse for him, but the fact that he's an outstanding player, that's what really interested me.

"Now let's see the other thing, because quite honestly, if he's not going to be a changed person, we wouldn't have him on this team."

Ryan later expounded on his approach to Incognito.

"I never went in thinking I could change anybody, the young man has to change himself," Ryan said. "I also recognize this: There's not one perfect person in that locker room. As good a people are there in that locker room or anyplace else in society, nobody's perfect. And Richie won't be perfect when he's here.

"But I believe the bullying is a thing of the past, I don't think there's any doubt about that. I think he's learned. Again the proof will be in the pudding, and I recognize people will judge him for what's happened in the past and not give him a second chance, I understand that. But the majority of people in our community I think are going to be like, 'Let's take a wait-and-see approach,' and I think that's what Richie wants."
The Buffalo Bills have from Feb. 16 until March 2 to assign the franchise tag to one of their impending free agents, with defensive end Jerry Hughes in the best position to receive the tag.

Tagging Hughes would mean a guaranteed one-year contract worth roughly $15 million. Hughes told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday that he would have a mixed reaction if hit by the tag in the upcoming weeks.

"I wouldn't necessarily be disappointed, because I know I do want [long-term security] but the pay increase is also a huge, added bonus," he said. "It's kind of a mixed emotions between both, but you can never go wrong with the [franchise tag]."

The NFL's three-day free-agent negotiation period begins March 7, with players able to sign as soon as 4 p.m. March 10. This is the first time in Hughes' career that he has an opportunity to hit the open market, but he said Wednesday that his first choice would be returning to the Bills.

"Absolutely, just because they gave me the opportunity to play," he said. "Also, that's just where everyone is at. That's where all the guys are at that I've built that relationship with over the past two years.

"I definitely wouldn't be upset or anything like that if I do get the opportunity to come back to Buffalo."
This is Rex Ryan's world, Buffalo. We're just living in it.

The Buffalo Bills' new head coach -- whose personality has already been welcomed with open arms by the city -- has a tattoo of his wife, Michelle, on his right arm.

Until last week, that tattoo featured her in a Jets jersey. After a trip to a tattoo parlor in Arizona, the ink has been tinged Bills blue.

"I mean, you’ve got to turn the page," Ryan told The Wall Street Journal.

The tattoo originally featured a No. 6 jersey for Mark Sanchez, but Ryan covered over that number in 2013.