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End of an Era in Buffalo
Shocking Moves Will Be Good In The Long Run.
by Steve Saslow
Feb. 13, 2000

This website said all last off season that this off season was going to be very tough on the Bills. We knew they had 10 very important unrestricted free agents and a tight cap situation. We didn't know that things would be this tough, who could have known? Not only does it look like the Bills are going to lose most of those free agents but they also had to part with all of the "Big Three". They almost had to let Ted Washington go to just get under the cap. While all this news is sad and shocking it should be good in the long run for the Bills.

How bad will the loss of the remaining three members of the Bills first Super Bowl hurt the team on the field? Andre Reed was no longer part of the offense and was definitely going to be cut, no surprise there. Thurman Thomas was expected back and he will be missed for sentimental reasons. The cold hard facts in today's NFL though, is they couldn't afford to bring him back for those reasons. He wasn't even given a new offer by the team and the fact is they won 11 games last year with him missing most of the season. The most shocking move was the cutting of Bruce Smith. He still has a lot of football left in him but his fate was sealed when he refused a more than $2 Million pay cut. Turns out for financial reasons he made the right decision based on the contract he signed with Washington. For sentimental reasons he would have liked to come back and if the Bills brought Thomas back he probably would've taken the pay cut and returned.

If we take emotion out of it the only move made that will hurt the team on the field is the loss of Smith. What will hurt more is that most of the other free agents won't be able to be retained. The Bills obviously aren't that high on Ruben Brown or they would have found a way to clear enough cap room to put the franchise tag on him. They feel he made too many mistakes. Thomas Smith won't be back as he signed a five year deal with Chicago. The Bills loved his coverage ability but have his replacement, who happens to be a ballhawk, in Antoine Winfield. Fortunately, Jay Riemersma was able to return, the only reason that was able to happen is tight ends receive less money than offensive linemen or defensive backs.

So what happened? The Bills are paying for past mistakes of giving veteran players sentimental deals that back loaded contracts and it has caught up with them like it has with the other teams of the 90's, San Francisco, Dallas, and Kansas City. The Bills are trying to stop the bleeding cold. Instead of dying a slow death they are biting the bullet this off season to put them in better shape for the future. They have a lot of good young talented players here. If they don't get the salary cap under control they will lose young developing stars, that would be much worse on the field than losing aging warriors.

Since they cut the Big three before June 1st they take the whole cap hit this season, which means they should be in better cap shape next year. Another good factor for next off season is that there aren't is many free agents as there is this year. The biggest free agent next year is Eric Moulds. They now should have the cap flexibility to slap the franchise tag on him if they have to. The best scenario would be to lock him up to a long term cap friendly deal now but either way they should be able to guarantee his stay in Buffalo by getting their house in order now. Marcellus Wiley is another young star that becomes a free agent next year and look for the Bills to lock him up long term to.

The Bills have learned from their mistakes of the past. They won't give the next group of aging stars (Henry Jones, Phil Hansen, John Fina, etc.) sentimental, back loaded deals that will hurt them with the cap. With the moves from Black Thursday they will be able to give long term cap healthy deals to young developing starts (Moulds, Wiley, Sam Cowart, Robert Hicks, etc.) to make sure this team stays a contender in this decade like they did in the last decade. If it means the team is slightly worse for one season to ensure that goal, then we will all just have bite the bullet along with Bills management.

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