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Loss Is A Good Thing
Time to look ahead to draft and free agency
by Joe Chenelly
November 18, 2003

Am I the only Bills fan content with the way things turned out against Houston on Sunday?

Let me give you a hint about why the loss was a good thing at this juncture. The following text is a very early preview to the Bills’ 2004 draft and free agent activity. The more the Bills lose, the better they will have it in the draft.

Sure, it may be a little early to speculate about such an unpredictable event, but hey, what do you want me to do? Write about the 237 different things that have to happen for our beloved Bills to make the playoffs? Too bad. That’s not what I’m doing and no more than 232 of those things could possibly fall into place. The other five are Buffalo wins.

Here is s brief run down of the current basement teams in each division. The Jets will beat Jacksonville, maybe Pittsburgh and hopefully the Bills. They’ll end up 5-11, and will have to wait for Buffalo to make their selection in New York City on April 24.

The Steelers aren’t anything to worry about. Every game they have left is winnable. They certainly won’t win them all, but they will do well enough to stay out of Buffalo’s way.

The Jaguars will likely win just one more and draft before the Bills. Jacksonville is a young, fairly balanced team. I like Steve Smith, but he is getting old. Expect them to go after a receiver early.

The bottom of the AFC West is bad. So, I’ll look at the Raiders and Chargers. Oakland could easily lose out the rest of the season too, so I think they’ll draft ahead of the Bills, but not by much. The Raiders have too many needs to safely predict what they’ll go after, but I have a hunch their love for speed will lead them first to a corner or maybe they’ll be more realistic and grab one of the big three o-lineman available in 2004.

San Diego gets to play the Bengals, Steelers, Lions and those washed up Raiders. With Doug Flutie at the helm, they’ll finish a good game or two better than the Bills. Thanks, Doug!

In the NFC, Washington is much like the Bills. They spent a lot in the offseason, started very strong and now have little to show for it. Their defense lugs the weight and the offense drops it. They still face New Orleans, the Giants and Chicago. Remember the loss to Houston because that will be the reason the Bills draft ahead of the Skins.

Detroit and Chicago both suck. I will be surprised if either teams wins again in 2003. Look for both to push the Bills back in the draft. All us Bills fans should root for these teams to win. Of course, that hasn’t done the Bills much good so far. Let’s all root for their opponents. Yeah, that should work. Detroit will be well served by a taking a running back first. Chicago, a city looking to draft a whole new team, is setting its priorities on filling the holes on its defensive front.

Atlanta is sure to win a couple more games as the seasons drags on. They’ll beat Houston, and that will put the Bills ahead of them in the draft.

I’m pretty sure Arizona won’t win again this year, no matter how hard we root for them to loose. They will draft number one or two overall. The Cardinals too have a long wish list. I see them taking a QB or o-lineman in the first round.

Do the math and that means I’m expecting the Bills to have the fifth or sixth pick in 2004. With that high of a selection, a franchise player of sorts should be waiting in the wings.

The best offensive tackle in the draft will be Robert Gallery of Iowa. If the 6’7”, 320-pound senior is still available when Paul Tagliabue puts the Bills are on the clock, expect Tom Donahoe to grab Gallery fast. On top of being huge, Gallery is hard working and very intelligent.

If Gallery isn’t available, there are two other primetime tackles out there. Shawn Andrews with Arkansas may be worthy. He can play well at tackle or guard. Too bad he is a right tackle. Nat Dorsey from Georgia Tech rounds out the premium 2004 offensive tackle crop. He is a 330-pound monster, and he can play either side.

Star wide receivers Roy Williams with Texas University and Reggie Williams with Washington University also are prime candidates to be wearing red, white and blue at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in April.

But…if I was betting, and I knew Buffalo was going after a passing target, I’d pick Kellen Winslow. Plus, the stud tight end from Miami could still be available if the Bills go out and win a couple more games or trade up a little. His father was a five-time all-pro tight end and now visits his plaque in the Hall of Fame. Although Mark Campbell seems to be sticking around for a little while, the junior, Winslow, would make a lot of sense. He is a great catching TE, but he can block too. He may be better than the Giant’s Jeremy Shockey––Winslow did break all of Shockey’s records at Miami.

Anyone else wondering who Ralph Wilson Jr. was talking about when he said he blames the offense’s pitiful performances on particular personnel (and not coaches)? My guess is Drew “Here take it” Bledsoe, Mark “Oops, was that my guy?” Campbell and Josh “I’m definitely not Andre” Reed. Campbell and Reed may need to tag along with Gregg Williams and Kevin Killdrive (oh, I mean Gilbride) to the local library to make some copies of their resumes. But I don’t think Drew will get the boot this year.

The best quarterback in the draft is Ben Roethlisberger of Miami (Ohio), but I think the Bills would rather take Peyton’s brother and Heisman hopeful Eli Manning out of Mississippi. The younger Manning probably won’t be left when the Bills pick and I doubt any other QB will go in the top-10, but both will probably have good NFL careers. Philip Rivers of North Carolina State is somewhat a possibility too. I’ll get to possible free agent QBs a little later in this column.

The all-important center is another position I think the Bills direly need to upgrade. The 300-pounder A.J. Ricker out of Missouri could get the call, but not until at least the second round. He is a smart guy who understands the trenches. This is a position Buffalo probably will have to look to free agency for.

I’d say the Bills better stay away from running back Steven Jackson of Oregon State, but I doubt he’ll still be around at the sixth slot. Thank goodness. Please, don’t take RB Kevin Jones of Virginia Tech either.

So let’s do some more adding, subtracting and speculating. Considering the needs of the teams picking before Buffalo, my realistic hopes are that the Bills are able to pick O-tackle Shawn Andrews, but I think they’ll actually get Kellen Winslow. Winslow will create lots of preseason excitement. His arrival might even sell some seats. With a whole lot of luck, he will turn Josh Reed into a threat and help Eric Moulds get the numbers needed to beat Andre Reed’s team records.

Okay, so the Bills get a nice big tackle or a sticky-handed end—who is going to stand behind that tackle and heave the rock? Drew? Probably. Why, you ask? The one big name signal caller possibly getting to hit the free agent market is Peyton Manning. No one expects the Colts to let him go. Even if he does get loose, he’ll demand money too big for Western New York. Other guys who might be available include Marc Bugler, Jesse Palmer, A.J. Feeley, Ty Detmer, Ray Lucas, Doug Johnson, Chris Redman, Shane Matthews, Doug Pederson, Jonathan Quinn, Damon Huard, Todd Bouman, Jason Garrett, Shaun King, and the great Rick Mirer. See why the Bills will keep Drew, for this year at least? There are several big name QBs who have contracts expiring at the end of 2004.

Center Gennaro DiNapoli may also be for sale this upcoming offseason. The Dallas Cowboy would be a fantastic pickup. He is very team oriented, and he can smash heads in from the center or guard position. DiNapoli (pronounced ju-NAIR-oh duh-NAP-oh-lee) is just what the Bills need to stabilize the o-line. Damien Woody is an excellent center who could leave the New England Patriots next year. Weighing more than 300 pounds, he is a big center and he knows how to use all of it. He too, would be a superb addition for the Bills.

DE Jevon Kearse, DT Warren Sapp, WR Terrell Owens and OT Orlando Pace will also be on the market. First off, I don’t think they’re team players. Additionally, they will cost more than the Bills can pay if they plan to address any other needs.

Here are a few more potential free agents who could at least get a look by Buffalo: DE Adalius Thomas, WR Dennis Northcutt, DE Bert Berry, DE Eric Hicks, OT John Tait, OT Todd Wade, TE Jim Kleinsasser, DT Cornelius Griffin, DT Dana Stubblefield, OG Adam Timmerman, DE Grant Wistrom, WR Tai Streets, WR Darrell Jackson, OT Walter Jones. Of course, several of these guys will be resigned or tagged as franchise players before the free agent season starts.

Current Bills who potentially will become free agents at season end: Antoine Winfield, Sammy Morris, Sam Gash, Keith McKenzie, Phillip Crosby, Marques Sullivan, and Ron Edwards. Winfield, who may go to his first Pro Bowl in February, will attract a lot of teams and should get a sizable raise. Resigning him will be a top priority. Morris and Gash must be kept if the Bills want to play the smash mouth football prevalent in the AFC now days. McKenzie has made it clear—he is gone. Crosby and Sullivan will probably stay because they are young and will be restricted. Ron Edwards, who is also enough to be automatically restricted, will stay and play for the league minimum after losing this season to injury.

One more thing on the draft, I mentioned A.J. Ricker earlier because I think the Bills have a decent shot at picking him in the third round. So who for the second round? How about the 2002 SEC Player of the year, pass rushing specialist, defensive end David Pollack of Georgia? He just might slip that low. If so, looks for him at The Ralph next year.

Even if the Bills have a dream offseason, much like this past one, it doesn’t mean they’ll disappoint us Bills fans any less. Oh well, I guess it fun to watch though.

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