Most of the desirable fruit has been plucked from the NFL's free agent tree and so far the Bills have been able to make just a marginal improvement on the team that finished 6-10 last season.
Only defensive tackle Larry Triplett and blocking tight end Robert Royal would be among anyone's top 50 free agents with the big disappointment being the bidding-war loss of defensive tackle Ryan Pickett to Green Bay.
If Pickett had found the Bills more to his liking than the Packers, it would have gone far in repairing the gaping hole in the middle of their defensive line when confronted by an opponent with a strong running attack. Making Pickett the partner of Triplett would also have allowed Buffalo to use the eighth selection in the draft to strengthen another weakness, safety, by presenting a possible chance to pick Michael Huff, the Texas star.
Now it seems vital that the Bills draft a monster in the middle, namely Oregon defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, in order to keep blockers off undersized middle linebacker London Fletcher and surgically repaired Takeo Spikes. It's been years since the Bills have been in position to acquire a defender of Ngata's size and ability. In fact the only super-big man who came to the team during Tom Donahoe's reign as general manager was Mike Williams, now an unhappy memory.
The thorniest problems on offense have not been confronted so far. Those are to acquire an upgrade on the line to allow the quarterback, whether it be a developing J.P. Losman or journeyman Kelly Holcomb, to receive the time and protection to run a productive passing game as well as to control the line of scrimmage well enough to make Willis McGahee a weekly weapon.
If they are successful in signing Reggie Wells away from Arizona, that should solve the left guard problem. No one in the re-assembled offensive line would be mistaken for Kent Hull, Will Wolford, Jim Ritcher or John Fina, but neither this year's free-agent market nor the draft offered the answers to all of the Bills' problems.
The idea of moving Jason Peters to left tackle would be a major risk. Peters came here as a free agent college tight end, successfully made the switch to right tackle and now deserves to settle rather than be pushed into another position switch that might mess up his head.
Buffalo still has a chance to put a difference-maker in its offensive lineup. His name is Eric Moulds.
The Bills' failure to sign a big-ticket free agent could turn out to be a mixed blessing if they keep their wits about them. They now have the money to pay the $7.1 million to Moulds to keep him a Bill.
Consider where this team now stands. New England and now Miami are firmly above them. The only player the Bills have who consistently moves the chains is Moulds. Without him they line up with two speed receivers, Lee Evans and young Roscoe Parrish, plus Sam Aiken, who has distinguished himself as a special teams player but not as a receiver. Andre' Davis was signed but he is not much better than a fourth receiver.
Add to that the unhappy prospect that just about all the top draft prospects are in the smurf category. There is no free agent left who compares to Moulds, even at age 33.
The Bills' financial strategists feel strongly about not paying Moulds that big bonus, but how strongly would they feel if the Bills slipped from a 6-10 team to 5-11, or 4-12? It might be a good idea for them to weigh a $7 million bonus against a sure slippage in their season-ticket base.
Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.1