Sometimes, the best deal is the one you never make. The maxim rang true last week when Paul Posluszny signed a six-year, $45 million free-agent contract with the Jaguars.
General Manager Buddy Nix says he has moved on. I can't blame him. Jacksonville badly overpaid for Posluszny, an average linebacker on his best day. My fondest memory of Poz is him standing at his locker, battered and bruised, after making a lot of tackles and a big interception in a win at the Jets in '09. The Bills gave up 318 yards rushing that day.
The Bills quickly filled the hole at inside linebacker, signing Nick Barnett for three years, $12 million. It was a solid move by Nix. Barnett is 30. He's coming off a wrist injury that sidelined him for all but four weeks last season. But if Barnett is healthy, it's an upgrade at the position -- and at $33 million less than the ransom the Jags gave Poz.
Barnett is a versatile, three-down player who is good at dropping into pass coverage. There he's a vast improvement over Poz, who couldn't cover a crockpot.
At the least, the Barnett move saves money, always a factor at One Bills Drive. The Bills have made some useful tweaks to the roster, signing Brad Smith and Tyler Thigpen, re-signing Drayton Florence. But let's not pretend they've become big spenders.
There's a new collective bargaining agreement, but that doesn't mean Ralph Wilson is ready to throw around piles of money. For one thing, the Bills aren't obligated to spend a set amount on salaries this season. There is no salary floor for individual teams in the first two years of the new agreement.
Under the new CBA, total league salaries must be 99 percent of the cap, which is expected to be $120 million a team. The free spenders (Philadelphia, the Jets, et al.) will get the league to that figure by spending well over the cap and pushing costs into the future.
Individual teams will be required to spend 89 percent of the cap in actual dollars -- starting in 2013. That's the basic "cash to the cap" philosophy the Bills have been using for the last four years.
The Bills don't spread out signing bonuses over the length of the contract on their own books. They count the entire bonus in the year it was paid out. Yet they've been at least $10 million under the salary cap the last three years (there was no cap last season; they were $11 million under the '09 cap).
Confused? I'll simplify: The Bills are still embarrassingly cheap. Wilson believes he's at a competitive disadvantage. They're not going to make major moves to improve the roster in the short term. If they were serious, they would address the fragile situation at offensive tackle.
They pursued Atlanta's right tackle, Tyson Clabo. But Clabo signed a five-year, $25 million deal to stay with the Falcons. Yes, that's the same money the Bills gave Langston Walker in 2007.
Maybe Nix felt Clabo wasn't worth more than $5 million a year. His team is perilously thin at tackle. Demetrius Bell is unproven at left tackle. Erik Pears is the nominal starter on the right side. After that, it's Mansfield Wrotto or Cordaro Howard. Ed Wang, anyone?
The Bills made strides offensively last year. Management owes it to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the rest of the skill guys, to put a competent offensive line in front of them. Don't leave the unit scandalously thin, as you did the linebacking corps the last two seasons.
There are capable tackles on the market. Flozell Adams is 36, but he was good enough to start 16 games for the Steelers last year. Ryan Harris, who started 10 games for the Broncos, is out there.
Nix has made it clear that he's building through the draft. That's fine. A few years from now, he might have a real contender. But if you think the Bills are fully committed to winning right now, you're kidding yourselves.