So much for the 2015 Buffalo Bills. It’s over. This zany season can't be put out of its misery soon enough.
On Monday, coach Rex Ryan tried his best to explain away the problems and maintain hope for the future. But there was no pep in his step up to the lectern. No bold proclamations, no promises, no calling out any players or coaches.
And, really, his fan base cares more about next season than two meaningless regular-season games at this point. So let’s look ahead to another off-season of potential seismic changes at One Bills Drive. The front office might be shaken up. A "football czar" may be the owners' answer.
Whoever is in charge will be making decisions on several Bills free agents and potential cap casualties.
LT Cordy Glenn: He has not been Orlando Pace on the edge. Glenn endured his ugliest play of the year in Buffalo’s 35-25 loss to the Washington Redskins Sunday. On third and 3 — the Bills trailing 35-17 with 5:31 to go — Glenn tried to cut block Preston Smith with abysmal results, simply falling down face first as Smith looped around the corner to drill Tyrod Taylor for a sack. Overall? Glenn has been worthy of a long-term commitment. He’s strong enough to anchor down against top pass rushers, yet nimble enough to move in the run game. Along with guard Richie Incognito, he opened up a four lane-highway of a hole for Mike Gillislee on the back’s 60-yard touchdown run. If the Bills want, they could simply use the franchise tag on Glenn, too. Either way, it's extremely difficult to find reliable offensive tackles today.
LG Richie Incognito: The Bills played Russian Roulette repeatedly last off-season — no risk seemingly bigger than this one. A player once banished by the NFL, the face of a “bullying” scandal didn’t know if a team would ever sign him again as he trained at EXOS in Arizona through the 2014 season. The Bills gambled and Incognito rewarded them. This unpredictable offense has been at its bruising best when Incognito is pulling out in front of LeSean McCoy. So in crunching the numbers, Buffalo must make another calculated decision: How many years does the 32-year-old with 116 career games have left in his prime? He has arguably never played better and gives this offense an assertive, intimidating identity it has sorely lacked seasons past. Incognito has also stated he loves it in Western New York, sounding like a player who wants to stick with the team that took a chance on him.
ILB Nigel Bradham: Through the months of hype that preceded this season, maybe no player on defense sounded more eager to play in Ryan’s scheme than Bradham. The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder was sold as a blitzing, roaming force in the 3-4 bound to change games. And yet, Bradham has totaled one sack, three pass break-ups and no forced fumbles. This is a player worth re-signing. Just take a look at the linebacker play in the three games Bradham has missed with a high ankle sprain. Since the injury, the Bills have been blistered by Philadelphia tight end Zach Ertz (five catches, 98 yards) and Washington's Jordan Reed (seven catches, 84 yards, two touchdowns) with offenses releasing receivers into the flats in numbing succession. Bradham hasn’t put up great numbers in a contract year but could shine in a more liberating, free role. This defense as a whole was forced to do far too much over-thinking this season.
DT Kyle Williams: He’s not a free agent, but the beloved veteran could be released — Williams is set to earn $7 million next season. Before going on injured reserve with a knee injury, he made it clear he still wants to play. The Bills have missed his presence in the locker room, too. A trusted voice of reason would've absolutely helped this past month. But Williams will also be 33 years old in June and this is an organization that’s been eliminating remnants of the past whenever possible. It’d be no surprise if Williams was let go, even if he does have game left in him. Also, the player who replaced Williams, Corbin Bryant, will be a restricted free agent. He's smart and play various techniques but has no sacks in 14 games. Who knows? There's a chance the Bills roll with four or five new players on their front seven.
DE Mario Williams: The one with the $19.9 salary cap number in 2016 sounded good as gone on Sunday. Williams criticized Ryan’s scheme again — this time livid over the Bills always substituting in different personnel play to play — and when asked if he’d take a pay cut to stay, Williams said “If this is the turnout of our defense, how does that even sound right?” He insists he’s open to change, but that this change has not led to results. Maybe part of the problem is the fit but the tape doesn’t lie either. Williams still gets one-on-one opportunities — he just isn’t winning them. And how any end in any scheme has only 17 tackles in 13 games is baffling.
WR Chris Hogan: The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder has proven he’s a legitimate NFL receiver, but his production has dropped off the last month. Over this crucial 1-3 stretch, Hogan has only seven receptions for 79 yards. It’s not a matter of separation — Hogan gets behind defenses. Working from the right slot Sunday, Hogan burnt three defenders on a vertical route deep middle but then dropped a potential 55-yard reception. On another third and 6, Hogan alligator-armed (and dropped) a slant pass. Granted the quarterback is still developing himself — life hasn’t been easy for the Bills’ receivers — but the team might be in the market for a new complement to Sammy Watkins. Hogan will be a free agent and Robert Woods will have one more year on his rookie year.
S Bacarri Rambo: He has a nose for the ball, no doubt about it. Rambo was the hero in Rex's fist-pumping, expletive-shouting return to New Jersey — his three turnovers changed the game. And right here is a throwback to the 1970’s, always seeking the crushing hit. Rambo’s favorite hit? One in which he was concussed and knocked out in college. But in coverage, he still gets lost at times. On DeSean Jackson’s 77-yard touchdown, Rambo was late arriving, paused for some reason, and Jackson raced upfield. Rambo probably exceeded expectations. This was a player abandoned after only one year by the team that drafted him, Washington. But the Bills’ safety play has suffered without Aaron Williams, whose own career is in jeopardy.
Ryan hinted that the Bills would be auditioning some new faces these final two games. Good thinking. The Bills should be shifting to 2016 mode to some extent.
It's just a song most fans are tired of hearing.