This is the ninth in a 10-part series previewing some of the biggest questions the Buffalo Bills will have to answer when training camp begins Thursday at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford.
Like it or not, the Buffalo Bills and Marcell Dareus are stuck with each other.
That might sound like an odd way of describing the relationship between an NFL team and a 27-year-old two-time Pro Bowler, but it indicates how much grief Dareus has put the organization through in recent years. Multiple suspensions for marijuana usage, an embarrassing street racing incident and questionable workout habits have marred Dareus' tenure in Buffalo.
On their own, those things would be bad enough. Those transgressions are made much, much worse, though, by Dareus' monster contract.
Since signing a six-year contract extension shortly before the start of the 2015 season – one that carries a maximum value of nearly $100 million – Dareus has given the Bills just 5.5 sacks while missing five games because of suspension and another four because of injuries.
"Hopefully the new regime, the new culture, the new way of doing things -- what you'd like to see is for Marcell to jump on board," General Manager Brandon Beane said. "And not only do it himself, but he's been in the league long enough, you'd like to see him grabbing some others. First of all, before you can lead, you have to do it yourself. I'm not just talking about Marcell. That's anybody."
Thus, the Marcell Dareus Retribution Tour was in full swing this offseason. He visited Haiti on a humanitarian trip and threw out the first pitch at a Buffalo Bisons game, after which he made a donation to the team's charitable foundation. Late last year, he sponsored a Christmas party for 150 families at a local YMCA. Those efforts to give back should be commended.
Of course, Dareus will be judged first and foremost by the Bills' new front office on what he does on the field. His contract basically guarantees he'll be with the team for at least the next two seasons.
"He's gonna be given every opportunity," Beane said. "He is very talented. Where he was drafted, where he was paid, he's a talented guy, and he's shown what he can do. Obviously it's up to us to try to get that out of him, find out what makes him tick. We got to communicate with him to help put him in the best situation. It's a two-way street. Some of it is on us, some of it is on him. I'm looking forward to continuing to get to know him. I've been running a hundred miles an hour. I can't say I know him well. But as a player, he's so talented. You want to see him be the leader of that D-line and defense, at some point."
The Bills hired defensive line coach Mike Waufle this offseason in an effort to transform Dareus into just that. A former Marine, Waufle guided the Los Angeles Rams' defensive line in recent years, helping defensive tackle Aaron Donald become one of the best players in the NFL. Waufle's style, made famous on HBO's "Hard Knocks," is best described as no nonsense. He's not afraid of getting into the face of players, even one as big as the 6-foot-3, 331-pound Dareus.
"Dealing with an ex-Marine, he don't play no games, he ain't cutting no corners with us," Dareus said last month. "But it’s well-deserved; we need it. We're trying to be the best we can possibly be and he’s a hell of a coach and we're excited to have him."
Dareus was hesitant in the spring to make too many predictions about how the Bills' new defensive scheme will fit him, cautioning that practicing without pads means to do so would be premature. But it's not a stretch to suggest that moving back to a base 4-3 scheme should benefit not just Dareus, but the entire defensive line.
"Once we start making some noise out there, that’s when we we'll start figuring out what we're doing," he said.
That noise will start Thursday when the Bills hold their first practice at St. John Fisher College. The challenge for Dareus will be to make sure that all that noise stays on the field.