ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills shocked the NFL two years ago when, virtually out of nowhere, they made the biggest splash in free agency by signing the No. 1 player available on the market, defensive end Mario Williams, to the richest contract ever given to a defensive player. Don't look for a repeat scenario this year as the Bills - despite having approximately $23 million in cap space - aren't likely to be in play on the upper-echelon level players.
Think more in line with 2013 when the Bills signed two players for manageable deals who both contributed to an improved defense: Manny Lawson earned a starting outside linebacker job, and defensive lineman Alan Branch became a starter when defensive end Alex Carrington was lost to injury in Week 4. Branch has since been signed to a contract extension.
The Bills' big move on the first day of the open signing period was bringing back kicker Dan Carpenter, signing him to a four-year contract. They also re-signed oft-injured tight end Mike Caussin, who has played only six games since joining the team late in the 2010 season.
The team also released quarterback Kevin Kolb, with general manager Doug Whaley announcing he had failed a physical. Kolb, who missed all of last season following a preseason concussion, the latest of multiple concussions he has suffered in recent years, was due a roster bonus this month as part of the two-year deal he signed last offseason.
Carpenter joined the Bills the week of the 2013 season opener after Dustin Hopkins suffered a groin injury. Carpenter, who had been cut by the Dolphins, Cardinals and Jets in a span of about four months, put together one of the finest kicking performances in team history. He tied the Bills' single-season record for field goals with 33 (in 36 attempts), and his 131 points were the third-most by a Buffalo kicker.
"This reiterates our core principle, to sign our own guys and a guy that made 33 out of 36 field goals in that stadium is somebody that we were very interested in and we were very happy to get him signed up for a long-term deal," said Whaley.
During his six-year NFL career (the first five of which were spent in Miami), Carpenter has made 160 of 191 field goals (83.8-percent), and 186 of 187 extra points. His 160 field goals are the fourth-most in the NFL since 2008.
What's interesting about the signing is that second-year player Dustin Hopkins is still on the roster. Hopkins had won the Bills' job in 2013 training camp, but suffered a groin injury the week of the season opener, and that's why Carpenter was signed. There is talk that coach Doug Marrone might keep Hopkins for kickoffs as he has a stronger leg than Carpenter and was proficient at producing touchbacks in college at Florida State.
"I'm not going to stand up here and tell you that I have the strongest leg in the league because I can tell you a few that have stronger legs," said Carpenter. "It all depends, there is so much going on in the game and every situation and every kickoff is different. With the score and the time of the game, weather, field conditions, so it's hard to stand up here and say that I'm going to be able to kick one nine yards deep in the end zone every time because the situations change throughout the game and throughout the season as well. It's kind of difficult to answer."
The Bills were unable to come to an agreement with free safety Jairus Byrd on a long-term deal, and rather than use the franchise tag on him as they did last year, the Bills opted to let him test the market, and he will strike it rich.
Once negotiations broke down for the final time, the Bills turned their attention to re-signing 2011 second-round draft pick Aaron Williams to a four-year, $26 million extension. Williams will replace Byrd at free safety, and third safety Da'Norris Searcy will get the first chance to win the strong safety spot.
"We'll be active in free agency," team president and CEO Russ Brandon said last week. "We have a master plan on everything related to our current roster and going into free agency."
And that plan will be based on building through the draft, trying to re-sign a few of the team's own unrestricted free agents, and fill a couple holes with veteran mid-level free agents.
With Byrd as good as gone, tight end Scott Chandler and Carrington are the next most-important players on the Bills' slim free agent list (safety Jim Leonhard, linebacker Arthur Moats and offensive linemen Thomas Welch are the other unrestricted free agents).
Chandler led the Bills in receptions (53) and receiving yards (655) and has, at the very least, worked himself into the top half of productive tight ends in the league. He earned $2.75 million last season, and the team wants him back, but with Tony Moeaki (a potential steal of a signing late last year), 2013 draft pick Chris Gragg and blocker Lee Smith, the Bills aren't going to over-pay for Chandler, who could command as much as $4 million per year.
Carrington's stock was hurt because he missed three-fourths of the 2013 season with a torn quad and it might not cost much to bring back a player who was largely unproven since being drafted in 2010.
"We set our priority of our guys we want to have back and the value we want to have them back at," Whaley said. "We will not be able to get everybody. With this system with the salary cap you're not going to sign everybody, but you want to start at the top and have a priority list and go down from there."
If their visits-to-date are any indication, it appears they want to sign an inside linebacker. Both Jasper Brinkley (Arizona) and Jameel McClain (Baltimore) were in Buffalo last week because the Bills want to move 2013 rookie star Kiko Alonso out of the middle and play him on the weak side.
Alonso finished third in the NFL in tackles, but he was undersized playing in the middle and can better use his athleticism and quickness on the outside. Brinkley has already signed with Minnesota, but McClain is still available.
Offensive line is another area the Bills will explore. Several mock drafts have the Bills picking an offensive tackle with the No. 9 overall pick, but there is also a need at left guard and Marrone would prefer a veteran. Both left guard Doug Legursky and right tackle Erik Pears underperformed in 2013 and the Bills need to upgrade. The tackles may cost too much, but the Bills will explore the guard market.
Also, it was confirmed Tuesday that Miami cornerback Nolan Carroll will visit the Bills
By The Sports Xchange
Publish Date: March 11, 2014 06:55:11 PM
Bills release QB Kolb, re-sign Carpenter
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