Some NFL teams are able to turnaround their franchise with the selection, in either free agency or in the draft, of that “playmaker” they have been lacking; the one player that can turn them from a laughing stock into a world champion. Unfortunately for Buffalo Bills fans, the powers within the organization have been unable to pick that “one” player that they have been yearning for, for well over a decade.
1. (Tie) 2004: J.P. Losman, Quarterback: Tulane. It’s been said that if an NFL team selects the wrong franchise quarterback, it can set them back years. Losman was selected in 2004 and heading into the 2013 draft; the Bills were still looking for their franchise signal caller. Not only did the Bills waste the first round pick of 2004 on Losman, but they traded away their 2005 first rounder to the Dallas Cowboys, to move up in the 2004 draft and selected the eventual United Football League quarterback. Losman’s NFL career lasted 8 years, with him being on four different rosters. Inconsistent, gunslinger style and at times said to be “dumb,” Losman is probably more famous in Buffalo for peeing off a balcony at a party than his football career. (TD-INT 33-34, passing yards 6,271.)
1. (Tie) 1998: Rob Johnson, Quarterback: Trade with Jacksonville Jaguars. The Buffalo Bills had their franchise quarterback, Jim Kelly, retire following the 1996 season and two seasons later, head coach Wade Phillips introduced the “new era” of Buffalo Bills football with the acquisition of Rob Johnson. The Bills traded away their first and fourth round draft picks of the 1998 draft. Johnson was signed to a 5 year $25 million dollar contract. Johnson played sparingly in his first three years in the NFL, but apparently his pre-season performance in 1997 was enough for the Bills to make the decision to go after the unproven qb. The choice to trade for Johnson was made by Phillips who also had a veteran on his roster, Doug Flutie. When given the chance Flutie would do nothing but help the Bills franchise win games. The Bills would get to the playoffs two years in a row behind Flutie’s leadership and Johnson would struggle to gain the respect of the players on his team. Johnson had a career that spanned 12 years, 6 teams, 30 touchdowns, and 23 interceptions, a Super Bowl ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002 and a full box of Flutie Flakes on his fridge.
3. 2002: Mike Williams, Offensive Tackle, Texas. Coming out of college “Big” Mike was rated as one of the top left tackles entering the 2002 NFL Draft. The Bills drafted him 4th overall. Williams was asked to play right tackle where, unfortunately, he failed miserably. Following a few games, he was then moved to left tackle. Again, he was unable to produce as expected. He was soon replaced by undrafted free agent Jason Peters, who coincidentally went on to become a Pro Bowler at this position. In 2006 the Bills released him and the Jacksonville Jaguars picked him up but again he struggled and was unable to make the roster and was released. Following two years out of the NFL, Williams signed with the Washington Redskins in 2009. Amazingly when Williams was moved to guard he was successful enough to be offered a two year contract from head coach Mike Shanahan. Unfortunately Williams was diagnosed with blood clots near his heart and missed the entire 2010 season. Due to the uncertainty of Williams’ health he was released in 2011.
4. 1998: Bryce Paup, Linebacker, Not tagged/not signed (Free Agent). Bryce Paup hit Western New York like a winter storm in 1995 and left for the sunshine in Jacksonville (Jaguars) in 1998. Paup quickly made his presence felt in 1995 when he led the league with 17.5 sacks and was awarded the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The Bills would continue to allow Paup to pin his ears back and rush the quarterback for the remainder of his time with the team. By the time Paup left for a big payday, 5 year $22 million, in Jacksonville and join the up and coming Jaguars, Paup would end up with 33 sacks in his three year career in Buffalo. Unfortunately for the Bills and Paup, his talent was wasted in Jacksonville when he was asked to do other things other than just rush the quarterback. Paup was only able to record 7.5 sacks in the two years in Northeast Florida. Paup would finish his career with 75 sacks and be voted to the Pro Bowl four years in a row (’94-’97) and has been listed as one of the top 50 players in Buffalo Bills history. A player the Bills clearly should have re-signed and not let get away.
5. 2000: Eric Flowers, Defensive End, Arizona State. Flowers was benched after 5 games into his second season, Flowers was never able to land a starting job in the NFL again. He was on the roster of 5 NFL teams as well as one Canadian team. Flowers last played professional football in 2006 with the Toronto Argonauts. He finished his career with 37 tackles, 5 sacks, and 1 interception. Looking back, this was a waste of a draft pick, but at least it wasn’t R. Jay Soward (picked by the Jaguars with the 29th pick).
The free agency and pre-draft time of year can be a very exciting time for NFL fans knowing their football team has the ability to sign both future and present playmakers that will hopefully make the difference to turn the franchise into a winner. Looking back at the Bills decisions over the years, there have been some huge mistakes in the raft and in the free agent market. There have clearly been players they should not have drafted and players they should have kept on their roster. That goes for a lot of teams in the NFL, especially the ones that are still striving to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.