The Bills signed cornerback Drayton Florence to a three-year deal just before the start of the 2011 season, one that would keep him in Buffalo until the end of the 2013 season. His coming to the team was largely due to Buddy Nix, who, after drafting him while employed by the Chargers, found him available in 2009 and snatched Florence up to help bolster the Bills' pass defense. In his three seasons starting in the Queen City, Drayton led the team in takeaways, snatching 7 INTs and recovering two fumbles, scoring a total of three defensive touchdowns. In his nine NFL seasons, the veteran corner was a wonder to behold on the field when it came to forcing turnovers, bothering quarterbacks for a total of 17 INTs, forcing three fumbles, and recovering four.
So why was he the first post-Draft chop from the Bills' 2012 roster? Simple, the man just couldn't keep up with receivers anymore.
Blame age if you'd like (he's 31), or blame the depth of talent the Bills are currently showing at the position, but the fact is, if you take away the takeaways, Florence just wasn't showing the type of skills you'd expect from a starting cornerback in the NFL in 2011. To clarify it for you further: Florence just couldn't seem to cover anymore.
In 2011, receivers just abused Drayton, on the field, often seen speeding past him (especially on third down, where Buffalo allowed 75/189 conversions in 2011) and exposing his lack of recovery skills when they did. Opposing QBs had a 103.3 rating against the Bills last season, largely due to Florence, who may catch a ball like a receiver, but didn't have the motor to keep up with them anymore. I know, it's hard to argue against a guy who played 45 games in his three seasons with Buffalo, especially in light of McGee's seasonal injury issues, but when you're just getting blown away by receivers, those impressive takeaway numbers start to seem a little less... well, a little less impressive.
Hey, the Bills' Draft had them looking to get younger and faster in the defensive backfield, taking Stephon Gilmore with their first round pick and LSU's Ron Brooks in the fourth, bringing their total corner options to nine, so it was only a matter of time before the cuts started coming. Florence had indeed lost a step, there's no way to argue there, but most thought he'd be staying over McGee (regardless of talent, he has just 15 starts the last two seasons) or Leodis McKelvin (a first round pick just four years ago, but just 39 tackles and an INT in 2011). However, McGee's upside when healthy and McKelvin's youth must have stayed their executions for now, leaving Florence as the man out when examining how to trim down the corner roster.
A bit surprising at first glance, Drayton may have led the team in pass deflections for 2011, but was definitely slipping down the age slope and had most assuredly waved goodbye to his peak NFL years (he is the second oldest on the Bills defensive roster behind 32 year old Chris Kelsay). Contract or no (the Bills still owed him $9 million over the next two years), when examining the pros and cons of the cornerbacks available to them in 2012, Florence was found to be the most lacking and will now be looking to find his fourth home since joining the NFL in 2003 (picked in the second round by Nix). Truthfully, it wouldn't surprise me to find him lining up against the Bills on some other AFC East team in 2012, as the Patriots do love them some veterans on their team and Miami could take any help they can get while continuing to rebuild.
A shocking move, but a sound decision, the Bills now have eight players fighting for starting love and apart from McGee (IF he stays healthy), no real front runners as of yet. Fans in Western New York, though, can't be too upset, as competition means depth, something rarely heard of in Buffalo over the last decade and a sign that the rebuilding period may finally be over. I mean, if you let go your leading takeaway guy, you've got to believe it's because there's even more talent waiting in the wings, guys who will genuinely benefit from the reps and will be made all the better for Florence's departure. At least, I hope that's what it means.