With the Hall of Fame game just over a week away, it is a bittersweet time for the Buffalo Bills alum. Wide receiver Andre Reed will finally be inducted into the Hall with the likes of Tampa Bay’s Derrick Brooks, New York Giant’s Michael Strahan, and longtime Cardinal Aeneas Williams. Four players that helped change the way their position was played and excelled at their respective positions for the duration of their careers.
On a more somber note, the Bills and their fan base are dealing with the loss of owner Ralph Wilson, who passed away back in March. Wilson himself was a man that changed the way the game was played. He was a man dedicated to making the AFL and the NFL, once the two leagues combined, better for fans, players, and owners. Wilson was an original owner from the AFL days and was devoted not only to the game but more importantly the fans of Buffalo. Since Wilson’s widow has no desire to keep the Bills in the family, there is much speculation that the new ownership group that buys the Bills will, at some point, relocate the franchise.
If the passing of their beloved owner and the possibility of relocation wasn’t enough, HOF quarterback Jim Kelly has been dealing with a serious bout of jaw cancer. At one point the cancer had gone into remission following surgery to remove part of his jaw, unfortunately right around the same time that Wilson passed, the cancer came back and was listed by the doctors as “aggressive.” Kelly has gone through chemotherapy to try and hinder this viscous and unrelenting killer. For now, Kelly seems to be in good spirits, showing up at the teams OTA’s, attending his annual football camp in Buffalo, and is expected to be the Bills honorary team captain along with handling the coin toss at the Hall of Fame game on August 3rd. The game will feature the Bills against the New York Giants. With all that being said, there are a lot of exciting things happening in Western New York.
EJ Manuel and Sammy Watkins get on the same page…real quick. The Bills have not had a playmaking wide receiver of this caliber since Andre Reed. There’s been the likes of Eric Moulds, Lee Evans, TO (at the end of his career), and Steve Johnson, but the combination of size (6’1/211), speed (4.4) and pure athleticism, have not been prevalent in a Bills uniform for years. Watkins was seen as the premiere receiver in this year’s draft and is a perfect target for Manuel and the explosive type of offense the Bills were trying to establish last season with the drafting of Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin. Woods and Goodwin are fast receivers that have the ability to get open, but neither of the two could separate themselves as the clear “go-to guy.” The addition of Watkins should help all three players thrive and look for Watkins to claim that title once he and Manuel get on the same page. (Kind of like Kelly to Reed)
It’s going to be difficult to replace FS Jairus Byrd Sometimes it is difficult to replace players that just make plays. That is exactly what Jairus Byrd did for the Bills. Over the last five seasons Byrd accumulated 22 interceptions, with 2009 being his best year when he had 9 (tied for the league lead) and finished with 4 in 2013 when he missed five games as well as forcing 11 fumbles over his time in Buffalo. Byrd was selected to the Pro Bowl three times and was a team leader. Unfortunately, he was not resigned and left for “greener” pastures down in the Bayou, (New Orleans.) It seems as if the Bills are going to go with cornerback, Aaron Williams, who was converted to safety in 2013. The Bills realized early on that they were not going to be able to afford to keep Byrd and resigned Williams just days before Byrd left for the Saints. Williams is a good player, but not exactly to the level of Byrd. For Bills fans, this could be a sore spot until the organization addresses the lack of playmaking ability at this position, quickly.
The Bills get Scott Chandler move involved in the offense For a player that has bounced around over his career, four teams in eight years; Chandler has found a comfortable spot in Buffalo. Standing at 6’7 and weighing 260, Chandler has proven to be a dual threat at both blocking and receiving. Over the last three years he has scored 14 times and caught 134 passes for 1,615 yards. Not on the level of Vernon Davis or Jimmy Graham, but a very serviceable player. Chandler has proven he has the ability to get behind linebackers and is too large for safeties to body him up in coverage, as well as he has been sure handed when given the opportunity. A little more focus on Chandler will benefit the entire offense, creating less double teams on the receivers, mainly Watkins, and it will create mismatches in the secondary for opposing teams. Chandler could become a safety blanket for EJ Manuel the same way that Pete Metzelaars was for Jim Kelly.
Head Coach Doug Marrone and his staff have been making positive changes for a franchise that has not seen the playoffs since 1999. There are still some question marks as well as positions to upgrade, but in a time when things seem to be going drastically wrong for the team: Mr. Wilson passing, Jim Kelly’s battle with cancer, and the possibility that the new ownership group could relocate the team in the future, there are still things to celebrate and be excited about. The return of the defensive line that led the NFL in sacks and quarterback hits, an exciting young quarterback, a dynamic running back combo(CJ Spiller/Fred Jackson),a shining star in third year cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the signing of attitude and aggressiveness in Brandon Spikes, and finally the drafting of playmaker Sammy Watkins.
The Bills have had a rough decade, and then some, but maybe…..just maybe in a time when it couldn’t get any worse, it won’t. This could be the time or in the very near future when the Bills will circle the wagons. Because No One circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills and their fans.