These aren't your parents' Buffalo Bills anymore.
Free agency just began Tuesday afternoon at 4:00 pm and already Buddy Nix and Ralph Wilson are flying in some of the biggest free agents for a little meet and greet at 1 Bills Drive. According to reports, both defensive end Mario Williams and wide receiver Robert Meachem are already going to talk with the Bills about maybe improving their status in the NFL as a contender for 2012, something that happened so quick that many Buffalo fans weren't even looking for it yet.
Sure, Buddy said he'd be spending to the cap, that they'd be aggressively pursuing free agents to better the team in the off season, but... You see, Buffalonians have heard that song and dance before, waiting to see some of that green get some talent to the Queen City and finding ourselves singing the same old tune by the training camp. Normally tight with the purse strings, Buffalo has already doled out some major money to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (6 years, $59 million) and WR Steve Johnson (5 years, $36.25 million), but this immediate pursuit of some of the top free agent names is surprising even to lifelong fans of the Bills.
Displaying a ferocity reminiscent of the late 1980's, when Buffalo put together their Super Bowl teams under Bill Polian, the Bills wasted no time once the free agent bell rang. First, there's Williams, who has spent six years with the Houston Texans (their #1 overall draft pick in 2006) and has accrued some monster stats, playing up to his number one billing as a force in the pass rush. Though hampered last season by a torn pectoral, Williams has a stat line (and experience) that puts every other player on the Bills' defensive line to shame, with 241 tackles, 53 sacks, and 11 forced fumbles. Long considered the number one free agent for 2012 (at least before Peyton was released), his fire and talent would be a welcome (and surprising) addition to the bottom 5 pass rush Buffalo posted last season, giving them a beast on the end. However, Chicago may want him more than Buffalo, who will likely sign another pass rusher or two in the draft anyway, and there are other options still to explore without blowing the whole wad on one defensive threat who has shown a tendency to injury the last couple seasons (he also missed part of 2010 with an inflamed hernia). BUT... Buffalo looks to be the front runner for his attentions just now and could sign his to Dave Wanstedt's defensive end friendly 4-3 scheme for great, immediate results.
Meanwhile, just a little to the east of Houston, the New Orleans Saints may be waving good-bye to one of their biggest vertical threats, Robert Meachem. A number three option in the high flying Saints offense, Meachem puts up the type of numbers many teams would dream of for their number one guy. Sure, it's the Saints, where Drew Brees routinely produces routs with their big points, run and gun offensive schemes, but Meachem distinguished himself even when playing alongside the likes of Marques Colston. In five seasons, the 27th overall pick of the 2007 draft has 141 receptions, 2,269 yds, and 23 TDs, as well as a 16.1 average yards per catch and multiple games with double digit yard catches. A field stretcher and speed demon, Meachem is a headache for opposing defenses (even though he's only 6'2") and would be a great fit opposite Johnson (who isn't too shabby in the breakaway department either). If paired together, defenses would be hard pressed to decide who to key on, especially if the Bills started running a no-huddle, Bearded Gun offense (like the K-Gun, only Fitz's beard leads it).
Who is this team we so thought we knew? Where did this aggressive, high spending attitude come from? For the first time in years, there seems to be an internal thought shift as to how to run the Bills, about who they should be in the NFL. Seems that their little sniff of success last year might have brought on some serious jonesing for more and they are actively exploring not only how to better themselves, but how to win right now.
Bringing in either Williams or Meachem would be a nice way to tell the rest of the league that Buffalo is coming to play this year, with a high octane offense that can both run and pass all over the field (they were number one for several weeks last year in points scored). Whether they get Williams, whether they get Meachem, or whether they get another big name like Vincent Jackson (they've got Merriman working on that), seems like the Bills have decided that the years of disappointing fans in the offseason has ended. Still not convinced? Well, we can just point out that both Nix and Wanstedt went personally to Williams and flew back with him, while offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins and receivers coach Bob Bicknell went to escort Meachem. That's got to say something about their true desire here.
Now, let's see if they can translate that to wins in 2012. Here's to a confusingly exciting start to free agency in Buffalo... They are still in Buffalo right? They didn't leave for Toronto or LA? No? Well, then this should be one exciting year for Western New York. I'm already hungry for some wings and beer (hopefully without the taste of tears in them for 2012).