In past offseasons the Bills have waded carefully into the free agent market, letting the flurry of early signings go by the board before actively pursuing second tier talent that fit their philosophy and gave them good value for the money invested. When the bell rings for free agency in just over a week, the Bills will still pursue good value, but will be in the thick of the hunt from get go.
“Yes I would characterize our approach this time around as more aggressive,” Bills GM Buddy Nix told Buffalobills.com. “Our philosophy since we got here was build through the draft and then plug in mid-range guys in free agency. Wait until the first week has passed and the fanfare and overspending happens is probably over in the first three or four days. We’ve waited in the past.
“This year if there is a player that upgrades our team considerably we will be aggressive immediately. We’ll go after him. We may get him. We may not, but we’ll get in the hunt.”
As Nix himself mentioned that approach is a departure from the last two offseasons for Buffalo, but there’s a clear reason why the Bills are more eager to pursue some of the top free agent talent that could be available. They believe they’re much closer to reaching the postseason in 2012.
“I think the first two years there were so many areas that what you needed was numbers,” he said. “Now we’ve still got room for improvement everywhere, but we can probably narrow it down to four or five areas where if we had those plugged in I think we’d be competitive until the end of the year.”
The Bills have not hidden the fact that they need to bolster the pass rush, get a bona fide number two wideout to line up opposite Stevie Johnson, a strong side linebacker and cornerback depth. In a perfect world free agency will fill half of Buffalo’s main positional needs prior to the draft.
“If we can fill two (needs) it would really take the pressure off the draft to me,” said Nix. “In an ideal situation if we could plug two areas then we could take the best player every time in the draft, which we kind of do anyway, to make our team better.”
Buffalo doesn’t sound like they’re looking to add any grizzled veterans on the wrong side of 30. Nix has made it clear they want to acquire players with a good career still in front of them.
“We like folks that have some time left and are ascending,” he said. “I’ll repeat what I’ve said all along. If you go after these guys that are hunting for just one more contract then all you’re doing is depriving some young guy that you might develop that could be as good or better by mid-year. If you do that then I think you’re hurting your chances.”
The Bills brass understands that with an early foray into free agency they’re going to be battling with other NFL clubs at times. Historically the franchise prefers to avoid bidding wars. They also know that some top flight players will try to make the most of multiple-team interest.
“It’s a common practice for guys to use one team against the other,” said Nix. “It’s a game. That’s something I don’t like being involved in, but if there’s a guy that we like and have targeted and believe can really help us we’ll try to go get him.”
The new aggressive approach might lead some to believe that diving into the free agent market early means the Bills are only out to scoop up some of the top playmakers. For Nix and his personnel staff it’s more than that. They know depth was an issue last year due to injury and want to address that just as much as they want to add elite talent.
“I think it’s both,” said Nix. “Obviously our first goal is to put more playmakers on this team, but as the free agency period goes on I think it gets to be more about adding quality depth to our team.”