NFL Free Agency is two weeks old. The draft is five weeks away. And the Buffalo Bills are deep into their offseason personnel plan as they push to take the next step in 2016.
At the NFL Annual Meeting in Boca Raton, Florida this week, both Bills GM Doug Whaley and Head Coach Rex Ryan provided an update on the Bills plans – what they've managed to do so far, even with serious salary cap constraints, and what they hope to do in the draft next month.
Here are seven personnel issues discussed by Whaley and Ryan at the owners' meetings:
1. PERCY HARVIN IS STILL AN OPTION
He only played five games in 2015 before a chronic hip injury knocked him out of the lineup and put him on injured reserve. But the Bills have not ruled out the possibility of the eight-year veteran giving it another try in Buffalo.
"We've been in contact with his representatives," GM Doug Whaley said Monday night on the John Murphy Show. "From everything we've heard, he's ready to play again. He thinks he's ready to step back on the field and try to perform at a level he's used to. Now we're just waiting."
Whaley thinks Harvin is closing on being ready to make up his mind. "He has an open invitation to come back to the Buffalo Bills," according to Whaley. "We're just going to wait and see when he makes a decision. Hopefully it's in the next week or two. Hopefully he'll chose us and come back and get on the field and perform at the level we know he's capable of."
Harvin is a free agent and the Bills are not going to have a lot of money to spend on getting him back on the roster. But Rex Ryan says the door is open.
"If we get Percy back I would welcome him with open arms," Ryan told the media in Boca Raton Tuesday morning.
2. THERE'S A ROLE TO PLAY FOR BUFFALO'S TWO NEWLY SIGNED FREE AGENTS
The cap crunch has meant the Bills have had to wait to sign free agents and look for bargains. They've signed two players who might not be big splash free agents, but are likely to find a role.
Tight end Jim Dray is a blocking tight end that the Bills say is increasingly difficult to find.
"If you look at where the college game is going, the blocking tight end and the fullback are becoming obsolete because of the spread offenses," Whaley said. "We put a lot of emphasis on it, because of Greg Roman and his offense, the blocking tight end is important. And to have a guy who is proficient in blocking, it's a hard guy to find these days."
Safety Robert Blanton comes with four years of playing experience in Minnesota. And Head Coach Rex Ryan will give him a chance to compete.
"I really like him," Ryan says. "As I look at it now, he's coming in probably as the number three safety the day he gets here. Let's see what he can do."
- THIRD-YEAR LB PRESTON BROWN WILL GET SOME EXTRA ATTENTION**
Buffalo's third-round pick two years ago has played in every game in his first two seasons in the league. Now, the Bills are ready to get more out of Preston Brown.
At the owners' meetings, Ryan was asked if Brown made significant progress on the field through the course of last season when it came to being the quarterback of the Buffalo defense.
"Well no, not really, I think he needs to step up," Ryan answered. "We handed that off to Manny Lawson, but Preston [Brown] to me that, you know that is going to be a challenge. We are going to put a pretty good coach with him to make sure that goes the way we want it to."
Ryan was asked which coach will work with Brown. His answer: "We will find out, you guys know who it is." That means Rex's brother, Rob Ryan, will work with Preston Brown as one of his "special projects."
4. IT'S A CRITICAL DRAFT IF THE BILLS ARE GOING TO IMPROVE
The Bills have eight draft picks in hand right now, with the first round coming up April 28. And with very little chance to make an impact in free agency, they're counting on the draft to shore up the roster.
"The draft is critical for us," Ryan told the media in Florida. "We're going to have to draft guys who will stick, no doubt."
Fortunately for Buffalo, there's quality depth on the defensive line in this year's draft class. Ryan is ready to draft a rookie and throw him into the fray.
"There's some spots that we feel like we can probably plug and play a guy. That's pretty obvious. But I'm not going to say where," he said.
5. QUARTERBACK TALK IN THE DRAFT – REAL OR SMOKE SCREEN?
Whenever the Bills brain trust is asked about picking a quarterback in the draft this year, they're more than happy to leave the door open. The question is – are they serious or blowing smoke?
GM Doug Whaley watched Stanford's Kevin Hogan's pro day workout last week and came away calling him the most pro-ready QB in the draft class. And Rex Ryan won't rule out picking a QB.
"From the first pick on, we'll be following where the quarterbacks go, just like any position," Ryan says. "But it's not a position we're going to ignore. If a guy is there, right player, right price, we'll pull the trigger on him."
- WAITING ON SEANTREL HENDERSON**
The Bills only got 10 starts from second year right tackle Seantrel Henderson last year, after he was hit with an undisclosed illness. But they're getting positive medical reports on Henderson these days, and they're holding out hope that he can return and compete for his old starting spot.
"I've been encouraged by him," Ryan told the media at the annual meeting. "He's fighting through an unusual illness. Hopefully he'll be ready to go. We're encouraged that his weight is coming back. Hopefully everything is right for him. He's a tremendous talent."
7. HANKERSON MAY FIGURE IN WIDE RECEIVER PICTURE
The Bills claimed veteran wideout Leonard Hankerson off waivers before the final game last year and he saw some action against the Jets in the finale. But now he's a free agent with a chance to play anywhere.
GM Doug Whaley says Hankerson is close to returning to Buffalo and he figures to join Greg Salas, Jarrett Boykin, and others in a battle for backup spots at wide receiver.
"We're really close to getting a deal done with Leonard Hankerson," Whaley says. "We're going to have a collection of guys who have had experience in the league, and have produced in the league."