Over the past four years the Buffalo Bills have been among the first teams to leap into the free agent pool to procure talent for their roster and fill positional needs on their team. Under the new regime, led by general manager Buddy Nix, however, it seems more likely that the Bills will take a more moderate approach to the market as it opens midnight tonight (March 5th).
From 2006-2009 Buffalo signed at least one unrestricted free agent on the first day of the signing period. In 2006 there were two. The following year there were three. Kawika Mitchell was signed on day one of free agency in 2008 and Ryan Fitzpatrick was signed the day the market opened last offseason.
Most of those early free agent signings also had sizable long term contracts. It's hard to see that being the case again with Buffalo's new personnel management.
"Free agency to me should be middle-priced to below-priced guys, not the high-dollar guy that is going bring a big bang when you sign him," said Nix.
The irony is most of the players that were to be the so called high-priced free agents are now restricted free agents instead under the new uncapped rules, which requires six accrued seasons to be unrestricted instead of four. The middle to lower tier free agents might be the only ones available that do not require compensation in return as is the case with the restricted players.
Still, it's clear Nix's philosophy when it comes to free agents starts with keeping your own provided they have been productive and are not on the downside of their careers.
"I think that money ought to go to our guys that have played good and you reward them by extending and keeping them around," Nix said. "We know what we got, let's build that way. Let's make the team know we are going to do that."
In year one there is likely to be more change because the roster hasn't been put together by this coaching staff and the new front office. That was made evident by the team's statement that they would not extend contract offers to Ryan Denney, Terrell Owens and Josh Reed last week.
But as the roster is molded more and more into the image that Nix and head coach Chan Gailey have in mind there figures to be less and less turnover.
Nix comes from the management tree of Bill Polian, John Butler and A.J. Smith, executives that have built rosters through the draft, while filling the remaining voids with free agents.
That's why it's possible that free agent activity for the Bills could even take place post-draft.
"We take places that we are weak at after the draft and we plug in guys that can fill in and fill a role," said Nix. "Kris Dielman, in San Diego, he was a defensive lineman that couldn't run and we moved him to guard and he goes to the Pro Bowl, though it took a lot of work. Those are the kind of guys that I am talking about. Not guys that are going to be a tremendous hit today, but a bust later on."
Nix and the front office are all too familiar with the team's playoff drought and understand the frustration Buffalo's fans have experienced the past 10 years. They also believe they have a proven formula for building a successful team. The only part of that formula that may not appeal to anxious fans is the fact that it takes time.
"I can't tell you we are going to the playoffs in a year or two years, but we should be headed there, and soon," Nix said. "It doesn't matter what kind of splash you make now. What matters is two years or three years down the road that we've got this thing turned in the right direction and we're winning."