It may not be something Takeo Spikes wanted to think about, but when the 2006 season came to a close on New Year's Eve it quickly came to mind. How much will things be different on the defensive side of the ball for the Bills in 2007?
For Spikes there was the realization that it could be dramatically different in terms of personnel. Sure there are changes every year in this era of free agency, and Buffalo's linebacker has seen good veteran players depart before.
What could make this offseason different is a total of three defensive starters are free agents and all could be playing elsewhere next season. Spikes has already contemplated the possibility of Nate Clements, London Fletcher and Chris Kelsay all wearing different uniforms in 2007.
"Yeah, you definitely think about it," said Spikes. "It took less than a week for me to even think about it. I thought about that earlier in the year and that's being realistic. That's how this game goes. It's the nature of the business."
"We'll certainly be interested in our guys," said head coach Dick Jauron of the team's impending free agents. "Our guys may want to test the market and we understand that, but we'd like to be kept in the loop and keep the conversations up with them and be as honest as we can be with them and keep an open mind as we chase our guys and others. That's the game, that's the business. Only time will tell."
Spikes, who benefited from free agency himself when he signed a lucrative six-year deal with the Bills, understands that some close teammates have to do what's best for them in free agency. At the same time he recognizes if the starting roles of Clements, Fletcher and Kelsay all have to be filled on the defensive side of the ball for Buffalo things will look dramatically different.
"Hopefully we'll get guys to come up and fill those voids," said Spikes. "Players like Nate, London and Kelsay are all different in their own way. They each bring something special to the table. Putting somebody in their spot, if they're not here next year, is not easy to do. I guess that next man won't have to worry about filling someone else's shoes, because he has his own special talents to bring to the table."
Not having Fletcher as a teammate next season would be especially difficult because of the bond the two linebackers have developed over the past four seasons. The two men found it hard to keep it together before taking the field in Baltimore for the season finale.
"He was emotional before the game," said Spikes of Fletcher. "I couldn't even look at him. I might have lost it."
That's why prior to the last game of 2006 Spikes had some words for his defensive teammates.
"One of the things I told the guys is to play every play like it's your last, mainly because it's the last time we'll ever be together as a team," Spikes said. "And you never know who is watching for the first time so you want to leave a good impression."
And Spikes did finish strong as he was the team's leading tackler in the final game at Baltimore. It was the second time the strong side linebacker was the top tackle producer this past season. But did the former Pro Bowl player show enough to convince the organization that he can again be the impact player he was two years ago?
"I'll stick with what I've said throughout the year," said Jauron. "He played through a lot of minor things, he played through a lot of major things, he played his way back in, he never complained, he was a leader on our football team and I believe that he got progressively better even though he had some setbacks in there, some injury setbacks that accumulated through the year. I have a lot of respect for him, for how he handled the whole situation."
But Spikes is entering the final two years of his contract when his base salary will be at its highest. The Bills will likely think about the return on their investment.
Regardless of what anyone else thinks, Spikes is convinced he will again be he player he once was.
"When next year comes it'll be that much better," said Spikes of his Achilles. "I look forward to next year, I really do."
"I've never talked to our doctors or any trainers about it," said Jauron as to whether Spikes will be a better player another full year removed from the 2005 injury. "But I don't see any reason to suspect that he wouldn't be."
Despite who may depart via free agency, Spikes remains optimistic that there is a foundation in place from which the team can grow and improve in 2007.
"There are a lot of pluses going into next year," said Spikes. "We don't have to start over with a new scheme and people doing things and learning. And the bulk of the roster is coming back."