I have been slightly amused lately hearing all of the “experts” (and I do use that term loosely) proclaiming that Buffalo is one of (if not THE) biggest losers in this year’s free agency so far. They throw out the big names of the players who have moved on, whether by their choice or the Bills’ decision makers. McGahee, Clements, Fletcher, Spikes, and the list goes on. And perhaps there is some merit to the claim that we have not “done well” in free agency… but maybe the Bills aren’t playing that game.
I don’t pretend to know what goes on in that well-aged head of our General Manager, but I gotta think he’s got a plan. Obviously we have all seen that part of the plan is to pretty much refresh the entire team, as there was a good deal of player turnover last season, and there will be again this season. But what else is going on up there, Marv?
I was thinking recently about how Marv came to the Bills in mid-1986, and the Bills didn’t win a division until 1988. So, it took Marv just a season and a half to get to the division crown. Even got to the AFC championship in 1988. Not bad.
For kicks today I did a little Buffalo Bills draft research. Now I skipped ahead past the “Bickering Bills” of 1989, and just focused on their 1990 roster… the one that got us to our first Super Bowl. On our Super Bowl roster were 23 players that we drafted, and only 8 of those were “pre-Marv”. Now, obviously, Marv had a different role then, but check out our current roster. The current roster holds 24 players drafted by the Bills, and 14 of those are “pre-Marv”. So, in one year, Marv has added 10 players to the roster that he drafted. (Yes… I cheated. Peerless Price was drafted by the Bills in 1999, but Marv brought him back, so…) 🙂
What it seems like from my vantage point is that Marv likes to build a team from the ground up. Just as Shaw said on his blog earlier, football teams full of flashy guys do not always produce the championship teams. We were spoiled in the 1990s in this town by having a team that was very team-oriented, and yet filled with super stars. And most of those we had acquired through the draft.
Do you seasoned Bills fans recall the reaction to Marv’s drafts in those days? I was a new football fan, but I knew enough that we “should” be drafting the best guys from college. I remember wanting us to draft Raghib Ishmail (I forget how to spell his name though…) and other big name guys. “Who ARE these guys???” I would ask when I saw names like Phil Hansen and Don Beebe and other guys from small schools like… Kutztown State? (Andre Reed’s alma mater). Marv has a history of building a team of “unknowns”.
Go back to the previous article I posted… about the similarities (perhaps) between the Bills and the Sabres. The Sabres came out of relative anonymity to be the top team in the NHL right now – mostly with up-and-coming young stars, not seasoned veterans. Perhaps the Bills are doing the same as they trim away at the older (more recognizeable) names on the roster, and invest in players who might be the next set of recognizeable names. Who knows if in the next couple years, folks might know the names Losman, Evans, Whitner, Ellison, Youboty, etc, just the same as Spikes, Fletcher, Clements, McGahee, Moulds, et. al.
The Bills definitely seem to be putting a lot more faith in the next generation of players than going out and hiring the “current” generation via free agency. I’m pretty sure we’ll nab some gems in the 2007 draft as well, given Marv’s track record.
Is that way of building a team still possible? Marv and Co. did a great job last year – every player we drafted made the team, and most made contributions. Can he do it again? Will we find players in the draft who can take us back to the playoffs… to winning our division… to dare I say it… THE SUPER BOWL?
It’s impossible to know for sure, but I do know Marv has a plan. Free agency seems to keep you from building a team slowly through the draft, because any good players you land in the draft are gone in 5 years. It’s almost like college football with the possible turnover from all your players graduating after 4 or 5 years. I don’t think that’s the best thing for football fans or teams, but it might be good for the players. And somehow… other teams are still winning the Super Bowl… so it can be done! 🙂
I think we’ll probably be shocked again by Marv’s Draft Day shennanigans. Everyone will be aghast at the horribly unknown players filling up our draft roster. But Marv did OK last season, and I suspect he will again this year.
We’re building a team here, and I really do look forward to watching the “experts” eat crow later in the 2007 season as the “surprising” Buffalo Bills are in playoff contention, and maybe even in contention for the AFC East crown? I don’t think we’re ready to win it all, but this team is going to do a lot better than “the experts” are seeing.
At least, that’s my expert opinion. 🙂