“Huh? What? What did you say?”
The sound of Bills fans cheering – or screaming – awakened me from my late-winter hibernation.
I’m still rubbing my eyes and scratching my head, but here are 10 things:
1. Let’s start with on the field, which is all that matters. Assuming he plays all year (I certainly expect he will, but this is T.O., so nothing is for certain), the Bills receiving corps will be what we’ve hoped for for years. Great talent and competitiveness wide (Lee and T.O.) and Josh Reed returning to the slot – his natural position.
There simply is no question that T.O. is a great, great talent. Size, speed, hands. At his best, he leaves the rest of the league watching in awe.
For the last couple of years I’ve thought he’s been inconsistent, dropping too many easy balls. But even with that, he demands defensive attention every play that he’s on the field.
I can see this offense erupting, game after game, with Lee and T.O. and Josh beating the secondary downfield and Marshawn and Fred pounding the front seven on the ground.
2. Assuming he’s emotionally engaged (I certainly hope he will be, but this is T.O., so nothing is certain), T.O. could be a great leader on the sideline. There is no question that the guy is passionate – not always in a way that helps his team, but he is passionate. He could be a real spark for the offense. He could pull Trent along with him. He could have a big impact on Marshawn – positive or negative.
3. Does T.O. answer all the questions on offense? Not at all. He DOES answer the receiving question. No longer can Bills fans say the problem with the offense is that they don’t have quality receivers. Every defensive coordinator will be forced to pay attention the Bills’ receiving duo.
There are three important questions that remain:
a. Will the offensive line come together to provide quality protection for the passing game and support a consistent running game? The run game came around nicely in the second half of the season, and the pass protection wasn’t bad. But the Bills clearly decided that Dockery wasn’t good enough. They haven’t moved to sign Fowler or Preston, and they’ve signed only one free agent offensive lineman – a part-time starter with some upside, but still a question mark. Is there another free agent to be signed? A first round pick who can play as a rookie? For what seems like the umpteenth year in a row, we just know about the offensive line.
If the line doesn’t do the job, this great array of skill players will struggle.
b. Will Trent Edwards take advantage of this abundance of riches? Evans, Owens, Reed and others running patterns, Lynch and Jackson coming out of the backfield – a quarterback’s dream. Can Trent read defenses and deliver the ball to some of the best targets in the game?
c. Can Dick Jauron and Turk Schonert pull all this together? Can the Bills offense be what it’s failed to be for the past three years – effective, diverse and productive in the red zone? This team has largely failed on offense since Jauron arrived; can we expect the coaches to turn it around in one year?
4. Perhaps now, finally, the cries for a great tight end will subside. With potent wideouts, any solid blocking tight end – average hands and average speed – is going to be able to get open and catch some balls.
5. The receiving corps is now crowded, but this move makes some sense for the future. T.O. takes the pressure off Hardy and Johnson for 2009. Hardy’s free to recover from his knee injury and get back to developing the way we hope. Johnson will have the opportunity to work his way onto the field as well as he can.
The interesting questions are Jenkins and Parrish. We know April likes Jenkins’ contribution to special teams – he’s been a topnotch player there. But Jenkins isn’t likely to be a contributor on this offense. Are his days numbered?
Parrish is an even tougher question. As good as Roscoe is returning punts, there may not be room on the team for him unless he finally begins to catch the ball in space. Punt returns without an offense aren’t worth much. Will Roscoe be dealt for a draft choice or as part of a trade for a quality offensive lineman? A defensive end or linebacker? Or is Roscoe just too explosive too let go? T.O. and Lee wide, with Roscoe in the slot sometimes, Josh in the slot others. All four wide? On paper, it seems too good to pass up.
6. What about T.O.’s baggage? Scares me to death. Will T.O. play for Jauron? Will he behave on the sideline? Will he demand the ball and disrupt the offense?
The genius of the one-year contract, of course, is that T.O. knows he has to behave to have one more big payday, with Buffalo or with another team. This could be his last best chance, and it could be a powerful incentive for him.
The other thing that will help keep T.O. in line is for the team to have success. The more he wins, the happier he is.
7. For the cynics who say that the T.O. signing is a public relations play to boost sagging season ticket sales, I say yes and no. There is no question the Bills had decided to go after a veteran wideout. It certainly seems they pursued Coles hard, and then T.O. fell into their laps. They get a quality receiver, a chance for their young receivers to mature and a chance to reevaluate the whole situation in a year.
But there is no question that fan excitement exploded as the T.O. rumors grew and then became true. Will the excitement translate into season tickets sales? Probably. But the real excitement can only come with winning.
8. Jauron is now fully and squarely on the hot seat. He has the offensive weapons, he’s left with his own offensive line mess, and he has his defense. He also has one potentially huge headache. There are no excuses in 2009, including T.O. Jauron wanted him, now he has him. It’s Jauron’s job to make it work.
9. Taking T.O. strikes me as a desperate move. Take a bold step to juice the offense and sell tickets. Take the big gamble to make a winner and save the franchise. High risk, high reward. A year from now we could be celebrating a great revival or watching an even bigger mess in the organization.
10. For me, I’ve been in a total wait-and-see mode since the end of January, and no free agent signing is going to change my skepticism. I’ll be cheering for T.O., and I’ll be thrilled by the plays we know he will make. But it’s all about Ws. For me, the question is whether these coaches can lead a team and make it a winner. It’s time for winning on the field, not on paper.