ORCHARD PARK – Shhh! Don’t look now, but thanks to two big off-season trades, the Buffalo Bills are quietly building a contender to reckon with in the AFC.
Buffalo, who finished 9-7, including a 4-2 mark in the AFC East, pulled off one of the biggest blockbuster deals in the off-season in trading linebacker Kiko Alonso to the Philadelphia Eagles for All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy. McCoy who rushed for the third-most number of yards (1,319), signed a five-year $40 million deal, with $26.5 million guaranteed.
The signing of McCoy is both an upgrade and vast improvement over Fred Jackson and the now-departed C.J. Spiller.
Buffalo showed that they were not done in the off-season in trading for journeyman quarterback Matt Cassel for undisclosed draft choices, provides an upgrade at QB over EJ Manuel—who will most likely battle Cassel in training camp. While Manuel has flashed some talent, Cassel is the veteran quarterback—like Kyle Orton—that Buffalo needs now.
Looking at their off-season moves on offense in signing controversial offensive lineman Richie Incognito to a one-year deal and fullback Jerome Felton, the emergence of second-year wideout Sammy Watkins, being linked to tight end Charles Clay of the Miami Dolphins and Percy Harvin of the New York Jets, and the Bills could field one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.
While free agency is barely 48 hours old, if the Bills were to sign both Clay and Harvin, not only would these moves weaken AFC East rivals, but the sight of an offense featuring Watkins, Harvin, Robert Woods at WR, Clay and Scott Chandler in two tight-end sets, McCoy lined up behind Felton with Cassel under center would be sure to give opposing defensive coordinators a few headaches around the league, and a proverbial wet dream for new Bills offensive coordinator, Greg Roman.
With the Bills already-stout defense not missing a beat in re-signing defensive tackle Kyle Williams to a one-year $10.5 million extension and locking up defensive end Jerry Hughes with a new five-year $45 million deal, the ever-aggressive and brash Rex Ryan has his players in place to make some noise in the suddenly competitive AFC East.
With the long-time rival Miami Dolphins signing Ndamukong Suh, the New York Jets bringing back Darrelle Revis and the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots signing Jabbal Sheard and Brandon Gibson, the Bills may not be able to proverbially close the gap on the Patriots stranglehold on the division, but should make for a formidable contender in the AFC.