The National Football League has officially checked off on one major event of the offseason. The NFL Scouting Combine is over and done with, and now the league will quickly shift into the start of free agency later in the week.
It's going to happen rapidly, with teams able to start speaking with impending free agents starting March 7 (Tuesday), and with the ability to sign those players starting on March 9 at 4:00 pm (Thursday).
As far as the Buffalo Bills are concerned, their big deadline is neither of those. They'll have to make a decision on Tyrod Taylor by Saturday, March 11 at 4:00 pm.
So what did we learn about the Bills during this year's Combine? Five of my brief observations:
1) Holding pattern until Tyrod decision is made
- I'm sure this isn't what you wanted to read, especially seeing as how the Bills entire offseason is directly correlated to what their decision will be. However, that's where we are. There are less than five full days to go before the Bills must make their decision, and the team still doesn't know what they're going to do. On top of it all, the Bills -- and the moves they'll make in free agency -- is linked to this decision. After the first wave of cuts by the Bills to open up some salary cap space, they have 45 players signed, with only about $24 million in cap room. So, considering only the Top 51 is what's accounted for the salary cap in the offseason, the Bills have roughly around $4 million per roster spot to deal with, but it's likely even less, considering the lowest contracts in the Top 51 will go up when the Bills go through with the draft and in undrafted free agency. If the Bills were to release Taylor, they would save an additional $13.1 million -- or in terms of the Top 51... it would leave them with approximately $5.3 million per vacant roster spot -- a significant difference, and one that could yield a second-tier free agent rather than just a third-tier or veteran-minimum type. It would, however, rip the Bills of an experienced starting quarterback for the 2017 season. Expect the Bills to be active on the phones from Tuesday through Saturday at 3:59 pm, but not in the way you'd think. They'll be busy trying to gauge the free agent market, which players are going where... and whether or not they can find something better than Tyrod Taylor on either the open market or via trade. This is still unsettled, but luckily for all parties, it's a story that will have an ending by this time next week.
2) Wave goodbye to Gilmore
- With the Bills declining to give cornerback Stephon Gilmore the franchise tag, it signaled a couple of things. First, there is no way they could have done it with how their current standing in how much cap room they have. Second, without really a whisper of the Bills trying to get a deal done with the soon-to-be free agent cornerback, it's all but assured that they're moving in a different direction. Gilmore has proven to be a good starter for the Bills, but if he was truly a shutdown player that consistently performs at an elite level, the Bills would have found a way to make it work and to make him a core building block moving forward. Their immediate future at the cornerback position is murky at best, but they won't be tied to a $14 million-a-year contract to a player that is likely better suited for a different defensive system. This is a prudent business decision by the Bills, but they now must prioritize figuring out if Kevon Seymour is the answer as the starter opposite Ronald Darby. They'll, at the very least, need to add depth at the position.
3) Is it Aaron Williams' decision, or the Bills' decision?
- The last time we spoke to the Bills players, Aaron Williams stood in front of his emptied out locker and talked at length with reporters about the upcoming decision he had to make about his future in the league. For the second straight year, Williams was placed on Injured Reserve with a neck injury and had both friends and family telling him to walk away from the game. However, it's now March 6, and that decision has yet to be disclosed by either Williams or the team. What is interesting, however, is head coach Sean McDermott's answer regarding Williams.
"Aaron's no different than the rest of our players. We're going through that process, so we're going to evaluate and make the best decision for our organization."
There was no allusion to the decision that the safety has to make. McDermott, whether he meant to or not, made it sound like that the Bills will be the ones making the call on Williams' career with them -- and not the other way around. It's probably for the best that the Bills make the decision, to be fair. They held on to hope that Williams could return to the player he had become last year, without acquiring a substantial backup plan just in case he had a setback. Williams, of course, had the setback, and the safety spot was one of the weakest positions on the field for the rest of the year. If they were to cut Williams and use the post-June 1 exemption on him, they could delay the majority of their dead money hit and save more on this year's salary cap.
4) The Siemian report makes way too much sense
- Of all of the rumors bandied about during my time in Indianapolis, the one that makes the most sense is the one from Denver NFL reporter Benjamin Allbright. According to Allbright, if the Broncos were to upgrade their quarterback position this offseason -- and he mentioned Tony Romo by name -- then the Bills are expected to have an interest in acquiring the services of Denver's 2016 starter Trevor Siemian. And really, if you get over the name, you'll realize that would make all too much sense for the Bills' current situation. With how they've been talking, the Bills clearly believe they can contend for a playoff spot this year, so having a quarterback with starting experience -- and some winning experience, too -- will play a big part in any and all quarterback decisions they make this offseason. Siemian started all but two games last season, so they wouldn't be starting completely over at quarterback. Then, there's the fact that he makes under $1 million for each of the next two seasons, which means the Bills could have a starting caliber player and save all that cap room by walking away from Tyrod Taylor. And thirdly, the familiarity with offensive coordinator Rick Dennison will make them believe Siemian can hit the ground running if brought in by Buffalo. The one flaw to their plan: hoping that Denver finds an upgrade at quarterback, that can facilitate such a trade for Buffalo.
5) The Bills desperately need to trade down from 10th overall
- I know most fans of teams will always think about the benefit of trading down and acquiring more picks, but most times, that's usually where that speculation ends. However, with what the Bills are at this point in time, it might make trading down from 10th overall an outright necessity this April. The Bills have a high number of needs (QB, WR, TE, OT, DE, DT, LB, CB, S) and a low number of valuable offseason resources. The Bills have a low amount of cap room in comparison to the rest of the league, and only six draft picks in April. Considering all the needs, and how deep the draft is at a lot of those positions of need, it simply just makes sense for them to move down from 10th overall. Especially if they aren't going to take a swing on a quarterback at 10th overall, moving down to get an essential 2-for-1 deal is a promising proposition. They've done this to themselves, and salary cap mismanagement has gotten them to this point this offseason. However, they do have a few cards they can play, and trading down from the 10th overall pick in the draft is the most logical and ideal one of all.