Bills fans have grown frustrated over the years by the team’s lack of spending in the free-agent market. But there’s already evidence that a team flush with cap space is willing to spend in 2012.
They invested in the short- and long-term future Monday by re-signing top receiver Stevie Johnson to a five-year contract worth over $35 million.
Now, word is out that they’re looking to continue to bolster the receiving corps by adding the most highly touted impending unrestricted free agent at said position. Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported last night that the Bills remain interested in Vincent Jackson, despite the fact they’ve just handed $11 million in immediate guarantees to Johnson.
While it’s refreshing to see that the Bills might finally be willing to spend money on players who will make the team better, I’m also not sure about this strategy. Jackson is a big, athletic receiver who could help the passing game, but is he worth the $10 million-plus he’s likely going to demand? Of course not. The problem is that general manager Buddy Nix has warped priorities.
“Yes I would characterize our approach this time around as more aggressive,” Nix told Buffalobills.com. “Our philosophy since we got here was build through the draft and then plug in mid-range guys in free agency. Wait until the first week has passed and the fanfare and overspending happens is probably over in the first three or four days. We’ve waited in the past. This year if there is a player that upgrades our team considerably we will be aggressive immediately. We’ll go after him. We may get him. We may not, but we’ll get in the hunt.”
Because Bills fans are starved for proven veterans and big names, they’ll likely hope and pray that the team is successful in this pursuit. That’s understandable, and it’s how most sports fans are wired.
The problem is that the Bills never had the wrong approach in years past. Their problem was the tight budget that handcuffed the front office. If that has changed and the team now has the freedom to spend, then they’d be smart to continue to spend that money on those “mid-range guys” Nix alluded to.
When was the last time a Super Bowl team was fueled by a big-name free agent? The last six teams to appear in the Super Bowl — New Orleans, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, the Giants and New England — were only small-time players on the open market in the offseasons that preceded their championship runs. Hell, the Packers haven’t signed a single unrestricted free agent since 2009.
Staying away from top-end free agents is the best strategy, both fiscally and otherwise. And there’s no such thing as a blank check in Buffalo — while Johnson and Jackson would make a superb duo, they aren’t worth $17 or $18 million per year.
David Nelson caught more passes than Jackson did in 2011. He’s on the payroll for less than half a million dollars in 2012. And they still have high hopes for the young Donald Jones, who’ll make $540,000 next year. Jackson is overrated already, and that’ll be exacerbated as he hits the open market — he’s always had the skills and the measurements, but we’re talking about a guy who, at 29, has never caught more than 68 passes or registered north of 1,167 yards in a single season.
If the Bills want to spend big bucks in free agency, they’d be smarter to address a pass rush that has recorded just 56 sacks in the last 32 games. How ’bout Israel Idonije or Mark Anderson or Jeremy Mincey? They could probably get two of those guys for the price of a Vincent Jackson.
Nix might have a soft spot for Jackson, who he played a hand in drafting as the assistant GM in San Diego in 2005. But this isn’t personal, it’s business. And investing in overpriced free-agent wideouts when you have bigger fish to fry at other positions is bad business.