Editor’s note: To clear up any confusion, please be advised that this story was not written on behalf of either the Monday Quarterback Club or the Buffalo Bills Booster Club, the two organizations which co-sponsored the event.
Two of the biggest offseason stories in the NFL, Terrell Owens’ arrival and Jason Peters’ departure, have focused national attention on normally quiet One Bills Drive for the last several weeks. So when members of the Bills Boosters and Monday Quarterback Club had an opportunity to question chief operating officer Russ Brandon and head coach Dick Jauron on Thursday evening, both the offensive line and a certain wide receiver were sure to be mentioned early and often.
After short opening remarks by emcee Paul Peck – filling in for an under-the-weather John Murphy – and Brandon, the Bills’ COO handed off the microphone to Jauron.
“We believe we’ve had a terrific offseason. In our free agency, we’ve added some big names, as you’re all aware, and we’ve added some people at positions that were critical for us to have on our roster. And then, of course, our draft was a really exciting day for us. It fell in a way that we felt really strengthened our team in areas that needed strengthening,” the Bills coach said before opening the floor for questions.
The first one concerned the changes on the line, with Jauron confirming that Langston Walker is the most likely candidate to start at left tackle this season. Kirk Chambers, Demetrius Bell, and Jonathon Scott will compete for the job on the right side, and draftees Eric Wood and Andy Levitre are both in the mix to start at guard.
“I make a list that might have about 15-18 players on it. Regardless of where they’re ranked, I always say, ‘These are guys I want on our team. These guys will help us win.’ And both of those guards were on it,” he said, admitting he was pleasantly surprised to see Levitre still on the board when they traded back into the second round. “I was really taken with this player,” he added.
On defense, although bringing in a free agent is still an option, it sounds like the Bills think they’re set at linebacker. And no, first-round pick Aaron Maybin is not part of that plan.
“Aaron Maybin is a defensive lineman,” Jauron said. “We plan to just play him as a defensive end, primarily in pass rush situations. But he can play against the run. If you try to block him with a tight end, he’ll defeat your tight end. He’s very lean, so he’s got room to add some weight. Now, we’re not planning to put a lot of weight on him. The reason we drafted him was to give Aaron Schobel another speed rusher, so they have to worry about two speed rushers outside, and that’s what his forte is. So we’ll concentrate on that, and then in time, he’ll grow into playing more and more for us.”
He continued, “I really like our starting (linebacking) corps, but I’d like to be able to stay healthy for the year. That changed before we played a game last year, when Angelo left on the Thursday before the opening game. Keith did a terrific job filling in all year at that spot. Kawika upgraded us; he’s tough, he’s big. Paul will take another step this year. Paul Posluszny’s a guy who loves football, he’s very smart, and he’ll be even more confident this year. I’ve got a lot of faith in those guys.”
The talk then turned back to the offensive line, when an astute member of the audience noted that Jauron had omitted a name in his earlier breakdown, and asked about the Brad-Butler-to-right-tackle rumors.
“I guess I didn’t want the public to know that,” he said with a sheepish grin while the crowd chuckled. “There’s a really good chance that we will move Brad Butler out. Brad’s a very unselfish player. He may be more suited to tackle than to guard, and he’s a good guard. We’ll just have to see how it all goes with the young players, and Kirk Chambers can play guard, too. We’ve got some other guys we can see at that position.
“But at this point, I would say that we’re kind of counting on that to happen. We’re kind of counting on Brad to take that spot. We’re counting on Langston to take that left spot, to be the defender, the pass blocker that he is. And then compete inside. That really solidifies us. I think it gives us a cohesive group of guys, tough guys.”
Naturally, he couldn’t escape without answering at least one question about Owens, who he considers a “great addition.” He listed the wideout’s Hall of Fame-worthy credentials, then added, “… so we’d better throw the ball to him,” to another round of laughter.
After a couple more questions, Brandon took over at the front of the M+T Bank Club, and provided more insight on exactly how the deal with T.O. came to pass.
“It was about winning games,” he said. “When we looked at it – I’ll tell you a little bit about the story, because a lot of people have asked us. When we went onto the offseason, one of our key thoughts was to bring in another playmaker. As many of you know, we took a run at Laveranues Coles, and we lost out to Cincinnati on that move. As we continued to look, there looked like there was going to be an opportunity that Owens was going to become available. We talked about it at length internally, and coach Jauron said, ‘I’d rather play with him than against him.’
“It just so happened that we were looking at a third running back at the time named Kevin Jones who happened to be a Drew Rosenhaus client. I was actually having dinner with my wife on Friday evening, and Drew called and said, ‘We’d be interested in coming up and having a discussion.’” Brandon knew booking them on a commercial flight was out of the question, so he called in a favor from a friend with a private plane.
“We flew down, picked up Owens, and were back here in our office by about 12:30. One thing about Drew Rosenhaus, he hardly ever wears a tie. But he had a tie on that day, and I said, Why are you wearing this tie, he said, because I think we might be doing a press conference. But when we sat down and had the first conversation relative to this contract, I didn’t think we were going to be doing a press conference.
“It was a situation that came together quickly ... It was a great opportunity for this organization, under the sole premise of winning games. It’s key for us to take that double coverage off of Lee, and get him in space. Bringing in another playmaker like Owens really does that for us, and it opens up what we do in the middle with Josh Reed and Roscoe Parrish. Obviously, our two running backs last year led the National Football League in catches with 70 catches out of the backfield. So we have weapons, and we wanted to also add another tight end into the mix, which we were able to do ... I was stunned Shawn (Nelson) was still there in the fourth round. We had a very high grade on him. He runs very well, he’s an explosive player, and that was something we felt we needed to add to our offense at the tight end position.”
With those weapons in place, it was time to deal once and for all with the Jason Peters situation, which had been dragging on for an entire year.
“Here’s a player that we brought in as a undrafted free agent, we developed, we signed to an over-market contract,” Brandon said. “And the one misnomer in that contract was, he had an escalator clause if he would ever move to left tackle. He was not making bottom money at all. He was paid very handsomely. And we told Jason – I personally told Jason – that we would not renegotiate his contract with three years left on it, because he was not our priority. Lee Evans was our priority. I said, ‘You come back to camp, and once we get Lee done, you become a priority.’ The day that we signed Lee, I had him come to my office, and I said, ‘You are now the priority.’ We worked on that for five or six months, and we offered Jason an enormous contract – the largest contract in Bills history – and he had no interest in it. None. That was right at the conclusion of the season.
“From our standpoint, history is the greatest predictor. We felt very strongly that Jason was not going to come back to camp, was not going to participate, and we were going to be in the same situation. And we felt as an organization that we should not do that to you the fans, and to our organization. Coach Jauron mentioned the word cohesion on the offensive line It’s the most important part of our operation, the cohesion in that line. And with that type of atmosphere, you don’t have that cohesion.
“Quite frankly, I was somewhat stunned when you look at some of the trades that happened in the offseason, with Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel going for a second-rounder and some of the other moves that were made. When that first-rounder came available, along with a few other picks, we felt it was the right move, and we were able to do some things along the offensive line. We think we have the offensive line together now for the next five to seven years, if some of our draft picks pan out the way we anticipate they will.”
As previously mentioned during the draft-day press conferences, that line will be anchored from the center spot by free-agent signee Geoff Hangartner, not first-round pick Eric Wood. Brandon explained the logic:
“Geoff Hangartner was 100 percent our No. 1 priority going into free agency at 12:01. We had pro-scouted him for the last two years. He is enormously intelligent, very talented, and tough, physical. He finishes. His football intelligence, and overall intelligence, is off the charts. I think everyone knows how important that position is, and he was a guy we went right after.
“Many people have asked about the Eric Wood question, whether we brought him in as a center. Eric is coming in here to compete at guard, and Eric knows that. Many of you remember Steve Kragthorpe, who was our quarterback coach. Steve is the head coach at Louisville, and I had extensive conversations with Steve about Eric at the combine. He said, ‘Unquestionably, he is the toughest, smartest, nastiest finisher I have ever coached on the offensive line.’
“That’s what we’re trying to add to this team. Both Levitre and Wood have added that, along with Hangartner, and I think you know what kind of a player Brad Butler is as far as his demeanor on gameday. Pass-pro wise, Langston Walker is our best pass protector. As Dick said, probably the left side would work the best for him.
“We think we have the start of something.”
--Booster Club president Sharon Jackson asked that thoughts and prayers go out not only to Ralph Wilson and family upon the passing of his daughter, Linda Bogdan, but also to the surviving family members of Tom Sestak, whose wife died yesterday. And if Lou Saban’s family didn’t already have enough heartache to deal with, the family home was apparently destroyed in the wildfires that devastated parts of North Myrtle Beach, S.C.
--Trainer Chris Fischetti was on hand to present the team’s Ed Block Courage Award to this year’s recipient, defensive end Chris Kelsay.
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