(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a two-part series on Bills’ Executive Vice President/General Manager Buddy Nix’s season-summarizing press conference.)
ORCHARD PARK — When Bills’ GM Buddy Nix met with the media on Monday, many of the questions dealt with personnel ... including players who become free agents on March 13, the most prominent of them wide receiver Stevie Johnson.
The former seventh-round draft choice with a solid upside but a penchant for ill-considered touchdown celebrations and ill-timed drops, has said he wants to stay in Buffalo.
The real question is whether the Bills want him ... at what figures to be a steep price.
“He fits in,” Nix said of Johnson. “ We do want him back and I know that you think about the antics, penalties and obviously we’re not happy about that. I don’t think Stevie is either. I know the things he does in practice, he practices hurt — I think he’s a team guy. We want him back.”
Would there be special language in a new contract?
“Our stipulations were what we put on him after the first time,” Nix pointed out. “He knew what the consequences were. He did it (anyway). I’m convinced that he thought he’d have to pay a fine but (didn’t) think he’d get a penalty (after flashing the Happy New Year message on an undershirt after a TD in New England).
“I don’t think he would intentionally do something to hurt our team. He tries to do the right thing when he’s playing and he tries to do the right thing in practice and in the locker room. He’s not a criminal. He made a mistake. It cost us, and he paid the price.”
WHAT ABOUT left tackle Demetrius Bell?
“Demetrius has all the tools,” Nix maintained. “He’s got the good feet, he’s a good athlete, he’s what you look for at left tackle. The problem with Demetrius is injuries. He started the first four games for us, he gets hurt, he then misses four or five and comes back and plays three then ends up hurt again. He was rehabbing the whole year and couldn’t practice all week. All those things enter into it. (But) we’re going to try to re-sign him.”
TIGHT END Scott Chandler?
“We want Scott back,” Nix said. “We want to keep the good players and he’s one of them. If we can keep him at the right price, we will. Scott, going into this year, caught one ball in his (four-year) career. My point is (he’s) probably more productive and more important to us than (he) may be to somebody else. (Players) may want to find out. If they do and they get what they want, more power to them. I’m just saying that a lot of times that grass looks a lot greener but it may not be.”
ANOTHER key subject was an extension for injured running back Fred Jackson.
“Does anybody here know how long (his) contract is?,” Nix asked. “He’s a Bill for 14 months, (until) a year from March 13. Fred and I have talked ... we want to extend (him). I’d like for Fred to finish his career as a Bill.
“He’s meant a lot to us ... I’ve got great respect for him. I tell him that. We’re going to try to get something done. Does it matter if we do it next week or a month from now? As long as we get it done before the season starts it’s all the same, really.”
THEN THERE’s outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, wrestling Achilles tendon issues.
“We took a chance on Shawne ... it was a risk, we knew it going in,” Nix admitted. “We needed a guy of his caliber that we couldn’t go anywhere else and get. If you remember we weren’t the only ones that claimed (him) but we had the priority (on the waiver wire).
“There was a decision made that without surgery he could be fixed and he could make it. Well he didn’t. When he was out, even though he didn’t have a lot of sacks, we missed him when he wasn’t there ... somebody to set the edge, we lost containment continuously.”
Nix pointed out if the situation was the same, the Bills would sign Merriman again.
“It’s a risk,” he admitted, “(but) the business is (risky) ... you draft a guy and he gets hurt the first day of camp. We knew he had injuries. We knew there were things that may crop up.”
NIX WAS also asked about his confidence level in quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was extended at midseason.
“I’ve got no reservations about Ryan,” he said. “He had some bad games (but) the thing we know for sure is that we’ve seen him do it ... we’ve seen him have to good games. He’s what we thought he would be.
“When we started losing players and losing weapons for him he compensated by trying to carry the load (more). (It) sounds like excuses, but they’re reasons.
“He’s got a gunslinger mentality. I think you’ve got to rein that in a little bit and make good judgments but if we put good people around him we can get to the dance with Ryan.”
SO, WITH the draft three months away, what are the Bills’ greatest areas of need.
“From where we were, it was a hodge-podge of needs, Nix said. “We had (needs) everywhere. It wasn’t like you could pin-point them. I think we’re at a point where we can spot three or four positions that if we could fill those with the right guys and get our injured guys back we’ll be competitive.
“Even signing Stevie, we could use another big time receiver. We could use another offensive tackle. Defensively, the priority would have to be pass rushers — defensive ends (or outside linebackers) — one, maybe two. And you could never have enough corners. We’d like to add two corners, whether it’s through free agency or the draft. We also, at some point, need another linebacker.”
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)