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Bills tackle needs with free agency

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Posted: Saturday, April 5, 2014 11:16 pm

Marv Levy, the Bills’ Hall of Fame coach, was an endless fountain of wisdom via his sayings and historical quotations.

And one of his oft-used favorites went, “What you do speaks so loudly nobody can hear what you say.”

That assessment perfectly fits his former team this off-season.

When Buffalo’s campaign ended with a loss at New England late last December, the Bills’ 6-10 record locked them into the ninth overall draft pick come May 8.

Immediately speculation began about who the Bills would take.

Some reactionaries (read: E.J. Manuel critics) deemed that the most pressing need was still at quarterback.

Of course, the more rational thinkers assessed that it takes more than 10 starts as a rookie to determine whether he’s “the guy.”

SO WHAT were the Bills’ real priorities?

Well, five moves in free agency and a trade have given a strong inkling.

Even a casual fan could see Buffalo was in need of a marquee receiver — Stevie Johnson is No. 1 in salary only — and that the linebacking, with the notable exception of rookie star-in-the-making Kiko Alonso, was substandard.

And more incisive observers ascertained that offensive left guard was a trouble spot and that the return and coverage special teams needed help.

So, guess what, the Bills’ personnel moves spokes directly to those very needs.

THE WIDE RECEIVER circumstance is interesting.

The Buffalo faithful likely endured a collective shudder when it was revealed that the Bills seemingly had an interest in former Eagle DeSean Jackson.  Luckily, Washington did them a favor by signing him to an outsized contract.

But if you think general manager Doug Whaley missed an opportunity, consider this.  Philadelphia, with an offense heavily-weighted to the pass, CUT a Pro Bowl wide receiver in his prime. Doesn’t that say giving up a talented player with more baggage than an airport carousel was seen as merely addition by subtraction.

Then, seemingly having dodged disaster, the Bills sent a sixth-round draft pick to Tampa Bay for Mike Williams, a wideout with issues of his own.

A Buffalo native, his numbers are in place — 215 catches and 25 touchdowns in 54 games — but so are his brushes with the law. They include a DUI arrest in which charges were eventually dropped and, according to a Tampa newspaper, criminal mischief and trespassing charges for an incident at his girlfriend’s home in which a diversion program could lead to a dismissal of charges and two separate lawsuits (one from an insurance company, the other by a landlord) over damages to a rental property.

And that doesn’t include Williams having been stabbed last month by his  brother who was charged with aggravated battery and domestic violence.

And there’s more.

Williams was suspended for the 2008 season at Syracuse for violating the school’s academic integrity policy and, a year later, depending on which story you believe, he either quit the team or was thrown off by coach Doug Marrone.

The same Doug Marrone, now coaching the Bills, who is giving Williams another chance after Buccaneers’ management wearied of his act.

THEN THERE are the free agents.

Buffalo grabbed not one, but two, linebackers: New England’s Brandon Spikes and the Giants Keith Rivers.

Both figure to be starters.

Spikes, a notable run-stuffer, will be in the middle of the 4-3 alignment. That frees Alonso to move outside to Manny Lawson’s spot, away from the pounding inside and enabling him to maximize his speed in coverage and rushing the passer.

Rivers will likely take the place of low-producing Nigel Bradham on the other side.

Guard Chris Williams, late of the Rams, was signed to take over the left guard job that neither Doug Legursky nor Colin Brown handled adequately.

Brown was cut at midseason and Legursky, a capable backup listed at a generous 6-foot-1, isn’t big enough to play full-time.

PROBABLY Buffalo’s best signing was cornerback Corey Graham, another Buffalo native, who comes from the Ravens.

He’s a good enough position player to press Leodis McKelvin for the starting spot on the left side and, at very least, stands as an upgrade at nickel back.

But the clincher for Bills is the fact that Graham is an exceptional special teams player who figures to improve punt and kickoff return units that ranked 29th and 32nd (last) in the league and a punt coverage crew that was 25th.

Indeed, special teams skills clinched the signing of former 49er Anthony Dixon, a reserve power back and short-yardage specialist who replaces the versatile Tashard Choice backing up Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.

As for who the Bills will pick in that No. 9 spot, you could do worse than speculate a big (read: tall) wide receiver. At 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds, Williams, the same height and a shade heavier than Johnson, isn’t that guy.

But there several such gems who figure to go high in the draft.

(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at

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