Chuck Pollock

Man, this is a hard time to be a Bills fan.
Any number of members of the Buffalo faithful have told me they can’t find a single reason to be excited about the coming season.
I feel their pain.
And it’s not merely the intercepted phone call between Buddy Nix and Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik by two pranksters where the Bills’ GM comes off as a bit of a rube and the whole episode becomes an embarrassment to the franchise.
Unlike a year ago, no matter how it turned out, the signing of defensive end Mario Williams had Bills’ Nation abuzz.
And while he didn’t put up Pro Bowl numbers — 11 total tackles and only one sack in the first five games — finishing with a modest 46 tackles, 10 1/2 sacks, two forced fumbles and two recoveries, his acquisition put some adrenaline into the franchise.

THIS YEAR, not so much.
First there have been the free agent losses.
Gone are guards Andre Levitre and Chad Rinehart signing with Tennessee and San Diego, respectively.
Buffalo did sign three of its 13 unrestricted free agents: quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, outside linebacker Bryan Scott and cornerback Leodis McKelvin.
In addition, the Bills put the franchise tag on free safety Jairus Byrd to retain his rights.
Meanwhile, defensive end Shawne Merriman retired at age 28, maintaining he could still play, though he clearly wasn’t the same player after testing positive for steroids, then injuring his Achilles tendon.
Still unsigned are fullback Corey McIntyre, who the Bills would like to retain, defensive end Kyle Moore, who had some good moments last season, and a quartet of players — quarterback Tyler Thigpen, running back Tashard Choice, defensive lineman Spencer Johnson and wide receiver Ruvell Martin — who Buffalo seemingly has no intention of bringing back.
High-character defensive end Chris Kelsay retired, at age 33, a move that might have been suggested to him by administration considering his $6 million salary was way too expensive for a part-time starter. It seemed he was permitted to leave on his terms.
And, wide receiver David Nelson wasn’t tendered an offer after spending virtually all of last season on injured reserve with a knee injury.
Keeping Byrd, a gifted interceptor,  was a no-brainer but re-signing McKelvin was a head-scratcher.
Yes, he’s an elite return man, especially on punts, and the original report of a 4-year contract for $20 million has been adjusted down to $17 million. Still, $4 million was guaranteed and that factors  to a salary of $4.25 million per year which seems pricey for a player who has  started only 10 games in the 29 he’s played over the last two seasons.
Worse, while he seems to have the ability to stay with his man. McKelvin’s ball skills are suspect. Well-covered receivers catch balls on him all the time and he owns a mere six interceptions in five seasons and 64 games.
Levitre’s loss was disappointing, but the Bills couldn’t be expected to pay nearly $8 million a season for a solid and durable guard who had never made a Pro Bowl. More surprising was the loss of Rinehart, who started 15 games in the last three seasons for Buffalo and seemed to be Levitre’s heir apparent.

THEN, OF COURSE, there were the releases of linebacker Nick Barnett, cornerback Terrence McGee, safety George Wilson (Tennessee), wide receiver Donald Jones (New England) and, of course, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (Tennessee).
Fitz being waived was a surprise for two reasons.
One, with only Jackson on the roster as an experienced QB, where in the league would he have a better chance to be a starter than in Buffalo?
It’s a dismal offseason for free-agent quarterbacks — hence his quick signing by the Titans — and a lousy year to be picking one in the draft.
Two, that he wouldn’t restructure his contract.
Fitz is a bright guy, one of the league’s smartest players, and Buffalo’s reworked offer of $3 million a  year for four seasons — with a chance to make $4 million — still was good money, especially if he didn’t earn the starting job.
As it turned out, Fitzpatrick received $21 million of the $62 million extension he received in October of 2011 ... pretty much starter’s pay. And while he keeps the bonus, the rest of the contract is voided with his waiving so the Bills ended up saving about two-thirds of that deal.

IN FREE AGENCY, Buffalo has been virtually inert, the lone signing being former Bengals linebacker Manny Lawson, who can player either a 3-4, or 4-3 alignment, but is better-suited to the former which will be Buffalo’s base alignment under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who intends to use a hybrid of both schemes.
So that’s where the Bills are 37 days before this year’s draft, having added a new coaching staff heavy on college experience and one pedestrian linebacker, re-signing two of its own free agents while waiving four veterans, admittedly on merit, seemingly letting seven others leave and saying good-bye to a pair of retirees.
In fairness, none of those exits spell disaster for the Bills.
Virtually all, due to age, eroded skills, bloated contracts or scheme incompatibility, hardly represent mistaken personnel decisions.
But the major question at quarterback remains. Then there’s the talent void at wide receiver and linebacker, plus the crying need for depth at tight end, guard, cornerback and safety.
And you wonder why Bills’ fans aren’t excited?
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at

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