I had a thought about the Buffalo Bills' upcoming season in an odd place - the barber's chair.
Bear with me on this one for a moment.
As I sat in the chair for the monthly visit, it came up in conversation that I had been going to the same barber almost dating back to the time I moved to Buffalo. In other words, I've been having Sandy give me a trim for more than 40 years.
In other words, I made a decision back in 1971, and haven't looked back. That's in spite of the fact I've moved within the region a couple of times. I may have to drive a ways now, but I make an appointment, get it done, usually have lunch with a friend near his establishment in Clarence, and move on. That's one fewer thing I've had to worry about over the years.
Now let's put that in terms of building a football team.
The fewer decisions a football team has to make, the better off it is. No, teams don't pick players and expect them to be starters for 40 years, but 10 would be nice for high draft choices. Let's look back at the Bills' fairly recent history and see how they've done in that regard.
Let's go back to 2000, when the first-round pick was Eric Flowers. It took about two years to figure out he wasn't going to be a factor at defensive end. That meant they had to take Aaron Schobel in the second round the following year. Schobel was one of those good picks, but it meant they couldn't address another need. In the Flowers category was Aaron Maybin, a 2009 first-rounder. I won't go over the players who could have been Bills in that slot, as you'll become ill.
In 2001, the Bills had the fourth pick overall and took Mike Williams, a tackle from Texas. Everyone thought he was a can't-miss player, a future Pro Bowler. Well, he missed. His failure to produce meant the Bills had to bring in many other players to fill that gap, and they spent a lot of money while failing to do so for years. It looks like Cordy Glenn is that guy now, at least.
Running backs can be a little injury-prone, and it's tough to count on someone lasting a decade. Still, the Bills have gone through a few of them. Willis McGahee was a gamble from the start, but did last for quite a while in the NFL. Sadly, only three of those seasons were in Buffalo, as he wore out his welcome. When McGahee was traded, Marshawn Lynch was drafted to replace him. Lynch again may make it through a decade, but not here. He had issues in Buffalo, and the Bills drafted C.J. Spiller to replace him. (Fred Jackson's arrival also helped make Lynch expendable, although Lynch certainly has done well in Seattle.)
Sometimes you get lucky in the draft. In 2008,the Bills picked up Stevie Johnson in the seventh round after whiffing on James Hardy in the second. Similarly, Buffalo took Kyle Williams in the fifth round after trading up to the first round to acquire, gasp, John McCargo.
What's more, free agency certainly adds some odd angles to the equation. The Bills have had some successes in recent years in the draft or in the free-agent market - Andy Levitre, Paul Posluszny, Jairus Byrd, Jason Peters, Donte Whitner. All left for greener pastures. That's going to happen in some cases in an era of free agency, but it's difficult to see 10-year solutions walk away.
That brings us to today. EJ Manuel is the Bills' big hope at quarterback. Buffalo obviously liked him enough to take him in the first round more than a year ago. As a rookie, he didn't show us that he would be a 10-year answer at the position. But, he didn't show us that he couldn't be that 10-year answer. We'll have to wait and see, which makes this a key year for him and the team.
Meanwhile, there obviously is a decision to be make on Marcell Dareus, a first-round pick in 2011. He's obviously a good-sized talent, pardon the pun, making the Pro Bowl last season at nose tackle. But he's been adding personal baggage by the month lately. It's tough to know when a player like that has become more trouble than he's worth ... and he's worth a lot.
Naturally, the more you miss on players, the more losses you have ... which leads to coaching changes, and new football philosophies, and more player changes. The cycle of losing can be painful to watch.
The long-term theory also applies to other sports, although there are differences. It's very difficult to judge 18-year-old hockey players when they become available for the draft. You're asking scouts to say what someone will be like five years into the future. If they could predict the future, they'd be buying lottery tickets. Still, when you miss, it's painful. There's a lot riding on Sabres' top pick Sam Reinhart in the coming years. He has to replace such players as Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek as the face of the franchise, although at least the Sabres got their 10 yearsor so out of those two before they were traded just before free agency.
Fans want to win right away, and sometimes that can happen with skill and luck in roster-building. But usually the building blocks for such seasons have come with good, long-term decisions from the past that improve the odds.
Ask my barber about those.
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