happen in training camp: wideout pulls a muscle, superstar wants to
renegotiate. Generally these things get worked out, especially the holdouts.
"The summer of discontent," Al Davis calls it. But there comes a time
when a contract stalemate becomes serious, and that's what the Bills went
through this summer. Their best player, 26-year-old Jason Peters, the Pro Bowl
left tackle, not only wanted his deal reworked but also went incommunicado. The
Bills weren't negotiating until he returned to camp, and they were using
Langston Walker, the right tackle, to fill Peters's spot on the left.
The new offensive
coordinator is Turk Schonert. That means a new system and new offensive line
calls. That's not impossible for Peters to pick up on short notice, but not
ideal, either. The new general manager is Russ Brandon, a decent person who had
to confront one of the more merciless agents, Eugene Parker, the guy calling
the shots for the Peters camp. New G.M., huh? Let's see how tough you are.
"If only I'd
hear from Jason, but there hasn't been a word," Brandon said early in camp.
Ah, but that's the strategy. The big stonewall. Peters, a converted tight end,
was in the third year of a five-year contract that would pay him $3.25 million
this season. He's far outperformed those numbers. And while a new deal was
likely to be worked out at some point, his long absence has made a fragile
Buffalo operation even shakier.
An All-Pro left
tackle can solve a lot of problems. It means you can put a monster on the right
side of the line and just ask that guy to knock people off the ball. Walker,
6'8" and 366 pounds, fills that role, and then some, but the experiment on
the left just wasn't working. Walker is a mauler. Peters, 6'4" and 340, is
gifted and agile, a natural left tackle. The rest of the line is decent. It
could be a force, eventually—but only with Peters anchoring the left side.
Still, the Bills'
offense isn't designed to run up big scores. Fifth-year wideout Lee Evans is a
flashy long-ball threat. Marshawn Lynch was one of the league's more productive
runners as a rookie last season, with 1,115 rushing yards. But third-year
quarterback Trent Edwards, who started nine games in 2007, is a careful guy who
doesn't want mistakes to mess up his first full season as the No. 1. If
Buffalo's going to win, it will be with a spirited defense and with special
No one gave the
Bills much thought last year. They got off to a slow start, but then their
defense kicked in. They won six of eight, holding opponents to less than 300
yards in five of those victories, and at 7--6 they were poised to make a run at
the playoffs. Three straight losses ended that dream.
Oddly enough, the
bulk of their free-agent pickups were on defense—tackles Marcus Stroud of the
Jaguars and Spencer Johnson of the Vikings, and linebacker Kawika Mitchell from
the Giants' Super Bowl unit.
first-round draft choice, Leodis McKelvin out of Troy, is a cornerback with
great skill as a return man. He opened everyone's eyes in the second exhibition
game, running a kick back 95 yards for a touchdown against the Steelers.
Special teams coach Bobby April, who had the league's top punt returner last
year in Roscoe Parrish and a solid kick returner in Terrence McGee, believes
you can never have enough of them. "Terrence is a regular cornerback,"
April says. "He kills himself running back kicks. Having McKelvin is an
The formula could
work for coach Dick Jauron, himself an old cornerback. It's an old-fashioned
way of winning: Control things with the defense and the return game, then top
it off with just enough offense. But there must be stability, all the pieces in
place, all players working at the top of their game. And that includes one of
the most treasured gifts an NFL team can have—a really talented left
STARTING LINEUP WITH 2007 STATISTICS COACH DICK JAURON (50--67 in NFL), third
season with Bills