East Notes: Bills, Hicks, Cousins

Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News takes an interesting and in-depth look at the Bills‘ coaching dynamics prior to the hiring of Rex Ryan in early 2015. In 2014, the Bills’ defense under Jim Schwartz was terrific. It ranked fourth in yards allowed, first in sacks, and near the top of the league in a number of other statistical categories. Plus, there were no complaints that the system did not fit the players or that the team did not have enough talent to succeed on defense. So when former head coach Doug Marrone surprisingly decided to leave the team after his second year in Buffalo, Schwartz assumed the Bills would hire another offensive-minded head coach.

And then reports began to surface that the Bills were preparing to hire Ryan. Buffalo ownership wanted Schwartz to remain the team’s defensive coordinator, but given the philosophical differences between Schwartz and Ryan, Schwartz had no idea if he would remain the defensive coordinator in title only while someone else actually ran the defense. Ryan himself did not contact Schwartz until the day after he was hired, and that was to advise Schwartz that his services would no longer be required. The Bills defense, of course, took a major step back under Ryan, and there is a palpable sense of discontent among the team’s defensive players. As of right now, it is difficult to see the team making major strides in 2016, which could leave the front office with another tough coaching decision to make next year.

Now let’s round up a few more notes from the league’s east divisions:

  • In light of the NFL’s recent race to Los Angeles, there has been a great deal of speculation as to whether the Bills will pursue a new stadium of their own, even though the lease on Ralph Wilson Stadium is not due to expire until 2023. But Carucci, in a separate piece for The Buffalo News, says team ownership has absolutely no desire to move forward with a new stadium, and New York governor Andrew Cuomo is of the same mindset. As Carucci writes, “after investing $130 million in renovations at The Ralph, staying in Orchard Park is a long-term solution that works best for everyone.”
  • Phil Perry and Tom E. Curran of CSNNE.com, along with Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com, identify Akiem Hicks as the Patriots‘ top impending free agent. The 26-year-old Hicks was an excellent run-stuffer in 2015, and he showed a reasonable amount of pass rush ability as well. Hicks combined with Malcom Brown and Alan Branch to form a stout defensive front last season, but considering Dominique Easley‘s injury history and the lack of depth behind that core group, Perry and Curran believe re-signing Hicks should be New England’s top priority this offseason. Reiss, however, would be surprised if the team used the franchise tag on Hicks, as the 2016 franchise tag value for defensive tackles is projected to be over $13MM.
  • Rich Tandler of CSNWashington.com examines what a new contract for Kirk Cousins might look like and what the odds are that Cousins gets the franchise tag, but Tandler does not envision any scenario in which Cousins will not be playing for Washington next year.
  • John Keim of ESPN.com says Washington GM Scot McCloughan will approach free agency this season the same way he addressed it last year: with a number of relatively modest signings designed to add veteran stability to the team’s areas of need, like the defensive line and the secondary.
  • Free agent guards Alex Boone and Jahri Evans would be good fits for the Dolphins, who could use some help at both guard positions, but considering Miami’s other needs, James Walker of ESPN.com does not believe the team has enough cap room to sign either player.


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