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Bills' reasons for considering Newton go beyond potential

  • By Vic Carucci NFL.com
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It is a major dilemma with which struggling NFL teams always seem to grapple this time of year: To invest or not invest a high draft pick in a quarterback?

Struggling teams usually have shortcomings in places other than quarterback, and they usually have too many of them that won't disappear with the selection of a signal-caller or any single player for that matter.

Take, for instance, the Buffalo Bills. Their defense is abysmal. They need all sorts of help within their front seven. With a college crop widely thought to be well stocked with front-seven talent -- something this week's NFL Scouting Combine should confirm -- the Bills seemingly have an excellent chance to get exactly what they need with the third overall choice.

Questions to answer in Buffalo
The Bills' issues go beyond what the team should do with the third overall draft pick, including whether or not RB C.J. Spiller can rebound, says Vic Carucci. More ...

The question is, will that also be true if they were to spend the pick on a quarterback?

The Bills might do exactly that if Auburn's Cam Newton is available. As I mentioned during a recent chat on NFL.com, Bills general manager Buddy Nix thinks a great deal of Newton's talent.

Whether he thinks enough of it to utilize such a premium pick on him rather than on a highly rated defensive player, such as Auburn tackle Nick Fairley or Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller, remains to be seen. So, too, does the possibility of another team with an unsettled quarterback situation, the Carolina Panthers, grabbing Newton with the top overall choice.

But the Bills probably have more reasons to go with Newton over any other player. Here are five:

1. Splash value: The Bills are struggling to offer compelling reasons for fans to buy tickets. The first year of the Nix-Chan Gailey regime didn't look a whole lot different than what they saw from previous regimes during what is now an 11-year playoff drought. Newton is the draft's biggest name and, therefore, would instantly become the most recognizable player on a roster devoid of star power. Although it only happened in a single season as a starter, he did enough last year to make a strong case that his skills as a runner and a passer are too special to pass up. He presents risk (in the form of controversy surrounding his eligibility that dogged him through the second half of the season), but the chance for reward is simply too great to ignore after he won the Heisman Trophy and a BCS National Championship. It was reported on Monday that Newton plans to fully participate in the combine later this week.

2. Upgrade potential: I have heard plenty of Bills fans say that the team doesn't need Newton or any quarterback from the draft (although something tells me that would be different if Stanford's Andrew Luck had decided to enter the draft and the Bills were in a position to select him), that they were just fine with Ryan Fitzpatrick and should focus on defense. Fitzpatrick did enough good things as a starter to merit keeping the job. But his best is likely never to reach the level of a passer who can bring sea-change improvement to the offense. Conversely, Newton's best could, eventually, if his one season as Auburn's starter is any indication.

3. The Gailey Factor: Gailey did an impressive job of maximizing the production of Fitzpatrick and the rest of the passing game despite an offensive line that saw seven different starting combinations for the second year in a row. Gailey would seemingly be an ideal mentor for Newton.

4. Cash value: Regardless of who fills it, the third overall pick is going to be extremely expensive. The Bills have to take a hard look at whether it makes sense to put all of those guaranteed millions into a defensive lineman or linebacker. Either would be part of a defense in a serious rebuilding process. On the other hand, a quarterback could end up doing more watching than playing as a rookie, but at least the promise of excitement that the quarterback could bring is something fans can look forward to.

5. The chance to finally get it right: The Bills haven't hit on a quarterback since Jim Kelly's retirement after the 1996 season. Until they secure a franchise quarterback, they are going to continue spinning their wheels. As mentioned earlier, Fitzpatrick represents a step in the right direction. However, Newton could very well give them the first chance they've had in 15 years to hit the proverbial home run.

Munchak makes impression

While it is true that new Titans coach Mike Munchak isn't remotely close to having the same cachet that Jeff Fisher earned in 14 seasons at the helm in Tennessee (after two-plus years of guiding the team when it resided in Houston), he does have more going for him than some might think.

For one thing, Munchak did a superb job as the Titans' offensive line coach. For another, he was an elite NFL player, earning his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after an exceptional 12-year career as a guard for the Oilers.

Head coach is dramatically different from position coach or even the more typical previous coaching-ladder step of coordinator, a role Munchak has never filled at any level of coaching. Yet, when you take a closer look at his background, you have reason to believe that he is equipped to make the most of this opportunity.

As a player, Munchak managed to become a starter as a rookie after being the eighth overall pick of the 1982 draft. That was far more difficult to do in that era, when there was no salary cap and dollars didn't force rookie linemen that were high picks into action as quickly as today. Munchak went on to nine Pro Bowls and was selected to the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1980s.

In 1994, a year after his retirement as a player, Munchak became an offensive assistant in charge of quality control for the Oilers. Despite a highly decorated playing career, he was ready to work his way up from the very bottom as a coach, something other players with similar aspirations refuse to do. Munchak understood that as much as he knew about football and offensive-line play, he needed to learn how to be coach. And after three seasons of patiently serving in what amounted to an apprenticeship, he received his break when he became offensive line coach of the Tennessee Oilers in 1997.

Munchak would spend the next 14 seasons in charge of some of the more dominant blocking units in the NFL. He helped make certain the Oilers/Titans got every bit of the lofty investment they made in linemen who, like himself, were first-round picks or well-established Pro Bowlers before arriving in Tennessee. He also did plenty to elevate the level of performance of players with lesser pedigree.

In short, Munchak did precisely what is expected of any good coach, whether he oversees a position or an entire side of the ball.

He's also surrounded himself with a solid staff, including a strong offensive coordinator in Chris Palmer and a talented defensive coordinator in Jerry Gray. In addition, Munchak's staff includes a former teammate and player he coached, fellow Hall-of-Famer Bruce Matthews, who is the Titans' new offensive line coach. Munchak put a premium on experience and, in some cases, background as an NFL player.

"We are going to be in great shape, because he has had so much success in everything he does," Gray said of Munchak.

One clear reason is that he works at it.

NFL Scouting Combine on NFL Network:
Follow more than 300 draft prospects with NFL Network's live coverage of the 2011 combine, which began on Thursday, Feb. 24 and will continue through Tuesday, March 1.

» Complete combine coverage
» Watch the combine live online
» Inside the workouts of the combine
» Combine photos: 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007

Observations

» I continue to field questions from people who are of the belief that some, or even many, college prospects will reject their invitation to the combine this week as a form of protest over the league's unsettled labor situation.

If the NFLPA was ever serious about trying to organize such a protest with the help of its certified agents, it has, thankfully, abandoned the idea. It would not have made any sense for players who are not yet in the league, let alone the players' union, to pass up an opportunity to audition for what -- even if a rookie wage scale is imposed -- remains a high-paying job and a chance to earn many millions more.

To the argument that the auditioning could be limited to college-campus workouts or visits to NFL teams, there is this to consider: Any prospect who skipped the combine to make a statement about negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement runs the clear risk of angering a future employer and potentially jeopardizing his NFL stock.

I suspect all of the college players who meet with reporters this week in Indianapolis will hear plenty of questions about the labor situation. Most are unlikely to have much to offer because they are, after all, college players who clearly will have more than enough on their respective plates just making their way through the combine and trying to enhance their draft status.

» When it comes to the Oakland Raiders, head-scratching moves often are par for the course. Some of us are still trying to figure out the wisdom behind their making yet another coaching change, with Tom Cable being dumped for Hue Jackson.

At the same time, there has been a lot to like about what the Raiders have done in the area of player-personnel. Most of the transactions in the last year have drawn favorable reviews. And here is another: Signing Richard Seymour to a contract extension.

Since his arrival in a 2009 trade with New England, Seymour has done a great deal to make the Raiders' defense better. His contribution isn't measured so much in numbers (he only registered 5.5 sacks last season) but rather in the way his ability to consistently win battles up front and draw blockers from his linemates allows the entire Oakland defensive front to be more effective.

At 31, Seymour has experience and savvy that is invaluable to younger members of the defense, even if the songs on his iPod are far different than theirs. He is a highly respected leader who has earned tremendous credibility from his individual accomplishments, Super Bowl rings, and willingness and ability to share his expertise with those around him.

For all of that, he was worth the $30 million ($22.5 million guaranteed) that the Raiders saw fit to pay him. It could further be argued that they'll get a better return pouring that money into Seymour rather than into free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, whose exceptional coverage skills discourage opposing quarterbacks from throwing his way but don't prevent them from still making big players by hooking up with receivers open elsewhere. Asomugha's value would seemingly be much greater if he were paired with another top-notch cover corner, thus limiting a quarterback's alternatives.

» A week ago, I addressed the controversy stemming from Saints coach Sean Payton's decision to have his primary residence for him and his family in Dallas rather than New Orleans. To appreciate why this is such an emotional issue for so many residents of post-Katrina New Orleans, I encourage you to read an excellent book, "From Bags to Riches," by Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

» New Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo had it right when he recently told reporters that it is important for a position group to "take on the personality of the person coaching them." You want the fiery leadership that a coach like Castillo possesses to show up in the players on the field. However, given the radical transition he is making from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator, he is likely to be judged more harshly on the technical soundness of the members of his unit rather than on the level of emotion they display.

Follow Vic Carucci on Twitter @viccarucci.

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