It starts on defense, where Cleveland's elongated coaching search landed on Mike Pettine and left the Bills without a coordinator. Jim Schwartz is a proven replacement, but Pettine transformed Buffalo into a top 10 unit that piled up a franchise-record 57 sacks. On offense, we'll be watching to see if the team adds quarterback competition for second-year pro EJ Manuel. If they don't, he will be given a more robust playbook to work with come September. If he isn't up to the challenge, Bills fans are in for a long season.
»*S Jairus Byrd:* Buffalo's biggest free agent by far. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported last week that the Billswant to craft a long-term deal for Byrd, but they'll use the franchise tag if they can't get one done by March 3. If he's tagged, we're likely in for another long, potentially ugly showdown between the two sides. That is, unless Buffalo tries to trade him -- maybe to the Browns?
»*TE Scott Chandler:* "I'm hoping he decides to come back, I really do," coach Doug Marrone said of Chandler. Coming off a torn ACL, the tight end compiled career highs in receptions and receiving yards, but he's far from a dynamic pass-catcher. If they keep him, we'd like to see Buffalo acquire another tight end who can hurt opponents after the catch. I don't see Tony Moeaki as the answer.
»*K Dan Carpenter:* Hitting on 33-of-36 field goals, Carpenter enjoyed his finest season yet. He's a sensible target for a re-signing.
What they need
Count me among those suspicious of Manuel. I didn't like his play down the stretch, especially inside an offense that toiled to simplify his reads and cater to his limitations. Look for the Bills to give the quarterback a full chance grow in year two, but Marrone admitted the team could go in any direction at the position. I'd love to see Buffalo add another rookie. At receiver, Stevie Johnson has his moments, but adding a top-flight wideout might be the team's top priority. More safety help will be needed if either Byrd or Leonard depart, and we expect Schwartz to import players who fit his scheme.
On the way out?
Kevin Kolb's release would shave $3.1 million off the cap. Marrone acknowledged this month that he's unsure if the quarterback will return, but Kolb is hardly the guy to push Manuel. And I don't buy the whispers that Stevie Johnson will be released, mainly because he'd trigger $8.47 million in dead money to just $25,000 in cap savings in 2014. Moeaki, however, has a cap hit of $1.35 million and didn't catch a pass last season. One last potential release is Erik Pears, who turns 32 in June and counts $2.9 against the cap. As of today, he's still seen as Buffalo's starting right tackle.
Offseason crystal ball
Buffalo, with decent cap room, is ripe to chase a big-name free-agent receiver or grab a wideout in the draft. Look for tight end to be another priority in May, along with adding youth to the offensive line. The Bills aren't going to select another first-round passer, but general manager Doug Whaley left the door open to drafting a "bigger" signal-caller in the later rounds. On defense, Whaley also talked about Kiko Alonso potentially moving to outside linebacker, which would leave the team looking for help inside.