With the Free Agency season upon us, I thought I would take the time to write about who I thought were the best, most important, and favorite Buffalo Bills free agent signings. Believe it or not, there was a time when the Bills were an actual favorite destination for potential free agents. They were once a consistent playoff team with a great front office, a respectable head coach, and future Hall of Fame players. But as Bob Dylan once sang, “The times they are a changin’ ” (Ron Burgundy never heard of that song).
The Bills we have now are the complete opposite. No playoff appearances, terrible ownership, a game in Toronto and an aging stadium. But the UN-cynical Bills fan out there still believes that the Vincent Jacksons and Mario Williams of the world will want to sign here.
I have no idea, but maybe one day we will add one of those names to the list below. By the way, I think Vincent Jackson will talk to Buffalo, but only to raise the price from San Diego and other teams. Why would he leave the beach and Phillip Rivers for Lake Erie and Ryan Fitzpatrick? Someone explain that to me. I think there is a better shot of Buffalo signing and over paying for Mario Williams than signing and over paying for Vincent Jackson. So without any further ado, I give you my Top 5 Free Agent Signings of The Buffalo Bills:
5. Terrell Owens: I wrote this piece you’re reading on March 8th, 2012. Exactly three years to the day the Bills signed T.O. Without question, this is the biggest name Free Agent signing in the history of the team. Owens was coming off three very productive years at Dallas, cried about Tony Romo (“That’s my quarterback”), and came to Buffalo with a reality show in tow. March 8th, 2009 was also the first time I have ever head of Sal Capaccio. It was Sal who broke the news that Owens had signed. T.O. came to Buffalo for a visit and never left. Looking back at this, I can’t believe The Bills were able to sign him. At the time, we all thought Owens was going to be the missing piece to help put Trent Edwards over as the quarterback of the future. HA! How did that work out?
Things I’ll remember about Terrell Owens and his one season in Buffalo: When he arrived, the crowd greeted him at the airport like he was The President. He received a key to the city BEFORE he played in a game and wore a funny hat while doing a lap around The Ralph in the finale against the Colts. Another highlight was in a game at Jacksonville, as he hooked up with Ryan Fitzpatrick on a 98 yard touchdown catch, the longest in Bills history. The fans loved him, the media loathed him, but we can’t deny how he made a minor impact. The Bills were actually relevant for 15 minutes when he was here.
4. Takeo Spikes: *Pours a glass of Jack Daniels..CHUGS.. cries* . December 29th, 2002. Takeo Spikes took his 2-13 Cincinnati Bengals into Ralph Wilson Stadium. Bills fan knew Spikes was a pending UFA. They knew how desperate Buffalo was for a Linebacker and Bills fans rewarded Spikes with cheers every time his name was called. Takeo Spikes rewarded that response by signing with Buffalo in the 2003. In the free agency period of 2003, the Bills signed Spikes, Jeff Posey(!!), Sam Adams and Lawyer Milloy. I keep reading that last sentence and I shake my head in disbelief. They finished 6-10. Gregg Williams didn’t pay enough bounty money apparently.
They opened the season by shutting out New England 31-0, went down to Jacksonville to beat a tough Jags team, and all of a sudden, I was booking my trip to Houston for Super Bowl XXXIX. Remember, Buffalo was coming off a solid 8-8 record in 2002. They had Bledsoe, Travis Henry and Eric Moulds, who were all coming back on offense with Kevin Gilbride as the OC. They made a splash in the free agent market by making all the right signings to bolster a bad defense and as per the usual around these parts, it all exploded in their face.
And people wonder why I’m so cynical and miserable about this team?
The 2003 team had the talent to at least be in the AFC Title game. Yes, you read that correctly. Anyways, back to Spikes. In 2003, he started all 16 games, made the Pro Bowl and led the team in tackles. However, it all ended in 2005 with a Achilles injury vs the Falcons and was traded to the Eagles during the 2007 offseason. Remember how hot of a commodity the #51 jersey was? I even had that jersey. Takeo was an animal. Was the perfect 4-3 Linebacker and made about every tackle. What could have been *Cries more* … Speaking of making every tackle…
3. Chris Spielman: This was a big deal back in 1996 because Chris was such a fixture in Detroit. He played 8 seasons there while leading the team in tackles for 7 straight years and left to be with a contender. Yes, there was a time when players viewed the Bills as contenders. Spielman only played a season and a half in Buffalo (1996-1997), but he made such an impact during the short time. During his first season with Buffalo, he set a personal best in tackles with 206 and played a major role in the 6th best defense in the NFL. The ’96 team could have been something great, but what killed this team was a three game road trip in December. They entered the road trip with a 9-3 record and came home at 9-6. That losing streak cost the Bills the division and they lost a home wild card game to the Jaguars, in what turned out to be Jim Kelly’s last game. Spielman’s last game with the Bills came during the 1997 season. Spielman injured his spine and neck in a game against the Broncos, but kept playing until the mid point of the season. He never played again for Buffalo. I remember loving the signing at the time, but I also remembered thinking he came to Buffalo about 4-5 years to late. Chris would’ve fit in perfectly with those the Super Bowl teams, as he left it all out on the field. He played all 3 downs on defense and was a great enforcer. Imagine a LB core of Bennett, Spielman, Conlan, and Talley. That would’ve been something else.
2. Bryce Paup: Buffalo signed both of my top two on this list during the 1995 offseason (John Butler and A.J.Smith DOING WORK PEOPLE). It makes me laugh when I reminisce about these signings because when these two were signed, I found out about it by reading the newspaper. No Twitter. No Facebook. No sources via Mortenson, Schefter, or any other two bit hack with a Twitter account (myself included). Let’s start with Bryce Paup. He was signed away from Green Bay and had decent numbers when he was there. I remember at the time thinking, “Why would he leave Green Bay?” Holmgren, Favre, Reggie White, Packers won the Super Bowl the following season. Quite odd, but none the less, the Bills were rewarded with 17.5 sacks and the defensive player of the year in his first season. The 1995 defense was quite good. Phil Hansen, Bruce Smith and Bryce Paup COMBINED for 37.5 sacks that year. Three guys. 37.5 sacks. Awesome. In 2011, the Bills as a team had 29 sacks. Paup was again solid for the 1996 season, with 6 sacks and made the pro bowl. However, he suffered a groin injury that cut the season short. In 1997, his sack total rose to 9.5 sacks and added yet another pro bowl season, which ended up being his last, as he left for Jacksonville. That 1995 season however was legend. Would you rank him as one of the Top 50 Bills of all time? I would.
1. Ted Washington: “Hey, wait a minute.. You JUST told us that Paup is one of the 50 greatest Bills” Yes. Yes I did. “You went on and on about his 1995 season, Defensive Player of the Year, 17.5 sacks..” I know but let me explain.. “YOU’RE AN IDIOT.” Oh thank you. But this is my post and I think y’all forgot about my man…Big Ted. The simple answer and probably the right one to the question for “Who is the best Free Agent signing in Bills history?” is Bryce Paup,, but let’s take a look at Ted. He was drafted by Denver, but wasn’t re-signed due to injury concerns. He was the prototypical 3-4 nose tackle, at 6’5 360 + pounds and at times, played a lot heavier than that, but boy was he fast. Dude was an animal. How much of an animal? Let’s look at what Big Ted accomplished in his time with Buffalo shall we?
From 1995 – 2000, he have averaged 63 tackles and 3.5 sacks a year, while the average ranking for the Bills defense was 12th. Highest was 2nd in 1999 and lowest was 23rd in 1997. Now, I know those aren’t eye popping stats, but what he brought to the Bills was more then just numbers. His consistent play while here gave a second life to Bruce Smith (There off the field friendship was highly publicized as well) and the entire Bills defense since he was a true NT, who took on double teams regularly.
Bryce Paup, Chris Spielman, Sam Cowart, John Holecek and Damien Covington (!!!!) all benefited from Washington’s ability. Ted was also the mentor for Pat Williams and was big part of helping Pat become the player he is today. Ted was also the anchor to what was Buffalo’s last great defense. The 1999 Bills as we all know were the last Bills team to make the playoffs and lost in something called the “Music City Miracle”. That defense though was nasty.
Buffalo’s starting front seven: Phil Hansen, Bruce Smith, Ted Washington, Sam Rogers, John Holecek, Gabe Northern and Sam Cowart. Add in Marcellus Wiley and Pat Williams off the bench, and you have a solid rotation. As I stated above, the defense was ranked 2nd in the league and it’s of this writer’s opinion that if they win that Wild Card Game in Nashville. they would’ve gone on to the Super Bowl that year. They were that good. Paup definitely had bigger impact numbers wise, but Washington was here longer and meant a lot more to his team. Ted knew his worth as well. I remember the Bills asked to him to take two pays cuts and Ted was like.. “Nah..I’m good” and was released. He signed with Chicago in 2001 and made the Pro Bowl while helping the Bears and Dick Jauron to a 13-3 record. I loved Ted Washington. He was a mentor, a force, an anchor and a leader. He knew his job and nobody was better at it. Ted Washington, my favorite Buffalo Bills free agent signing.
A Few Honorable Mentions: Sam Gash (FB), Larry Centers (FB), Troy Vincent (FS) (Remember Troy broke J.P. Losman’s leg in his first training camp?), Lawyer Milloy (SS), Sam Adams (DT). Let me explain why Doug Flutie isn’t on this list: Before he came to Buffalo in 1998, Flutie was playing in the CFL. I wanted to keep it with players who left current NFL teams to sign with Buffalo.
So I ask you Bills fan. Am I missing anyone? Who are your Top 5?