After a glimmer of playoff hopes early in the year, the Buffalo Bills fell victim once again to what is now the league's longest playoff drought. With 2013 on the horizon and free agency and the drafting period coming up, the Bills will again head into the homestretch of the offseason looking to end that streak.
A victory over the then-hot Arizona Cardinals in Week 6 gave the Bills some hope in making the playoffs in 2012 after a 3-3 start. But a rush defense that ended the season ranked second to last in the league and a passing offense that finished 25th of 32 teams in 2012 did the Bills no favors.
When it comes to the team's needs, Brian Galliford of SB Nation's Bills community, Buffalo Ramblings, doesn't hold back — aiming squarely at the passing game and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick:
Buffalo's biggest need has been at the quarterback position since, oh, around 1997, when Hall of Fame signal caller Jim Kelly retired. Unbelievably, the Bills have taken just one quarterback in the first round since they took Kelly in 1983 - that would be the venerable J.P. Losman - and have picked just one quarterback at any point in the past five seasons (2010 seventh-rounder Levi Brown, now out of the league), when their desperation level at the position reached such a fever pitch that they gave a massive contract to Ryan Fitzpatrick. As usual, Buffalo has plenty of needs - but there's no secret about which is the most pressing.
Biggest need: Linebacker
There's plenty of possibilities as far as the Bills' biggest need this coming offseason, but most pressing for a team that ended up giving up the most rushing touchdowns of any team in the league last season will be getting a linebacker capable of stopping the short rush from turning into a gashing, longer one.
Perhaps the Bills could find such a stopper in the draft, say Manti Te'o? But if the draft is not the place to go for the kind of defensive pickup Buffalo so desperately needs, the BIlls would be wise to look elsewhere in a surprisingly deep linebacking free agent market.
Other needs: Quarterback, wide reciever
The Bills offense seemed almost anemic at times in 2012, as quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick fizzled. Fitzpatrick's contract is a tough one to stomach — the team will eat $10 million if they cut him — but perhaps moving past the signal caller might be the best choice at this juncture.
Buffalo could do Fitzpatrick a favor if uninterested in taking that financial hit and get him another target to complement first option Stevie Johnson.
Johnson was the lone bright offensive output the Bills could boast outside of a strong running game, and Johnson's effectiveness could be augmented by another top-flight wideout on the opposite side of the field.
NFL Draft outlook: Bills claim top-10 pick
Buffalo has the luxury of having the No. 8 pick in a nicely balanced draft class. While some of the top-flight quarterbacking talent might not fall all the way to No. 8, perhaps skilled players at the linebacking spot, i.e. Jarvis Jones or Alec Ogletree, would fit nicely at that position.
The Bills might also consider bolstering their offensive line with their first-round pick if they intend to acquire weapons to create a stronger passing game.
Salary cap situation: Money to spend
Buffalo has the luxury of having plenty of space to work with in the 2013 salary cap structure. Already well under the limit, the increase to $121 million in cap this season gives the Bills a comparatively strong position headed into the offseason.
Combine the low hit that rookie contracts now take on the cap with a free agency market full of top talent as teams prepare for the new-found space under the cap and the Bills could be ready to make a big splash this offseason.