By Tim Graham
Last year at this time, we were in some sort of bizarro world.
The Buffalo Bills had convinced one of the NFL's most coveted free agents to sign. They gave Mario Williams the NFL's richest contract for a defensive player.
The Miami Dolphins, meanwhile, couldn't convince anyone to sign.
The Dolphins, despite their glamorous locale and free-spending billionaire owner, endured a series of stiff-arms from coach Jeff Fisher (after getting rejected by Jim Harbaugh a year earlier) and quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn.
Twenty-seven hours into free agency this year, fortunes of the rival franchises appear to be back in alignment.
At a time when the New England Patriots sustained what looked like a colossal roster wound by losing slot receiver Wes Welker to the Denver Broncos but recovered by signing Danny Amendola, the Bills have been unable to fill many holes, and the Dolphins are girding up for a run at the AFC East.
The Dolphins seemingly have landed every free agent they've targeted. The Bills have lost a few valuable players and held a news conference today for their first newcomer, outside linebacker Manny Lawson.
Winning free agency is no guarantee for regular-season success. The Bills realized that last year.
But the Dolphins, with their franchise quarterback believed to already be in place, have added important pieces. A few of them.
The Bills loaded up on one player last year in free agency and then buttressed what Williams brought to the table by signing another pass-rusher, Mark Anderson. When that part of the game didn't execute for much of last season, the Bills didn't look like a team that had improved at all.
In the past day, Miami picked up the best linebacker and perhaps the best receiver in this years free-agent class. They signed Dannell Ellerbe, a star on the Baltimore Ravens' championship defense, and Pittsburgh Steelers deep threat Mike Wallace.
The Dolphins also signed Oakland Raiders linebacker Philip Wheeler and extended a couple of their own: leading receiver Brian Hartline and safety Chris Clemons. They are in play for St. Louis Rams receiver Brandon Gibson and New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller.
The Dolphins have lost players, but they've had a net gain. They released linebacker Karlos Dansby because he plays the same position as Ellerbe. They lost running back Reggie Bush to the Detroit Lions. The biggest concern will be how to replace left tackle Jake Long.
The Bills have gotten worse since free agency began Tuesday. They've lost more than they've gained. We've heard myriad reports about how they courted new players who've signed elsewhere. Their quarterback questions have grown.
Left guard Andy Levitre joined the Tennessee Titans. Backup guard Chad Rinehart signed with the San Diego Chargers.
Ryan Fitzpatrick declined to restructure his contract and got cut, leaving them with no quarterback who threw a pass in 2012 on Buffalo's roster.
Two sources close to Fitzpatrick told me he was angered to hear GM Buddy Nix's "fighting for probably a backup job" remarks on Deadspin.com. It was another blow to the Bills' reputation this week.
And there even was bad news for a player Buffalo retained.
Pro Bowl free safety Jairus Byrd received the franchise tag, but why would he sign the one-year qualifying offer of $6.916 million after safety Dashon Goldson struck a four-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers worth a reported $41.25 million with $22 million in guarantees?
Byrd's agent is Eugene Parker, who played hardball with the Bills four years ago while representing Jason Peters.
The Bills split with the Dolphins last year and finished only one game behind them in the AFC East standings.
But the Dolphins are ramping up for the fourth time since the Bills last went to the playoffs.
The Bills are rebuilding quietly.
It will be a while before we know whether either team is doing it smartly.
taggedAndy Levitre | Buddy Nix | Chad Rinehart | Dashon Goldson | Jairus Byrd | Jim Harbaugh | Manny Lawson | Mario Williams | Mark Anderson | Mike Wallace | Wes Welker