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Bills continually plowing under bottom of roster, practice squad

By Tim Graham

To everything, churn, churn, churn ...

In hopes of maximizing personnel, the Buffalo Bills have been busy rototilling the bottom part of their roster and practice squad this fall.

Over the past nine weeks, the Bills have made 33 player transactions. Few were forced by injuries. Most were made simply to improve depth and bring aboard raw prospects.

"That's something that we're always trying to do because I believe development in this league is extremely important," Bills coach Doug Marrone said, "and that's the way that we can develop players, bringing players in and out and seeing which one sticks."

While the Bills are mathematically alive in the playoff hunt, much of the focus has shifted to player evaluation for the future. That's why veteran running back Tashard Choice was cut, and former practice-squad player Ronnie Wingo will get a look-see over the final four weeks.

Marrone said he meets "constantly" with General Manager Doug Whaley and player personnel director Jim Monos about tweaking the roster with an eye toward the future.

"That's where sometimes those guys pop, and that's where they come from," Marrone said. "I think when you look at the situation that we're in, when I think you look at salary cap, I think that there are certain positions you need to develop. If you don't develop those positions, you're going to get in trouble from a salary cap standpoint and not be the best team you can be if you're relying on paying players at the highest price to play certain positions."

As you'll see below, the Bills regard some developmental positions more prominently than others.

In the final season with GM Buddy Nix and coach Chan Gailey, the Bills made 28 practice-squad signings or releases. That total does not include players who were promoted from the practice squad to the active roster, only those who were added to the developmental squad or released outright.

After the 2012 Bills signed their eight practice-squad players at the start of the year, they didn't make another move for four weeks.

Under Whaley and Marrone, the Bills have made 25 practice-squad moves already. They've also patrolled other teams' taxi squads, plucking defensive tackle Stefan Charles and guard J.J. Unga for the 53-man roster.

After signing their original eight, the Bills made three moves in September, six in October and six in November. The Bills have made two transactions so far in December.

The Bills already have matched last year's number of practice-squad players promoted to the active roster. They've elevated five, most notably quarterback Thad Lewis.

Of last year's promotions, receiver Marcus Easley is the only one still on the active roster. Wide receiver Kevin Elliott is on injured reserve. Safety Mana Silva left the team without permission in training camp, but remains Bills property.

A breakdown of practice-squad transactions the past two years:


Final practice squad: running back Zach Brown, tight end Derek Buttles, offensive lineman Andrew Jackson, tackle Adam Grant, defensive end Corbin Bryant, defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert, linebacker Brian Smith.

Total moves (not counting promotions): 28.

Moves by position: nine offensive lineman, five receiver, four defensive back, three tight end, three defensive tackle, two linebacker, one running back.

Promotions to active roster: defensive tackle Jay Ross, offensive lineman David Snow, receiver Marcus Easley, safety Mana Silva, Ross again after being cut and re-signed and receiver Kevin Elliott.


Current practice squad: quarterback Dennis Dixon, receivers Cordell Roberson and Tommy Streeter, tackles Edawn Coughman and Jamaal Johnson-Webb, defensive end Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, linebacker Jacquies Smith, cornerback Mario Butler.

Total moves (not counting promotions): 25.

Moves by position: eight defensive end, five cornerback, five guard, two quarterback, two receiver, two offensive tackle, one running back.

Promotions to active roster: cornerback Johnny Adams, quarterback Thad Lewis, cornerback Brandon Smith, guard Mark Asper, running back Ronnie Wingo.

The breakdown shows the developmental emphasis shifted to defensive end, from one move last year to a team-high eight so far this year.

Also interesting is that previous Bills management didn't bother with a developmental quarterback, but the new regime has placed an importance there. Good thing, because Lewis helped the Bills remain competitive when rookie EJ Manuel missed four games with a knee injury.

Kidney disease forces Donald Jones to retire from NFL

By Tim Graham

Donald Jones' final NFL down will have been played for the Buffalo Bills.

Jones, released from the New England Patriots on July 19, announced on his Twitter account that he was retiring because his kidney condition has worsened.

"As some of you may know, I have been suffering from a kidney disease throughout my entire life. As a result of recent advances in my disease, I am no longer able to pursue my career in the National Football League. Playing in the NFL was a lifelong dream of mine, and though I have the opportunity to continue my career, stepping away from the game is absolutely best decision for my family and for my health.

"While it will be difficult, I am comforted by the love and support of my family, friends and doctors and am excited about my continued involvement with the various kidney foundations I've worked with in raising awareness for health, nutrition, preventative medicine and kidney disease.

"I want to thank the Buffalo Bills organization, especially Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix, for allowing me to pursue my NFL dream and Coach Gailey for changing my life. I also want to thank the New England Patriots and their doctors for assisting my medical team in fighting this disease.

"Thank you all for your prayers and wishes."

Jones told Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports the condition is called lgA nephropathy and that Jones might need a transplant eventually. Jones said his blood pressure accelerated to 250 over 110 while taking a stress test as part of a recent physical with the Indianapolis Colts. 

The American Heart Association website suggests anyone with a systolic (upper number) reading over 180 or any diastolic (lower number) reading over 110 should seek emergency medical care.

"I'll always look at it like I was definitely an up-and-coming guy who had a bright future ahead of him. But if I look at it that way, I'll just get down," Jones told Garafolo. "I just try to be positive about everything and realize everything happens for a reason. Playing in the NFL, for me, was bigger than just playing. I want to get awareness up. Playing in the NFL was just a stepping stone to get my awareness up."

Jones, undrafted out of Youngstown State in 2010, played three seasons with the Bills. They declined to re-sign him as a restricted free agent in March.

Jones played 35 games and started 22. He caught 82 passes for 887 yards and six touchdowns.

Although he missed the final four games because of his illness last year, he made with 41 catches for 443 yards and four touchdowns (all second on the Bills behind Stevie Johnson) and recorded the team's longest play from scrimmage, a 68-yard touchdown against the Patriots in Week Four.

Major NFL injuries underscore the randomness of health

By Tim Graham

PITTSFORD -- Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson has said many times in the past that a team needs luck to be successful.

That sentiment is particularly germane given what's happened around the NFL over the past 48 hours and with the Bills holding their first practice of training camp tonight.

Already lost for the season are Philadelphia Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin (knee), Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta (hip) and Denver Broncos center Dan Koppen (knee).

Arizona Cardinals rookie receiver Ryan Swope retired over concussion fears. Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Ryan Miller suffered a scary head injury Saturday and was taken off the field by ambulance.

Continue reading "Major NFL injuries underscore the randomness of health" »

ESPN analysts take dim view on impact of Bills overhaul

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills have made a significant commitment to their future by turning over almost all of their important roles to younger, fresher folks.

The Bills want you to believe better days are ahead.

A group of ESPN analysts, including former Bills GM Bill Polian, doesn't have much faith.

ESPN Insider has put together its Future Power Rankings, a poll that takes into consideration how a team projects for years to come.

Continue reading "ESPN analysts take dim view on impact of Bills overhaul" »

Kelvin Fisher's career change from mean streets to One Bills Drive

By Tim Graham

Although Kelvin Fisher couldn't stick with the New York Jets as an undrafted rookie fullback in 1992, he didn't lose his love for the game.

But rather than get into scouting or coaching at the time, he chose to use his Arizona State education. He majored in social work and minored in criminal justice.

Fisher became a juvenile probation officer in the Phoenix area until 1996 and worked for child-protective services in Portland, Ore., until 1999.

Fourteen years later, the Buffalo Bills' new director of college scouting looks back on those days with a bemused laugh.

Continue reading "Kelvin Fisher's career change from mean streets to One Bills Drive" »

L.A. Times: Overdose sends Shawne Merriman to hospital

By Tim Graham

Every time I see his age, I'm surprised.

What doesn't surprise me is the report failed Buffalo Bills reclamation project Shawne Merriman was rushed to the hospital Sunday night for what the Los Angeles Time reporter Andrew Blankstein called an "alcohol-drug overdose" while at a club in Hollywood.

Merriman turned 29 just two weeks ago. He's two years and four months younger than Miami Dolphins pass-rusher Cameron Wake, who's considered to be entering his prime. Merriman announced his retirement in March after the Bills declined to re-sign him.

Merriman tweeted he was with hip-hop artist The Game on Sunday night. Bills receiver Stevie Johnson recorded a song with The Game last year.

Merriman was a cyclone in his first three seasons with the San Diego Chargers. He recorded 39.5 sacks in 42 games, a stretch that included a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

His body began to fall apart, and the Chargers waived him in 2010 over concerns he wasn't properly taking care of his injuries while reveling in the Southern California lifestyle too much.

Former Bills GM Buddy Nix, previously a Chargers personnel executive, claimed Merriman off waivers. Merriman suffered a season-ending injury minutes into his first Bills practice, but the club signed him to a two-year extension anyway.

Merriman played 15 games for Buffalo and managed two sacks.

5-foot-8 wiretapping defendant claims he wanted Bills tryout

UncleRicoBy Tim Graham

Uncle Rico doesn't believe this story.

Oh, he'll throw the ball over them mountains. But Uncle Rico cannot buy the notion that 5-foot-8, 225-pound part-time deli worker Joshua Barber called Buffalo Bills GM Buddy Nix because he wanted a tryout.

That's the story Barber and his attorney are going with as part of a defense against federal charges for surreptitiously recording a conversation between Nix and Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik in March.

Barber and Nicholas Kaiser, two 20-year-olds from Plymouth, Mass., entered not guilty pleas Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr.

Continue reading "5-foot-8 wiretapping defendant claims he wanted Bills tryout" »

What a gag: Buddy Nix's pranksters face federal charges

By Tim Graham

A prank phone call has turned into a federal case.

Two 20-year-olds from Plymouth, Mass., have been charged with intentionally intercepting a wire communication and making a telephone call without disclosing their identity with the intent to annoy or harass the person at the called number.

Joshua Barber and Nicholas Kaiser allegedly recorded a private conversation in March between Buddy Nix, then the Buffalo Bills' general manager, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers executive Mark Dominik and then forwarded the audio to

On the call, Nix made some unflattering comments about quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bills at the time hoped Fitzpatrick would take a pay cut and stick around as a veteran influence on whomever they drafted a month later.

Fitzpatrick eventually declined to restructure his contract, and although he denied his decision was impacted by what Nix said in the recording, sources close to Fitzpatrick told me he was incensed.

Continue reading "What a gag: Buddy Nix's pranksters face federal charges" »

Doug Whaley won't middle Buffalo's big wager on EJ Manuel

By Tim Graham

Doug Whaley was careful Thursday to include the entire front office when talking about the Buffalo Bills' future.

He spoke about collaborative efforts with president Russ Brandon, football administration vice president Jim Overdorf, coach Doug Marrone and the scouting department.

But in an "NFL Total Access" interview, Whaley staked his claim to the player Buffalo drafted to be their franchise quarterback.

Continue reading "Doug Whaley won't middle Buffalo's big wager on EJ Manuel" »

A look back at Bills GM history

By Tim Graham

Prior to Doug Whaley, the Buffalo Bills hired 11 general managers for whom they had high hopes.

A couple were great. Some were decent. Most didn't live up to the expectations.

For those who want to take a look back at the club's GM history, here's the rundown:

Continue reading "A look back at Bills GM history" »

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |