In Part 1 of this segment I went through all the transactions (good and bad) the Bills have made (sorry it was so long) but now it’s time to see what the team would have looked like throughout the years had some of these players either stayed, or came to Orchard Park. I’m going to start in 2000 but this “what if” will be broken up into 3 special what if scenarios!
What If Scenario 1:
Off of the playoff loss to the Titans the Bills stayed consistent to who they were and finished 8-8, missing the playoffs which spelled the end for head coach Wade Phillips. The search was on for a new coach and there were some good candidates, the Bills in reality chose Gregg Williams…he made the defense pretty good but his tough guy act wore thin and he was fired after 3 seasons. Well in this world the Bills did an extensive search and GM Tom Donahoe decided to hire Marvin Lewis as Bills head coach in 2001. The former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator had won a Superbowl with the Ravens in 2000 and had a great defense there, and Donahoe and Lewis shared a Pittsburgh connection. Now the overhaul begins, Rob Johnson is out as starting QB and in the 2001 NFL draft the Bills select Purdue QB Drew Brees 21st overall. Now that the Bills have their franchise QB Marvin Lewis has to build up his defense. He looks at TCU DE Aaron Schobel in the second round at 46th overall, but with the second 2nd round pick the Bills have S Adrian Wilson come to town. The third round at 76th overall RB Rudi Johnson is chosen to be the Bills back to share the backfield with Sammy Morris.
2002 Marvin Lewis’ influence is felt when the Bills sign LB London Fletcher and in the draft they take, from the U, T Bryant McKinnie. 2nd round the Bills take a chance on troubled WR Antonio Bryant and Marvin Lewis is to his players like Robert Redford was in the Horse Whisperer. The pick pays off when he becomes the playmaker the team needs. Now in reality the Bills traded a 1st round pick in 2003 for QB Drew Bledsoe, well in this scenario the Bills keep that pick since Drew Brees is their QB. The Bills still trade WR Peerless Price to Atlanta (can’t even believe that trade really happened!) for their first round pick in 2003. After the free agency signings of DT Sam Adams, LB Takeo Spikes, and LB Jeff Posey in 2003, the draft brings them S Troy Polamalu at 14th overall, and at 23rd overall CB Nnamdi Asomugha. The 2nd round the Bills reach on TE Jason Witten and in the 3rd round take LB Lance Briggs to fill out the depth chart and add CB Terrence McGee in the 4th round. After one more mediocre year in 2003 the 2004 draft brings WR Lee Evans to pair with Antonio Bryant and DT Darnell Dockett in the second round and in 2004 the Bills surprise, with Rudi Johnson running hard, Drew Brees throwing over defenses with the help of Evans and Bryant, and the defense playing almost historic. A secondary with Polamalu, Wilson, and Asomugha with linebackers Lance Briggs, London Fletcher and Takeo Spikes, and Aaron Schobel, Darnell Dockett, and Sam Adams on the D-line the 2004 Bills go 12-4 and make the playoffs!
Not only do the Bills make the playoffs, they go all the way to the AFC Championship game as the 5 seed. The Patriots just edge out the Bills to go to the Superbowl but with the foundation of young players and veteran leadership the Bills have the makings of a winning formula. 2005 the Bills have an injury plagued season but stumble to 8-8, 2006 to counter the loss of DT Sam Adams to free agency the Bills take DT Haloti Ngata to pair with Darnell Dockett and in 2006 make a divisional round appearance in the playoffs. 2007 the Bills part ways with RB Rudi Johnson and trade up to draft a young, fun-loving, skittle-eating running back…Marshawn Lynch. 2007 the Bills make it to the AFC Championship game against the Patriots again, this time the Bills score the upset against the unbeaten Patriots and face the Giants in the Superbowl. In the Superbowl Eli Manning is leading the charge downfield, after good pressure by the Bills D-line Eli evades a sack rolls out and fires downfield to David Tyree. Tyree tries to pin the ball to his helmet and hang on for the most miraculous catch in Superbowl history until Troy Polamalu separates Tyree from ball and the Bills ride rookie RB Marshawn Lynch all the way to double zeros on the clock to win the Superbowl!
The Bills only win that 1 championship under Marvin Lewis and at the end of 2014 he and the Bills part ways after 14 years and is replaced by Rex Ryan.
What If Scenario 2:
After an 8-8 season in 2000 the Bills clean house, hiring GM Tom Donahoe and head coach Gregg Williams. Williams first season is only a 3-13 campaign but in 2002 the Bills put together a better roster and year. The Bills trade for veteran QB Drew Bledsoe, and sign LB London Fletcher in free agency. After an 8-8 season, the Bills look to add more help on defense by signing LB Takeo Spikes, LB Jeff Posey, S Lawyer Milloy, and DT Sam Adams. In the 2003 draft, let’s say Gregg Williams got more say on draft picks. After trading Peerless Price to Atlanta, the Bills at 23rd overall select CB Nnamdi Asomugha and in the second round select WR Anquan Boldin to replace Peerless Price. The team still finishes 6-10 but is much better offensively; Gregg Williams still gets fired, in comes Mike Mularkey. In this world in 2004 the Bills don’t get desperate and trade a future first round pick for QB JP Losman, they give Drew Bledsoe one more season in 2004 and it is a 9-7 season that just misses the playoffs. Now in 2005 the Bills have the 20th overall pick and decide to use it on a QB that fell down the draft board in round 1, his name, Aaron Rodgers. In the 2nd round the Bills select RB Frank Gore to replace Travis Henry…because the team didn’t draft RB Willis McGahee in 2003 Travis Henry got to “run his course” in Buffalo and after seeing production decline the Bills found his replacement. The 2005 season brings a 5-11 record and Mularkey resigns from pressure from Ralph Wilson to change his staff.
After seeing where his franchise stands at the end of 2005, Ralph Wilson decides to shake things up, with a franchise QB and RB in place already and good players on defense, Marv Levy is put in charge of finding a coach that can get the most out of his players and give the team a spark. In 2006 the Buffalo Bills hire Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Sean Payton as head coach. In 2006 the Bills are able to resign S Lawyer Milloy and DT Sam Adams to short term deals, and in the 2006 draft select DT Haloti Ngata 8th overall, and trade with the Bears to get back into the first round to select C Nick Mangold 26th overall. The Bills also find a hidden gem in the 5th round in DT Kyle Williams. Sean Payton puts together a game plan that paid immediate dividends as the Bills surprise all the way to the AFC Championship game. The Bills and Colts put on a classic, Rodgers vs. Manning, in reality the Colts win the Superbowl, but in THIS world, offenses score points and that wins championships! The Bills shock the Colts and score more than they do and go on to face the Bears in the Superbowl. Because it’s Rex Grossman (I mean Gross is in his name) the Bills shutdown the Bears and win the Superbowl!
Year one of Sean Payton in Buffalo is a complete success, the Bills broke a 6 year playoff drought with an emphatic statement, winning the teams first Superbowl, with Aaron Rodgers coming into his own. 2007 there’s a Superbowl hangover (a hangover no one minds having) and in 2008 the Bills take CB Aqib Talib to pair with Asomugha, and in the 2nd round take DE Calais Campbell. The team does slightly better in 2008, in 2009 the Bills trade T Jason Peters to Philly, and in the draft take DE/LB Brian Orakpo in the 1st round, and with some wheeling and dealing move up in the first round with the Eagles pick to land WR Jeremy Maclin to give some help on offense to Rodgers and Boldin. The second round brings S Jairus Byrd and in 2009 the season brings a better record and a playoff appearance. 2010 the Bills lose Boldin to free agency but replace him with WR Dez Bryant in the draft. The Bills also add LB Brandon Spikes and LB NaVarro Bowman in the 2nd and 3rd rounds respectively and make deep playoff runs for the next 4 seasons!
What If Scenario 3:
After a lukewarm 8-8 season in 2000 the Bills decide to part ways with Wade Phillips BUT in this world Ralph Wilson decided to hang on to GM John Butler. The search was on for a new head coach and after some very promising candidates presented themselves, the Bills decided to hire New York Giants defensive coordinator John Fox as head coach. John Fox is a coach with a defensive eye, but loves his team to be balanced. So the 2001 draft the collective minds of Fox and Butler ( J & J ) decide to draft QB Drew Brees 21st overall and let him sit his rookie year and let Rob Johnson take all the lumps…which is the only thing he did successfully. The Bills in the 2nd round, equipped with 2 picks, took T Matt Light and S Adrian Wilson. The Bills then traded 2 3rd round picks to move up a few spots and take WR Steve Smith. After the 3-13 Rob Johnson suckfest in 2001, 2002 brings Rob Johnson’s release and London Fletcher’s signing. The 2002 draft gives the Bills DE Dwight Freeney 4th overall and RB Clinton Portis 36th overall. 2003 the Bills still have a first round pick not trading for Drew Bledsoe, still trading Peerless Price for the 23rd overall pick too. Tragically 2003 is the year John Butler lost his battle with cancer, and thus AJ Smith is the new Bills GM. He takes a bold approach to the 2003 draft. Smith trades down with both 1st round picks, acquiring more picks in the later rounds and picks in different years! He also deals Travis Henry too.
The 2003 draft has picks a plenty for the Buffalo Bills, first round they surprise and take RB Willis McGahee to pair with Portis (after McGahee sits out ’03 with his knee injury) and also surprise and take CB Charles “Peanut” Tillman. Second round brings CB Rashean Mathis and WR Anquan Boldin. The third round gives the Bills LB Lance Briggs and TE Jason Witten and in the 4th round they find CB Asante Samuel. With Takeo Spikes and Sam Adams already added from free agency the Bills build a solid foundation for success. In the 2004 draft the Bills add LB Jonathan Vilma, DT Darnell Dockett, and C Nick Hardwick in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd rounds respectively. The 2004 season is the year the Bills really hit their stride, going 13-3 and making it to the AFC Championship game. The Bills come up just short but with the players in place they are contenders now. 2005 the Bills trade down out of the first round in the draft and take WR Vincent Jackson in the 2nd round, DE Justin Tuck in the 3rd round, and a shifty running back in the 4th round…Darren Sproles. The Bills lose in the wildcard in 2005, in the 2006 draft the Bills grab DE/LB Tamba Hali in round 1 to give Dwight Freeney and Justin Tuck some more help on the outside, and draft T Marcus McNeil in round 2. After a divisional round loss in 2006, the Bills part ways with both their running backs, McGahee and Portis, and trade LB Takeo Spikes.
Takeo Spikes was expendable because of Lance Briggs and Jonathan Vilma. The 2007 draft the Bills replace the former two-headed monster at running back (McGahee and Portis) with a beast…Marshawn Lynch. Round 2 brings LB Paul Posluszny to back up London Fletcher. And with all the depth and balance the Bills have been stock piling finally pays off with a 2007 trip to the Superbowl. The Bills beat Brett Favre’s Packers to win the Superbowl in thrilling fashion. The Bills continue to make the playoffs until 2010 when after a disappointing season John Fox is let go, but with the majority of the team still intact after their Superbowl 3 years earlier the team hires Ron Rivera as their new head coach.
As you can see had the Bills been more objective to staff hiring and firings the team could have greatly benefited from a unified vision and prospered greatly. I mean if you look at just the players the Bills could have had in the draft alone:
Scenario 1: has a combined 60 Pro Bowls and 6 Superbowls in reality
Scenario 2: has a combined 47 Pro Bowls and 3 Superbowls in reality
Scenario 3: has a combined 86 Pro Bowls and 10 Superbowls in reality
But alas the Bills don’t end up with the majority of these players and as you can see these players would have made a colossal impact on the franchise and probably the league in general. Don’t get me wrong it’s harder to build a contender in real life but sometimes it’s fun to wonder what if.