It’s been a long, dark offseason for the Buffalo Bills, but they aren’t alone — not in history and not even in this offseason.
The Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers are equally ready for the games to begin, although Pittsburgh would like to fast-forward to be Week 4, when running back Le’Veon Bell comes back from a suspension for substance abuse. Perhaps then they’ll be closer to finally seeing newly signed tight end Ladarius Green, out indefinitely after offseason ankle surgery, or outside linebacker Bud DuPree, the former first-round pick they were counting on before he went on the Player Unable to Perform list with a sports hernia. They won’t get wide receiver Martavis Bryant back at all this year as he serves a season-long ban for substance abuse.
The Broncos should enjoy Thursday night’s banner-raising ceremony against the same Carolina Panthers team they beat in February’s Super Bowl, considering the offseason path they took to get to it. They had expected offseason departures, including defensive end Malik Jackson and inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, as well as an unexpected one, quarterback Brock Osweiler. They paid far more money to Super Bowl MVP Von Miller after far more arduous negotiations than they were expecting before the pass rusher market blew up.
And yet neither of those can quite touch the Bills, who have had a mix of injuries to top draft picks, suspensions to key players and off-the-field missteps while being too financially strapped to add anything of substance to the roster. They’ve had just about everything happen except for early retirements, which sets them a notch below last year’s most disastrous offseason.
Here are the other memorably treacherous offseasons in the past decade:
2007 Atlanta Falcons: Just a couple of swift moves had a way of unraveling an entire franchise. Coming off a 7-9 season, head coach Jim Mora was fired and replaced by University of Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino. Franchise quarterback Michael Vick was caught in a dog-fighting scandal after the FBI raided his home.
Vick was sent to prison for two years and never played another down for the Falcons, who went 4-12 the next season. Petrino bolted after just 13 games with the team, leaving notes for the players to indicate that he was taking the job at the University of Arkansas. The Falcons did bounce back quickly with the selection of Matt Ryan in the next draft, which led to three playoff appearances in the next four years.
2012 New Orleans Saints: This was the year of “Bountygate,” when defensive Gregg Williams was found by the NFL to have orchestrated a scheme where the Saints paid bonuses to players for hits on certain players. The NFL suspended Williams and head coach Sean Payton for the year.
After going 13-3 the previous season, the Saints fell to 7-9 without Payton. When their head coach returned in 2013, they were back in the playoffs at 11-5. Payton and quarterback Drew Brees haven’t gone anywhere, but the Saints haven’t reached the Super Bowl since their 2010 victory. Losing a crucial year in that window didn’t help.
2015 San Francisco 49ers: The one recent offseason that combines more forces of craziness than the Bills saw the past few months happened just one year ago. It started with coach Jim Harbaugh’s odd, angsty exit from the 49ers to coach the University of Michigan. The personnel departures followed quickly. Linebackers Chris Borland and Patrick Willis and right tackle Anthony Davis retired unexpectedly. Five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Smith hung it up after 14 seasons as well. Guard Mike Iupati, running back Frank Gore and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio left for new teams.
Just one year later, the 49ers are barely recognizable to the team that reached three straight NFC title games between 2011-2013. They went 5-11 last year before firing coach Jim Tomsula and replacing him with an embattled Chip Kelly. Davis un-retired and switched to guard, but by and large, what had been one of the best-built rosters in the NFL is now a group in total rebuild.
The Bills can at least be thankful their offseason never got quite that bad.