One Disaster After Another for Bills Since Team ‘won the off-season’
If this is winning, heaven help the Buffalo Bills if they ever start losing.
Ever since Bills head coach Rex Ryan bragged at the end of spring practices that his team had “won the off-season” compared to all other NFL teams, hubris has gut-punched him — again and again and again.
Key players suspended, key players not in good enough shape to practise, key players injured. One, after another, after another.
The latest might prove the most significant blow yet. On Tuesday afternoon — exactly two months after Ryan’s “won the off-season” boast — the NFL suspended star defensive tackle Marcell Dareus without pay for the first four games of the regular season.
Dareus can continue to practise through training camp, and is eligible to play in Buffalo’s three remaining pre-season games. But after Sunday, Sept. 4, Dareus cannot practise with the Bills nor communicate with the club on football matters again until the Monday following Buffalo’s Week 4 game at New England (Oct. 3).
His loss is figuratively as well as literally huge, because the Bills open with four tough games: at Baltimore, home four days later in prime time against the New York Jets, home against defending NFC West champ Arizona, then at New England. The Bills and Ryan cannot afford to start in an 0-4 or 1-3 hole, or hello hot seat.
It is Dareus’ second violation of the league’s program and policy for substances of abuse. The NFL suspended Dareus for the first game last season following his initial transgression, the legal resolution of his 2014 off-season felony arrest for possession of a controlled substance, reportedly synthetic marijuana.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted Tuesday that Dareus “failed or missed” drug tests this time, pertaining to marijuana checks.
The team issued this pointed statement: “We are very disappointed Marcell chose to put himself first, before his teammates, coaches, the rest of the organization, and fans through his recent actions. From ownership down we have made it clear his behaviour is unacceptable.
“We will continue to take the necessary steps to work with him in order that he adheres to the policies set forth by our league. As an organization, we will move forward with our preparations for the start of the 2016 NFL season in Baltimore on Sept. 11.”
After a year without off-season issues, Dareus last September was signed by the Bills to a six-year, $97-million contract extension, with $60 million guaranteed. Bills GM Doug Whaley said at the time he believed Dareus had turned a corner and left his off-field issues behind.
For his part, Dareus on Tuesday went on Instagram to issue a long apology to the Bills organization, fans, family “and the entire NFL football community.”
Dareus wrote that he “will not make excuses for the events in question and will allow the process to proceed as is required by the NFL; however, please know and understand I am committed to the game and am more committed to my Bills organization and fans.
“This temporary setback will only fuel my desire and commitment to bring Buffalo championships and the Super Bowl. I ask at this time that you continue to believe in me and I will continue to invest all that I have to bring honour and respect to the organization.”
The Bills’ front seven on defence is something of a shambles.
Buffalo’s top two draft picks — expected starters — are both out.
First-round outside linebacker Shaq Lawson already had had a bum shoulder following his last season at Clemson, but he reinjured it in May practices with the Bills, had surgery and can’t return until mid-October at the earliest, per reports.
Second-round inside linebacker Reggie Ragland from Alabama tore his left ACL earlier this month and is lost for the year.
Veteran outside backer Manny Lawson missed the first 17 days of training camp and was activated only on Tuesday, after suffering a pectoral injury while attempting to bench-press 405 pounds during the six-week early-summer break. A dumb, self-inflicted injury.
Worse, the Buffalo News reported Tuesday that Manny Lawson faces a possible one-game suspension by the NFL for his purported involvement in a “domestic situation” last year. The News said Lawson is appealing.
Like Manny Lawson, Dareus opened camp on the non-football-injury list. He and fellow starting defensive tackle Kyle Williams — who blew out a knee against Cincinnati last October — didn’t pass their physicals until Aug. 8, more than a week into camp.
Neither Dareus nor Williams dressed for Saturday night’s preseason loss to Indianapolis. Outside linebacker IK Enemkpali did, and tore an ACL.
Among other concerns on defence, deep safety Aaron Williams, attempting to return from a serious neck injury suffered last season, was concussed last week in a non-contact drill (he’s still out), and top nickelback Nickell Robey-Coleman left Tuesday’s practice in a walking boot.
On offence, last year’s top rookie, running back Karlos Williams, has had a disastrous off-season. First, he showed up to spring practices fat and out of shape. Then, in July, the league suspended him for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Williams did not pass his physical until Monday of this week.
This year’s rookie running back, fifth-round draft pick Jonathan Williams, was arrested in July for DUI.
Then there’s star wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who continues his careful return to full usage after undergoing foot surgery in the spring. And the team’s top two O-linemen — left tackle Cordy Glenn and left guard Ritchie Incognito — got dinged up in practice last week and sat out Saturday’s game against Indy.
All that since this fateful boast by Rex on June 16: “This sounds nuts, but … I can’t wait to get the season started.
“I told our players today to win July. We have won the off-season, I will challenge anyone. I think we have won the off-season, but we need to win July. That is when everybody is by themselves, on their own, but doing the things to be in great shape when we get to camp.
“Let’s try to avoid some of those injuries we had last year, the small tissue injuries and things, and let’s take off and see what can happen with this team. I think we are committed as a group, that all-in mantra and all that. I know it gets used a bunch, but I feel it is appropriate for our team.”