Buffalo, N.Y. (AP)
Bills new coach Doug Marrone began retooling his underperforming
defense on Monday by releasing two veterans: linebacker Nick Barnett
and strong safety George Wilson.
The two players were among the Bills' most experienced defenders, and
finished first and second on the team in tackles last season. And yet,
they were also part of a high-priced defense that finished among the
NFL's worst in yards and points allowed.
''Moves like the ones we've made today are never easy, but we have to
do what's best for our team and keep moving forward,'' general manager
Buddy Nix said in a statement released by the team. ''We've got some
good young players on our roster, who we feel are ready to take the
next step up. And they will now have the opportunity to do so.''
The Bills are in transition once again after Marrone was hired last
month to replace Chan Gailey, who was fired after three consecutive
losing seasons. Marrone, the former Syracuse coach, has brought in an
entirely new staff, including luring New York Jets defensive
coordinator Mike Pettine to take over the same role in Buffalo.
In a separate development, veteran defensive end Chris Kelsay is ready
to return after a partially torn ligament in his neck forced him to
finish last season on injured reserve. Kelsay, who missed the final
five games last season, told The Associated Press on Monday that he has
fully recovered from the injury after being examined by the Bills'
doctors last month.
Barnett is a 10-year NFL veteran, who never missed a start in his two
seasons in Buffalo after signing with the team in free agency. He led
the Bills last season with 112 tackles while adding two sacks.
Barnett beat the Bills in releasing the news by announcing he was going
to be cut on his Twitter account early Monday afternoon.
''Thanks to all the great fans and friends I have met in Western New
York. It was truly a pleasure being apart (sic) of that organization
and culture,'' Barnett wrote. ''Very unfortunate we didn't get the
Bills to the playoffs but I know you guys will have many successful
years ahead of you. ... Sad to leave but like they say when one door
closes more open up.''
The Bills signed Barnett after losing Paul Posluszny to free agency
shortly after the NFL lockout ended in July 2011. Barnett spent his
first eight seasons with Green Bay. He was entering the final year of
his contract in Buffalo, and due to make a $3.5 million base salary.
The Bills are already thin at linebacker, making the position a
priority in free agency and the draft in the coming months.
Wilson was a respected leader and voted a five-time team captain during
his eight seasons in Buffalo. He was also the team's NFL Players
Wilson was highly regarded for his work ethic and resilience. He broke
in with the Bills as a receiver in 2005 before being converted into a
safety while spending the 2006 season on the team's practice squad. He
made an immediate impact at his new spot in 2007, when Wilson started
nine games and had two interceptions, both of which he returned for
Last season, Wilson finished second on the team with 98 tackles but no
interceptions. Most notably, he had two potential fourth-quarter
interceptions drop from his hands in losses to Tennessee and St. Louis
- both decided in the final minutes.
Wilson was also entering the final year of his contract, and due to
make a $2.9 million base salary.
Second-year player Da'Norris Searcy began challenging Wilson for the
starting job last season.
The Bills have a big question mark at free safety, with starter Jairus Byrd eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next month.
Veteran defensive lineman Spencer Johnson, defensive end Kyle Moore and
linebackers Bryan Scott, Kirk Morrison and Shawne Merriman have also
completed the final years of their contracts.
Buffalo's defense is prepared to undergo yet another transformation
under Pettine, the unit's third coordinator in three years. Pettine is
more accustomed to running a 3-4 alignment after the Bills reverted to
a 4-3 system under former coordinator Dave Wannstedt last year.
The Bills struggled in making the transition last year, and despite the
free-agent addition of defensive end Mario Williams, who was signed to
a six-year, $100 million contract.
Buffalo (6-10) finished 31st in the NFL against the run, and 26th in
allowing an average 27 points per game.