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
”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
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
Officially, Barnett was cut because he failed a physical. That
information wasn’t revealed until later in the day when the NFL
released its list of transactions, which included ”Failed
Physical” on the line below Barnett’s name.
Barnett beat the Bills in releasing the news by announcing he
was going to be cut on his Twitter account early Monday
”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 Association representative.
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 touchdowns.
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
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
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.