ORCHARD PARK — Now come the decisions.
After Thursday night’s meaningless 27-17 victory over Detroit before an announced Kid’s Day crowd of 60,429 at New Era Field — the stadium was actually less than half full — Buffalo’s player personnel department and scouting staff get down to their most important work of the preseason.
By Saturday afternoon at 4 o’clock, the Bills, and 31 other NFL teams, must be down to the regular-season roster limit of 53.
For Buffalo, that means dropping 28 players from its current roster of 83 as two members — tackle Seantrel Henderson (five games, the second half of last year’s 10-game penalty for a positive marijuana test) and wide receiver Walter Powell (four games for using performance-enhancing drugs) — will open the season on suspension.
When asked about those roster decisions, coach Sean McDermott allowed, “Brandon (Beane, general manager) and I have some long conversations to be had at this point and that’s what these players deserve. These players have given us everything … they’ve put it on the line … they’ve given us great effort.
“To walk into that office and say, ‘Hey, let’s just do this (in making cuts) … no, these guys played hard and they deserve for us to give them their due at this point.”
And, as many as 10 of those waivees could be assigned to the practice squad though, historically, several from the Bills’ roster could be retained but the rest will come from the cuts of other teams.
In any case, Saturday’s roster cutdown will be interesting, partially because Buffalo could earn a third-, and even a fourth-round draft pick if it waives certain free agent signees.
The NFL is decidedly vague about what circumstances determine the value of free agents signed and lost and what compensation is due.
But, for simplicity’s sake, the Bills’ situation is this. During the specified signing period, Buffalo added seven free agents from other teams: kicker Stephen Hauschka, wide receiver Andre Holmes, guard Vlad Ducasse, defensive end Ryan Davis, fullback Pat DiMarco and safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. The Bills lost five free agents (players who were waived do not count) and presumably, for league purposes, those were cornerback Stephon Gilmore, wide receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, linebacker Zach Brown and quarterback EJ Manuel.
Since Buffalo signed seven and lost five, it’s currently not due any compensation. BUT, if the Bills cut three of the free agents they signed, a compensatory third-round pick (for Gilmore) would result and if four of them were waived, they would also earn a fourth-rounder for Woods.
However, here’s the problem and why Saturday’s cuts will be so interesting.
Hauschka is Buffalo’s only kicker, Hyde and Poyer are the starting safeties and Holmes has been working as a starter, as has DiMarco.
Holmes has done nothing and seems expendable even with the Bills’ mostly-anonymous receiving corps. Davis wouldn’t necessarily be missed with Eddie Yarbrough, waived last year by Denver, having impressed since training camp began. And if Mike Tolbert, the 31-year-old 5-foot-9, 250-pound veteran, was moved to fullback, the Bills might be willing to part with DiMarco. Ducasse, though, has been battling John Miller for the starting right guard job.
Thus, with five of Buffalo’s seven free agent signings effectively starters, it will interesting to see whether the cuts reflect a bid for a compensatory pick next spring, or keeping all or most of them for this season.
AS FOR THE game, rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman actually got the start, even though starting QB Tyrod Taylor and third-stringer T.J. Yates are both in the concussion protocol.
He led the Bills to a field goal and touchdown in his only two series (9-for-11 passing for 81 yards) but likely gave the coaching staff apoplexy over possible injury with a pair of runs, one seemingly designed, the other technically called a sack as it was for zero yards.
Starting left tackle Cordy Glenn, recovering from a foot injury, also played for a pair of possessions, as did right tackle Jordan Mills, while Miller and Ducasse alternated series.
The rest of the game was for roster spots, though the the best news for McDermott was, after being flagged 43 times in the first three preseason games — 36 of them accepted — the Bills dramatically reduced their infractions. For the game, Buffalo was called for only five penalties.
“It was good,” McDermott said of the reduction in flags. “We’re working to get going in the right direction, but we have a long way to go.
“The guys played fast … they were sharp and in good position most of the night and they did a good job.”
And the next game, it counts.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com)