The past few months have been some of the most eventful in the recent history of the Buffalo Bills. Team founder and owner Ralph Wilson passed away. Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly has been facing a very public battle with cancer. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Even the draft provided some rare offseason excitement for Bills fans when the team traded up to take star wide receiver Sammy Watkins. But in the midst of all the offseason headlines surrounding the team, one acquisition that hasn’t gotten a ton of attention could wind up having the biggest impact on the Bills’ 2014 season: the signing of middle linebacker Brandon Spikes.
The Bills and their fans are not entirely unfamiliar with Spikes, as he spent the first four seasons of his career with the archrival New England Patriots. In those four seasons, Spikes established himself as one of the more consistent middle linebackers in the NFL. However, a messy breakup with New England led him to Western New York and a Bills’ defense that was one of the better units in the league in 2013. While players like Mario Williams, Kiko Alonso and Kyle Williams may grab more headlines and accolades, Spikes could wind up making a bigger impact than any of them.
For all the improvements the Bills’ defense made last season under former coordinator Mike Pettine, the one area in which they struggled mightily was against the run. This has been a constant problem for the team the past few seasons. Whether it has been against All-Pros or third-stringers, the Bills’ run defense has let them down time and again, and has been a big reason why they haven’t sniffed the playoffs in recent years. Spikes provides an instant upgrade in this area which works in the team’s favor in several ways.
First, it allows Alonso to play on the outside where he has much more freedom to be a playmaker, one area in which he is already superior to Spikes. Second, Spikes gives the Bills a legitimate run-stopping inside linebacker, something they have lacked since the days of London Fletcher.
The Bills have one of the best defensive tackle pairings in the league in Dareus and Kyle Williams, but the men behind them have often been pedestrian against the run, which has led to numerous big plays. And finally, Spikes brings a swagger to a Buffalo team that needed a little passion and nastiness.
Spikes is a player who is not afraid to let his voice be heard, as evidenced by his comments regarding his old team and his treatment while a player there. That attitude, if used properly, will give the Bills an edge in their critical games against the Patriots and others this year.
If the Brandon Spikes who has given the Buffalo Bills so many fits over the years does the same for his new team, we could look back and say that he was the most important piece the Bills added to their 2014 roster.