The Buffalo Bills kicked off NFL training camps on July 20 at Saint John Fisher College, and with that role comes added attention and coverage. Many of the big stories surrounding the team became key talking points around the league, including the sale of the team, the progress of quarterback E.J. Manuel, and the first training camp of star rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Unfortunately, this also meant that more attention was drawn to troubled defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. Amazingly, Dareus found a way to make even more negative headlines in the first days of training camp, as it was announced that the Bills’ Pro Bowler failed his conditioning test.
This was just the latest in what has become an almost-comedic string of off the field mishaps that began with a drug arrest in Alabama and was soon followed by a drag race through the streets of Hamburg, NY. The scope and diversity of these blunders would be funny if they weren’t so sad and damaging to the Bills’ prospects for the 2014 season.
A defense that was supposed to be one of the best in the NFL has already suffered its share of losses this offseason. Pro Bowl free safety Jairus Byrd left for the New Orleans Saints in free agency, a loss that while not wholly unexpected, still stung. Then, just a few weeks before the start of training camp, when you would think season-ending injuries were supposed to occur, rookie sensation Kiko Alonso suffered just such an injury. Dareus is already facing a likely multiple-game suspension. If he is not in football shape when he returns, physically or mentally, the defense that was supposed to be the backbone of this Bills team will be drastically diminished.
If you’re keeping score at home, Dareus’ failure to pass his conditioning test marks his third significant blunder of the offseason. One would think that this would lead to a proverbial “three strikes and you’re out” scenario. However, things are not that simple. As a former third overall draft pick, the Bills have much more invested in Dareus’ career than if he happened to be some late-round scrub. Head coach Doug Marrone in particular has been a steadfast Dareus supporter. He has never once doubted that Dareus will be able to learn from his mistakes, set aside his personal issues and perform to his considerable abilities.
But the very fact that Maroone has had to express his commitment to Dareus over and over is indicative of how much of a problem child the 24 year old has become. Dareus’ talent is undeniable. He is coming off his best season as a pro, setting career highs in tackles (71) and sacks (7.5), which led to the first Pro Bowl selection of his career. With Dareus lined up alongside Kyle Williams and Mario Williams, the Bills have one of the very best defensive lines in the NFL. But entering just his fourth season in the league, Dareus has come to a crossroads in his career with the Bills. He must decide how much the game means to him, and the Bills must decide how much he means to the team. If either one of their answers involve the words “a lot,” then perhaps the two should part ways.