ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — In six seasons, general manager Brandon Beane has helped transform the Buffalo Bills into contenders.
The challenge now is sustaining the bar of success the three-time defending AFC East champs have established, while dealing with the constraints of a salary cap system, which failed to align with projected growth because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the realities of their division and conference rivals getting better.
Beane and the Bills are entering a new phase of their development process.
They can no longer rely on making major offseason splashes — signing Von Miller last year, and acquiring Stefon Diggs in a trade in 2020 — because Buffalo’s payroll is suddenly eaten up by high-priced salaries committed to Diggs, Miller, quarterback Josh Allen and cornerback Tre’Davious White. That in turn led to the Bills being unable to afford re-signing key players in most notably losing middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds in free agency.
The Bills are instead left to filling needs in the draft, in which they only have six selections this year, and stuck picking near the bottom of the order, with their first selection currently scheduled at 27th.
“You’re really looking at what the cap is looking like now, next year, the following year, for sure,” Beane said. “We definitely need draft picks on our roster to help us, whether it’s backup roles, special teams roles, eventual starters.”
It’s also a reason why Beane acknowledged he’s more open to trading out of the first round to gain additional picks, rather than use what few assets he has to move up.
That’s a switch from the 2018 draft, when Beane traded up twice in the first round to land Allen and Edmunds, while also using Buffalo’s vast salary cap space to add talent through the entire roster.
Buffalo has various needs despite coming off a 13-3 season, which ended with a thud in a 27-10 loss to Cincinnati in the divisional playoff round. It was considered a major step back for a team that entered the season as Super Bowl favorites, and expected to finally get over the hump of losing to the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs, after losing to Kansas City in both the 2020 and ’21 playoffs.
Concerns are now being raised as to whether the Bills are regressing, in being supplanted by the Bengals in the AFC pecking order, and are vulnerable in a division in which the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets are showing signs of improvement.
Complicating matters further is Beane acknowledging the number of first-round grades he and his scouts have on this year’s class “is not great.”
The Bills have a selection in each round but the seventh (245th), which they traded to Atlanta to acquire S Dean Marlowe in November. The Falcons since traded the selection to New England.
Finding a replacement for Edmunds at linebacker is an option. The Bills could use an impact player at receiver to draw attention away from Diggs. Their pass rush came up soft once Miller sustained a season-ending knee injury in November. And Buffalo could get younger at safety, with the starting tandem of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer both going to be 32 this upcoming season.
Quarterback, running back, kicker and punter.
Coach Sean McDermott acknowledged it won’t be easy replacing a player with the same size and rangy skillset of the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Edmunds, who signed with Chicago last month.
“I think if we try and chase that specifically, those are hard to find,” said McDermott, who is also taking over the defensive play-calling duties after coordinator Leslie Frazier elected to take the year off. “So we’re really looking for someone that helps our defense, can lead the defense and do the necessary parts of the job that allow us to be a good defense like we’ve been the last couple of years.”
THE PRICE OF SUCCESS
Buffalo’s run of success means the team hasn’t had a top-10 draft pick since selecting Ed Oliver ninth overall in 2019. The Bills traded their 2020 selection (22nd overall) to acquire Diggs from Minnesota, selected 30th in 2021 (DE Greg Rousseau), and 23rd last year (CB Kaiir Elam).