BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) As a lifelong Buffalonian I have rooted for the Bills since I took my first steps. I have also professionally covered the team for the better part of the last 25 years. Here’s a look at what I think could help the team take the next step. Please remember, these are my opinions and like many in the media if I truly had all the answers I would be in an NFL front office.
The Buffalo Bills just finished their most successful season in decades and the players and fans are hungry for more.
Here are humbly some additions and subtractions that could take place this off season that could help the team reach the ultimate goal of a Super Bowl Championship for the Bills and the Queen city.
Today we will start on the offensive side of the ball. The first is a no-brainer and one which I believe Brandon Beane will take care of sooner than later, signing quarterback Josh Allen to a mega contract to keep him here for the foreseeable future. This is a must do and most people would agree, but this will take up a good portion of the Bills cap space and some big decisions will need to be made, especially on the defensive side of the ball. (I will get to the defense tomorrow)
So, Josh is wrapped up, what to do with the remainder of the offense.
Let’s start with the receiving corps, arguably one of the best units in the NFL. Stefon Diggs is coming an All-Pro season after leading the NFL in catches and yards. Diggs is under contract with the Bills through the 2023 season at an average salary of $14.4 million. You could reward him with a new deal that would keep him with the team even longer, but he already has the second highest cap hit for 2021. I would stick with his current deal for the upcoming season.
Cole Beasley had a career year and is an absolute warrior on the field. Little did most people know that the second team All-Pro play the Bills three playoff games with a broken fibula. He is under contract through the 2022 season for around $7 million a season. No change here.
Now we come to an interesting decision, John Brown has been a reliable receiver and solid addition to the Bills since he was signed as a free agent in 2019, but the team could move on from Brown and save about $6 million towards the cap. Brown was arguably the best receiver on the Bills in ’19. But his importance lessened with the addition of Stefon Diggs and the emergence of rookie 4th round draft pick Gabriel Davis. In addition, while used sparingly, Isaiah McKenzie had his best year as a Bill and we are still waiting to see how good 6th round draft pick Isaiah Hodgins is after spending the 2020 season on injured reserve. My gut feeling is to let Brown go , save the money against the cap and move on with what you have.
Running back is another interesting offseason plan for the Bills.
Most would say Devin Singletary and rookie Zack Moss didn’t have great seasons. You could also say the offense that Brian Daboll used replaced a lot of the running game with short passes.
TJ Yeldon is a free agent and may not return to the team. Running back in the NFL has become a less valued position as it comes to percentage of salary towards the cap. So, what that normally means is fewer running backs are picked higher in the draft every year. There was a time when running backs dominated the draft as much as quarterbacks, but those days are long gone.
What I would like to see is the Bills sign a short term, veteran running back. Much like Frank Gore was for Singletary in his rookie year, I think someone like that would help Moss and Singletary. And as I said earlier a running back is not going to break the bank. With that being said, there are some interesting names in free agency, James Connor, Leonard Fournette and James White to name just a few.
Now to the offensive line where some more tough decisions need to be made with 3 of the 5 starters set to be free agents. No worries at left tackle, Brandon Beane locked up the “Shnow man” Dion Dawkins through the 2024 season. At center, Mitch Morse will be there for the 2021 season. It gets interesting from there.
Right tackle Daryl Williams resurrected his career on a one-year deal with the Bills and now heads to free agency. Williams was solid and a bargain for the Bills at just $2.25 million. His new number will certainly head well north after his 2020 campaign, possibly 4 to 5 times what he made this past season.
In addition to Williams, guard Jon Feliciano will be a free agent. Feliciano is a fan favorite who has proved himself very valuable to the Bills when he was forced to move over to play center when Mitch Morse was injured.
The third starter from the AFC Championship, guard Ike Boettger is also a free agent. He was inserted into the lineup late in the season and impressed his teammates and the Bills coaching staff.
Another wildcard in the Bills thinking will be guard/tackle Cody Ford who spent most of the second half of the 2020 season on injured reserve. He was playing guard during the season but was also fighting for the right tackle job with Daryl Williams in the preseason. The safe play here seems to be to sign Feliciano and Boettger and let Daryl Williams go. Feliciano will cost a couple million more than his $3.6 million deal, but his toughness and versatility make him a must sign. You could then make Ford the right tackle and sign a lower costing veteran tackle to back Ford up.
Tight end remains an interesting position for the Bills. The team signed Tyler Kroft in 2019 hoping he would blossom into one of the top tight ends in the league. But it never worked out with Kroft fighting injuries during his tenure with the team. He is now a free agent and seems unlikely to be back.
Dawson Knox was the main tight end but mixed great plays with bad plays. He did have 10 catches and two touchdowns for the Bills in the playoffs.
Blocking tight end Lee Smith is under contract for the 2021 season with a cap hit of $2.25 million. He would carry no dead money on the cap if he was released, so I would expect that or at least a re-worked deal if he stays.
Another question mark at tight end is Tommy Sweeney who fought injuries in his rookie year and then had a terrible 2020 season. He was injured in training camp, got covid and then was forced to miss the rest of the season due myocarditis, a heart condition.
I’ve spent a lot of time here talking about tight ends here and for good reason. All you had to do was watch the game against the Chiefs and what Travis Kelce can mean to an offense. While tight ends like Kelce and George Kittle are more the exception than the rule, this is an area the Bills could definitely improve. The only free agent tight end that would get close to Kelce and Kittle is probably Hunter Henry. The only problem there is he will cost upwards of $10 million a year. Either way a lower cost free agent tight end may be a possibility for the Bills. Maybe a Jonnu Smith or Gerald Everett.
Tomorrow we’ll look at the defense and some tough decisions that may be needed.