BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills have established a model of team-building that’s led to back-to-back AFC East championships and multiple playoff runs.
But the Bills are also coming off consecutive disappointing postseason finishes and no road playoff wins under coach Sean McDermott. The task for general manager Brandon Beane and McDermott is figuring out how best to continue building around franchise quarterback Josh Allen.
This regime has favored adding young talented players and allowing them time to develop. Last offseason, Beane pointed to tight end as an area they needed to improve. Instead of heavily investing in a star player or going through the draft, 2019 third-round pick Dawson Knox was given the opportunity to take a step forward in his third year. He tied for the most receiving touchdowns by a tight end in 2021 (nine). The development of third-year defensive tackle Ed Oliver paid off in a similar way.
Now, the Bills will try to find the best way to keep their division-winning streak alive and pay players who have grown up in their system. They currently have about $3 million in cap space and restructuring contracts this offseason will be a must.
How can they best continue to build the team this offseason? Let’s take a look at three positions and how they might address them:
When star cornerback Tre’Davious White tore his ACL on Thanksgiving, the Bills’ lack of depth at the position was exposed. As they head into the offseason, there are even more questions at cornerback.
“[Wallace] tested the waters last year, we were able to get him back. He’s a guy we’ll definitely talk to and would love to get him back if he wants to be back,” Beane said.
The corner stepped up as a leader during White’s absence from the field but could make significant money in free agency.
“Just watching Levi fill that void in some ways that we lost with Tre’Davious’ leadership,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “… He’s been really steady for us, he’s made a number of plays in the absence of Tre’Davious.”
In the past, the team has invested in the position through the draft, selecting White in the first round in 2017, Neal in the fifth round a year later and 2020 seventh-round pick Dane Jackson filled in for White after his injury.
But while much of the focus has been developing from within, Beane did say cornerback is an area he would look at in free agency, acknowledging the need for depth.
Buffalo has not spent a first- or second-day pick on a cornerback since Beane became general manager in May 2017. While there was an argument to select a corner early last year, the Bills went with their board and did not reach to fill the need. Things could fall differently in 2022.
In the past, the Bills have added wide receivers through free agency (Cole Beasley), trades (Stefon Diggs) and the draft (Gabriel Davis). Investing more draft capital in the position would make sense.
With Isaiah McKenzie a free agent and Beasley turning 33 in April, adding a speedy slot receiver who could also play outside early in the draft would be beneficial for the future. The Bills could also use a reliable contributor at returner, which could be accomplished with one pick or more.
Beasley is set to account for almost $8 million in cap space. Beane said he anticipated Beasley coming back in 2022, but restructuring his contract is a necessity. The other contact situation to address is signing Diggs to an extension. No Bills player is set to account for more cap space than Diggs next season ($17.9 million). Spreading that number out and paying him appropriately — with someone like Packers WR Davante Adams set to re-shape the market — would be a win-win.
The Bills have invested in the defensive line repeatedly over the last couple of years, including selecting three defensive ends in the first two rounds of the past two drafts. But that doesn’t mean they won’t and shouldn’t continue to invest there.
“I’m always going to put resources in the front,” Beane said. “That’s just how I believe it should be built. Don’t ever be shocked if you see us trying to add there, free agency or the draft at any point.”
Buffalo’s defensive line has several players over the age of 30 who it might be time to move on from. But re-signing veteran Jerry Hughes would be beneficial for the stability of the defensive line after he put together a solid season in 2021 (led the team in Pass Rush Win Rate at 20.9%). The Bills will give further opportunities to young edge rushers A.J. Epenesa (age 23), Greg Rousseau (21) and Boogie Basham (24) to step forward.
“What we really have to do is develop some of those young players so that we can continue to affect the quarterback,” McDermott said. “And that will be a goal of ours — will continue to be a goal.”
But there was a presence missing from the Bills upfront last season, so it would be wise to add some size and speed to try and impact the running game and opposing quarterback more often. This year, adding to the position early in the draft isn’t as much of a need, but as Beane said, more help up front is always beneficial.