GM Brandon Beane on the state of the Bills: “We’re on track and we’re still trending, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Nine head coaches, two winning seasons and zero playoff appearances in 17 seasons.
Fans might not need the reminder, but Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane had to assess the state of the franchise he was hired to fix following the 2016 season if he was ever to alter its course.
When Beane arrived in Buffalo in May 2017, he and head coach Sean McDermott identified what they believed were the biggest issues crippling the Bills — a significant talent drop-off from a starting lineup that already lacked star power, the lack of a franchise quarterback and a suboptimal salary-cap situation.
As they entered their third training camp Thursday as GM and head coach, Beane and McDermott believe their vision for the franchise is coming to fruition.
“I think we’re on track,” Beane said. “One of the things when we got here was obviously adding quality depth, and I think we’ve done that since sitting here two years ago. The other thing I feel like we’ve done is address the quarterback position and some other areas that we felt we needed to improve.
“And the salary cap — we’re in a much stronger position as we go into 2019 and beyond. That’s all been part of the plan Sean and I had when we got here.”
The upward trend began with several key additions before Beane’s arrival; McDermott oversaw the signings of safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde in March 2017, before the team drafted Tre’Davious White in the first round the following month.
White, especially, was seen as a building block for the organization — a turning point for its culture, even.
They told him as much beginning on draft day.
“I was their first pick, so they just wanted me to come in and help build the culture here,” White said. “From the day I got drafted to when I got here and met everybody, they just told me I’m the first pick to changing this organization. I didn’t take that lightly, and it’s something I took to my rookie year, and I feel like I did pretty good.”
In 2018, the Bills took a step back on paper in the salary-cap department, eschewing players that weren’t in their long-term plan but creating more than $70 million in dead cap. They found a potential franchise quarterback and stalwart linebacker, however, in first-round picks Josh Allen and Tremaine Edmunds, respectively.
That dead cap space whittled down to less than $9 million following the 2018 season, giving the Bills roughly $80 million to spend in free agency.
Beane used the financial flexibility not to overpay for top-end talent — the reality of trying to entice players to come to Buffalo — but instead to add functional depth and proven starters, including wide receivers Cole Beasley and John Brown, running back Frank Gore and center Mitch Morse.
Add depth, fix the salary cap and find a franchise quarterback.
Check, check, check.
“We’re on track and we’re still trending,” Beane said, “but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
That work includes locking in the Bills’ core players for the long-term.
Depending on how he plays in his third season, White could set the market for cornerbacks once his contract ends after the 2020 season. Poyer, left tackle Dion Dawkins and wide receiver Zay Jones are each signed through 2020 as well. Allen and Edmunds will likely receive extensions as their rookie contracts come to a close.
For now, the focus is improving on a 6-10 finish in 2018 — although that improvement isn’t confined only to the win column.
“We just expect to go out and improve. A lot of it can be the eyeball test,” Beane said. “It’s not always going to be wins and losses, so to sit here and say we’re going to have two more wins, three more wins or four, there are so many unknowns into a season.
“Sean and his staff will go out there and try to win the day and deal with what happens, but I can’t sit here and tell you we are going to have X amount of wins this year.”
The Bills’ 2019 season is more about continued development than a Super Bowl title, but they’re not far off from Beane and McDermott’s plan — if at all.
If the past few offseasons are any indication, that’s probably a good sign.