In 2017, Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane became the brand new Buffalo Bills head coach and general manager, respectively. Since then, these two men have changed the trajectory of the Bills organization. It’s apparent that Beane and McDermott have changed the narrative that a team’s Super Bowl window is only open if they have a quarterback on a rookie contract. In addition, they have given the rest of the league a blueprint on how to build a team around said rookie quarterback.
Sean McDermott was hired on January 11, 2017. Two days later, January 13, 2017, he stepped to the podium for his introductory press conference. It seemed like a standard press conference: McDermott went through his thank you’s, God, wife, parents, Panthers organization, Andy Reid, and finally Terry and Kim Pegula. He talked about “building a culture of winning inside the walls of the organization that would extend to the community” itself. McDermott kept talking about “culture” and about “love”. It turns out Coach McDermott loves catchphrases – his first one from 2017 “Trust the Process” is ingrained in any Bills fan; heck I even used it as a podcast name. Looking back with hindsight the clues are quite obvious, but first, let’s talk about Brandon Beane.
Brandon Beane was hired as GM on May 9, 2017. Beane had been the favorite all along due to his close relationship with Sean McDermott in Carolina. His introductory press conference was very similar to McDermott’s: Beane talked about getting the right guys and building a culture. He talked about how he and Coach McDermott would talk about roster building, culture, and the salary cap when they both worked for the Panthers. Beane mentioned being in “lockstep” with McDermott.
Love and Culture
I’ll be the first to admit that I was skeptical. I had a few “Ok sure Sean just go win some games” and some “culture’s overrated” moments. I was wrong. McDermott and Beane really have built a locker room where “players can be the best version of themselves”. He openly talks about how the players and coaches really love one another. They set aside time during training camp for every new player or coach to tell their story. And not just any story, the real raw stories of their backgrounds and their childhood, the struggles they went through growing up or in college, and stories about their neighborhoods or their family. The goal is to respect and love one another not just as a co-worker or teammate but as a human being and a friend. As an outsider, the results are hard to ignore. We can see it on the players’ faces and hear it in their words. They love one another.
Roster building in 2017
Stephon Gilmore was allowed to leave during free agency and ended up on the hated New England Patriots. On August 11, 2017, it seemed as if a crisis was brewing in the Buffalo area as both Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby were both traded. Later in the season on October 28, 2017, Marcell Dareus was traded. That marked the third high first-round draft pick to leave the Bills organization in a nine-month span. Every fan knows a new coach or GM wants to bring in “their guys” but Billsmafia was not happy. The organization ended up with $50 million in dead cap and managed to back their way into the playoffs (thanks, Andy). While initially painful, resetting the salary structure for the future was very important. Beane was also able to acquire some extra draft capital for a run at a quarterback in the 2018 draft. Coach McDermott also instituted his “a veteran in every room” beliefs. The idea that having one veteran player in every position room is good for the learning and development of the young players. Examples of this include Kyle Williams (DT), Lorenzo Alexander (LB), and Micah Hyde (S).
2018: Josh Allen and Tremaine Edmunds
The Bills 2018 offseason brought with it two new stars: Josh Allen (offense) and Tremaine Edmunds (defense). It also brought $50 million in dead cap and Nathan Peterman. Allen, Edmunds, and the other young players got valuable playing time while McBeane continued the “vet in every room” approach. That said, it was obvious the dead cap situation was having a negative impact on the team and any meaningful roster-building would have to wait until 2019.
2019 and 2020: Roster Building Revolution
By the spring of 2019, it was clear the Bills had eight players from the 2017 and 2018 draft classes who would be part of the core of the organization moving forward: Tre White, Matt Milano, and Dion Dawkins from 2017 and Josh Allen, Tremaine Edmunds, Harrison Phillips, Taron Johnson and Siran Neal from 2018. Brandon Beane’s free agency mission in 2019 seemed clear — get as much help for Josh Allen as possible. The Bills signed Frank Gore, John Brown, Cole Beasley, Lee Smith, Tyler Kroft, Matt Barkley, and seven new offensive linemen. The team then added Ed Oliver, Devin Singletary, Cody Ford, and Dawson Knox. Reinforcements continued with Stefon Diggs and Draft picks Zack Moss and Gabe Davis for the offense. Second-round pick A.J Epenesa along with Mario Addison, Vernon Butler, and Quinton Jefferson add to a revamped Defensive line. At this point, I’m sure you’re still wondering what the revolutionary part is.
Where’s the Revolution?
The Bills made a concerted effort to build a strong core of young players and then surround those players with experienced veterans, many of whom they are familiar with from Carolina, on short contracts. Instead of surrounding Josh Allen with a lot of young players, they surrounded him with veteran players. Allen doesn’t have to figure things out in the NFL with a bunch of young offensive linemen and wide receivers who are also trying to find their way. Every offensive free agent signed had at least four years of experience in the league. These contracts were structured to expire right when members of the young core would be up for contract extensions. Let’s take a closer look.
Before we get started, I’ll tell you where the Bills stand in terms of the salary cap. For this exercise, I’ll be using Spotrac.com. For the 2020 season, the Bills are currently $19 million under the cap, and let’s assume they roll over $10 million of that to the 2021 salary cap. This rollover coupled with the expiring contracts of Trent Murphy ($10 million), Tyler Kroft ($9 million), Ty Nsekhe ($6 million), and 25 other players will create about $41 million in cap space. First up are LT Dion Dawkins and OLB Matt Milano, both non-first-round picks from 2017. Dawkins’s market value is currently listed at $16 million and Milano’s value is $12 million. The Bills want to resign both of these players so there goes $28 million. This leaves $13 million with decisions to make about Norman, DiMarco, Feliciano, and the 2021 draft class.
Again in 2022 something similar happens. Expiring contracts include Micah Hyde ($6 million), Jerry Hughes ($9.5 million), and John Brown ($9.75 million) With Tre White in line for a new contract in the $18 million range. The big money really comes due in 2023 and 2024 with Josh Allen ($40 million)? Tremaine Edmunds, Ed Oliver, Dawson Knox, Devin Singletary, and Cody Ford all in line for extensions. Once again the money is at least partially created through expiring veteran contracts. Mario Addison, Star Lotulelei, Mitch Morse, Cole Beasley, and Jordan Poyer would account for $44 million in free cap space.
While this may not sound revolutionary, I believe that the league will look at this model of roster building and at some point realize how smart it was. Accumulating a core of good young players, surrounding them with short veteran contracts while they grow and become the veterans themselves. Resigning this core of young veterans to big second contracts. Relying on your ability to draft and develop young talent. Refreshing the roster with youth. These are things that every team talks about, yet very few seem to execute. Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott seem to be creating a model for sustained NFL success and Billsmafia is here for it.
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