If some NFL laughingstock like the Browns made the same offer and achieved the same result, nobody would have flinched along One Bills Drive. It was only Mike Gillislee, after all, and the Browns would still be the Browns.
Sure, he gave the Bills a spark while backing up LeSean McCoy. He was a nice player, but he also was the same guy who had six carries for 21 yards over two-plus seasons before he arrived in Buffalo. He climbed aboard like many no-names in a myriad of minor transactions that made you believe Doug Whaley was trying to look busy.
You could even dismiss Gillislee as the only back who played the past two NFL seasons and scored 10 touchdowns and averaged 5 yards per carry. McCoy had 16 rushing TDs and averaged 4.94 yards per carry over the same span, just missing the cutoff. It was an interesting stat, a fun fact that told only part of the story.
The story changed quickly when it was the Patriots who came knocking on Gillislee's door with contract proposal in hand, much the way they did with receiver Chris Hogan a year earlier during free agency. It was easy to bid Hogan farewell in a similar manner at the time because, well, it was only Chris Hogan.
We know what happened with Hogan, whom the Pats signed with a specific role geared toward his deceptive speed and ability to get open. They viewed him as a viable alternative in the passing game, an extra weapon Tom Brady could pull from his holster when needed, for the right price.
The Pats offered him a three-year deal worth $12 million, enough money to satisfy Hogan and too much for the Bills to match. Sure enough, the Bills watched him put together a career year before torching the Steelers with nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns in the AFC title game. Two weeks later, he won a Super Bowl.
Hogan had the same skill in Buffalo, so his success was hardly a shock. It confirmed the Bills didn't know how to maximize his ability without an elite quarterback. They didn't figure out his place in the passing game, concluded it was only Chris Hogan and redirected money saved from his departure.
Bills fans must be shuddering at the notion of Gillislee playing against them twice a year, knowing the Pats rarely make mistakes in evaluation and don't compound them when they do. Bill Belichick has a specific role waiting for Gillislee. It's only a matter of time before the Bills' loss becomes the Patriots' gain.
Let's not forget that the Pats also handed cornerback Stephon Gilmore a five-year contract worth $65 million, including $40 million guaranteed. It was the most guaranteed money they ever committed to a defensive player even though Gilmore was coming off a poor year, by his standards.
People would have scoffed at Gilmore's contract if he signed with … anybody but the Patriots. But because he signed with them, you fully expect him to be better in New England than he was in Buffalo. It must be humbling for the Bills' executives to admit behind closed doors that the Patriots know Buffalo's players better than the Bills do, that Buffalo has become New England's quasi developmental team.
The Patriots won the Super Bowl again but still had room under the salary cap to pilfer players from a team that can't afford to keep them after missing the playoffs. It comes down to gross mismanagement by the Bills and textbook management by the Patriots, an example how one team understands value over another.
Look at the results.
Gillislee is gone largely because the Bills devoted too much money at the position for McCoy when they handed him that ridiculous five-year, $40 million contract extension. Never mind that McCoy already was under contract and had little leverage when Buffalo acquired him from Philadelphia.
Buffalo handed McCoy the extension to make him feel better, to soothe his discomfort that came with playing in Buffalo. McCoy was their best and most exciting player last season. But giving him a deal that wasn't necessary was one among several dubious management decisions that undermined plans to succeed.
The Patriots refused to pay top dollar for running backs. Instead, they found value in players who made it work. It was much easier with Brady, of course, but the Pats have turned over their roster numerous times during the Bills' 17-year playoff drought. For the umpteenth time, it's not just the quarterback.
Not in a million years would the Patriots have shelled out the money Buffalo spent on various players. The Bills made football decisions based on marketing and hoped they would win. The Patriots made their decisions based on football knowing their best marketing tool was winning.
The Bills handed a $100 million contract to Marcell Dareus when they knew he was a problem. Long before that blunder, with the same management basically in place, they signed Mario Williams to a deal worth $100 million. The Patriots must have been shaking their heads while laughing all the way to the Super Bowl.
According to salary watchdog spotrac.com, Brady will be the NFL's 13th-highest paid quarterback this season. He never demanded top money because he knew the Patriots would give him the best opportunity to win. The Patriots continued winning partly because he never demanded top money.
Brady has made $196 million in his career, second-most among current quarterbacks behind Eli Manning, but actually has been underpaid in terms of market value. If he suddenly demanded to be the highest-paid player in the league, there's a greater chance the Pats would show him the door than meet his price.
Last year, New England made a preemptive strike when they shipped top linebacker Jamie Collins to the Browns in a midseason trade. They knew he would be looking for a big payday, but they also knew they would need flexibility in the free agent market. It contributed to them signing Gilmore and Gillislee.
The trade, Collins for a conditional draft pick, looked like a good deal for the Browns. The Patriots never flinched. To them, it was only Jamie Collins, after all. He was quickly replaced, and they continued their march to the Super Bowl. The Browns are still the Browns, a laughingstock. They might as well be the Bills.