The worst part about Mike Gillislee having one cleat out the door of One Bills Drive isn't the potential/likely loss of a running back.
The Bills can overcome that part.
Gillislee is an excellent backup. He's a nice change-up in the rushing attack with tremendous explosiveness and an uncanny ability to get into the end zone.
But the Bills' run game is still all about LeSean McCoy. Whether it will rank as the NFL's best for a third consecutive season will mainly depend on how he performs (along with the offensive line and another big contribution from the legs of quarterback Tyrod Taylor).
The Bills' new-look offense, led by Rick Dennison, is going to make the fullback far more prominent than it was the past two seasons and perhaps has been in a very long time. Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert are going to be heavily involved as blockers, short-yardage runners, and receivers. Jonathan Williams and the rest of the Bills' running backs depth chart -- which will likely grow during and after next week's NFL Draft -- will round out the backfield picture.
So, as much of a valuable component as Gillislee has been, the Bills' ground production is not going to plummet without him. If it plummets, it will be because McCoy is injured for a prolonged stretch or simply doesn't perform well. Or because Taylor falls well short of what he has done as a rusher the previous two years. Or the line falls apart.
Don't get me wrong. Gillislee is a wonderful weapon to have. I would have been all for placing a higher tender on him -- which would have consumed about $1 million more in cap space than the original-round tender he received -- to elevate the fifth-round compensation to a second-rounder that no other team would have given up.
But if anything did happen to McCoy to knock him out for all or most of the season, it would be a reach to automatically assume that all would be fine simply because Gillislee is on the roster. He has never carried the whole load for a prolonged stretch, so there's no telling how it would work out.
No, the worst part about the fact the Bills might very well not match the offer sheet Gillislee received from the New England Patriots, because the $4 million they would have to pay him this year doesn't work under their tight salary cap, is that it's because it's the Patriots looking to pluck another player from the Buffalo roster.
It's because the Bills have opened themselves up to the type of blistering criticism they received from national sports-talk host Colin Cowherd, who talked about Bill Belichick once again taking advantage of "poorly run" franchises such as the Bills and Cleveland Browns.
Seeing the Patriots looking to reload for another Super Bowl run with the help of former Bills players is what makes the Gillislee situation harder for a lot of the team's loyalists to stomach. Seeing it happen with a restricted free agent for the second offseason in a row is galling to them.
Let's remember, though, that there wasn't a whole lot of pushback last year when the Bills allowed Chris Hogan to end up in New England. It was only after Hogan torched the Bills for a long touchdown at New Era Field and then became a hero in the AFC Championship Game that the second-guessing and disgust over allowing him to get away was heard.
The reality is that what upsets Bills fans more than front-office bumbling -- and we've certainly seen a ton of that -- is that it's the Patriots doing what they've done so well for so long. They find ways to make the most out of someone else's discarded players.
Hogan is a perfect fit for their offense, far better than he was in the Bills' scheme. Gillislee would likely fit just as nicely in New England as he has in Buffalo. Oh, and then there's Stephon Gilmore, whom the Pats made one of the biggest acquisitions in free agency after the Bills decided long ago they would limit how much they would spend to keep them.
Nevertheless, the issue here is less about surviving without Gillislee and more about weathering the embarrassment/frustration/anger over another round of Patriot raiding.