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Vic Carucci's Bills analysis: Star system extinguished in new approach

If it isn't clear by now, it should be.

Look at what happened in free agency. Look at what happened in the NFL Draft.

The Buffalo Bills weren't searching for stars. They wanted players who fit. They wanted the cement that can be poured into a sustainable foundation the franchise has lacked for so long.

This is a radical departure from the way they did their player-personnel business when Doug Whaley, their former general manager, was in charge, and Russ Brandon, their current president and managing partner, had much greater involvement in how the roster was put together.

Whaley lived for splash moves.

Understandably, Brandon appreciated how such acquisitions helped him do the thing he has long done so well: convince people to buy everything the team was selling. A guy named Rex Ryan came in very handy in that role, as well.

The highlight names from the Bills' 2017 free-agency group are a pair of safeties who will likely be starters, Micah Hyde and Jordon Poyer, and a pair of fullbacks, Mike Tolbert and Patrick DiMarco, who should also see plenty of action.

The highlight names from the draft don't have much of a buzz-creating quality, either. You're left to trust, at least for the time being, that first-round cornerback Tre'Davious White and second-round receiver Zay Jones and second-round offensive lineman Dion Dawkins have what it takes to contribute sooner rather than later ... but none left that overwhelming expectation for immediate dynamic impact.

That's right in line with how Sean McDermott believes a team should be constructed.

Had the coach been in place two years ago when the Philadelphia Eagles offered LeSean McCoy in a trade straight up for Kiko Alonso, his first reaction would not likely to have been leading a champagne celebration such as the one Whaley, team owners Terry and Kim Pegula, and Brandon had on the Pegulas' yacht in Boca Raton, Fla.

Although McDermott had been in Philadelphia with McCoy, he would have considered the ramifications of picking up the huge contract of a running back in his late 20s. He also would have been less than enthused about the idea of giving him what amounted to a bribe, increasing his pay so that he would agree to come to a place he had no interest in playing. Those are the types of short-sighted decisions that, in the long run, can come back to bite you.


But that was how the Bills' hierarchy at the time believed things needed to be done. You pay whatever it takes to get stars and players, such as Charles Clay, that you believe will have a splashy impact. You pay whatever it takes to keep them, such as those fat extensions for Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes.

Yes, McCoy has lived up to his lofty credentials, even through an injury-dotted first season with the Bills. Without him, the team doesn't lead the NFL in rushing the past two years. However, his age (he'll be 29 in July) and big salary don't compute. Ninth-year running backs don't tend to consistently perform better than they did through the first half of their careers. McDermott will live with him this year, though, because he doesn't have any choice.

But he doesn't have to live with another star-picking remnant from Whaley: Sammy Watkins.

The coach gets to look at him with a fresh set of eyes that says all of the spectacular plays Watkins made at Clemson and those flashes of brilliance he has shown as a pro mean nothing right now. What matters is that Watkins is, once again, healing from one of the double-digit injuries he has had since his rookie season. Therefore, it didn't make any sense to McDermott that the Bills pick up a fifth-year option on his contract that would have been guaranteed against injury.

No more wild swings for the fences. No more going after names and highlight-reel résumés that create all kinds of excitement months before there are actual results.

Will it work? Who knows? But it's how the Bills are doing things, and it certainly can't be a whole lot worse than what they've been doing.

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