So much for the idea that free agents don’t want to come to Buffalo.
One by one, evidence of the opposite came through One Bills Drive on Thursday. A total of six introductory press conferences were held, part of the team’s class of eight free-agent signings — a flurry of activity that has reshaped the roster and made it clear Western New York can, in fact, be an NFL destination.
“I was extremely excited when I heard Buffalo was in the mix,” said new center Mitch Morse. “I was just looking forward to being part of a team that really cared about the players, and these owners and coaches and the GM really care about their players. ... I’ve been here 24 hours and it’s a fantastic town. I’m looking forward to making it my home for years to come.”
Make no mistake: Morse will be paid handsomely to do that. His four-year contract has a maximum value of $44.5 million — making him the NFL’s highest-paid player at his position.
Money will always be the biggest motivator for free agents, but it’s not the only one. A team’s plan, and how they fit into it, also matters.
The past few days have shown Bills General Manager Brandon Beane has a vision for his team. While it’s true the Bills had plenty of money to spend — they entered free agency with the fourth-most salary cap space in the NFL — they were also competing with 31 other teams, some of which had similar money to throw around. Beane had to be able to recruit. He did so masterfully, coming away with an impressive haul.
“Just the overall culture here,” offensive tackle Ty Nsekhe said of what attracted him to Buffalo. “Especially when I came out here, I saw it was family based. It’s a good organization, it fits my skill set. So it felt like it was the best fit for me.”
It was obvious that the offense needed to be rebuilt around second-year quarterback Josh Allen, so Beane went out and signed three offensive linemen, two wide receivers, a running back and a tight end. Check, check, check and check.
“I feel we did address a lot of them — I really do,” Beane said of the team’s needs. “I don't want to say we're good at every position, we can roll the ball out and go, but I feel a lot better than a week ago. Because you don't know how it's going to go.”
Some Bills fans understandably were questioning “the process” after the team struggled to a 6-10 finish last season, one year after ending a 17-year playoff drought. Losing wasn’t the goal, but it was known that in turning to a rookie quarterback and cleaning up a messy salary cap situation, there could be growing pains.
Now, with Allen in place and an improved supporting cast around him, the Bills have to take a step forward in 2019. Beane knows that, which is why he acted with urgency, but not desperation at the start of free agency.
“Obviously our cap was in a position where we could be aggressive in spots where we needed to be,” he said. “Our offense, we know where we statistically ranked, and it held us back in some games. We were looking at all areas, other than the quarterback really, to improve.”
After this weekend, Beane’s attention will turn back to the NFL Draft. With 10 picks, he has set himself up to be able to truly take the “best player available,” as opposed to reaching for a player to fill a glaring hole on the roster.
“That is the goal, to (avoid) that,” he said. “We’ve covered a lot of areas. You're always greedy. You're always saying, we could try and upgrade here, we can try and upgrade there. Free agency's technically not over. There are still guys out there, so it doesn't mean because I'm standing here, we're done. We're continuing to look.
“Who knows? Somebody could call in a week and say, 'Hey, we signed this other guy. You want to trade for this other guy?' Most of our attention after this weekend will be back on the draft, but if there's a guy here that becomes available, whether it's a cap release, a trade, whatever, we'll continue to try and find upgrades to the roster."
Oh, and about that whole notion of nobody wanting to play in Buffalo. Beane pushed back against that — hard.
"I'm trying to eat my words, but that (ticked) me off, to be candid,” he said. “Don't speak about Buffalo, if you don't know what this city or what this fan base is like. It really (ticked) me off, because it's not true. When you talk to players — how many guys flowed through here today? — eight, nine, whatever, and we could have had more. We didn't have that narrative.”
In the days leading up to the start of free agency, it was reported that the Bills were closing in on a trade for Steelers star receiver Antonio Brown. When that fell apart, it was widely reported that Brown didn’t want to come to Buffalo.
“It started with a bad rumor on the whole Antonio Brown thing, people looking for reasons and they didn't have all the facts,” Beane said. “Again, I can't tell you how many players commented, ‘This is amazing, this is awesome. What a facility, what a place, what a culture.' All that stuff that we have going here."