PHOENIX – Now that the Buffalo Bills have a bunch of new players, someone has to get them to mesh as a team. This is where Sean McDermott and the rest of the Bills’ coaching staff takes over.
It won’t be an easy job, considering that of the 15 players the Bills have added via unrestricted free agency and potentially another 10 they will be adding in next month’s NFL draft, several of them figure to be starters. The offensive line, for one, is likely in for a major rebuild.
"The less continuity you have, the bigger the challenge, right?” McDermott told reporters Tuesday during the annual coaches breakfast at the NFL meeting at the Arizona Biltmore. “So it's a challenge to bring guys together that are coming off of different teams in particular with how heavy we went free agency. That's some of the risk of free agency, inherently.
"That said, we needed to improve our football team from a roster standpoint. So that's also why you do the research that (General Manager) Brandon (Beane) and his staff did, (assistant GM) Joe Schoen, and so on and so forth, to try and close the gap as much as possible when it comes to knowing the players in free agency. It's a slippery slope, the process of free agency, but again, we tried to go with our critical factors of what we feel like to close that gap as much as possible."
But it’s a balancing act.
On one hand, the Bills want to believe they’ve already become significantly better with their free agent signings. On the other, they have the enormous task of figuring out how to get maximum impact from them as quickly as possible.
"Listen, I'm grateful for the opportunity that we had to add those players,” McDermott said. “I mean, the (available salary) cap money this year, the cap money last year, two different scenarios, right? So those were necessary, going through some of that just trying to be judicious with how we handled it the previous years because we really didn't have a lot of flexibility. Or we could have just taken an irresponsible approach and just kept kicking it down the road and that's not how you build it.
"So we took this year and said, ‘Hey, now we have a chance, some flexibility to spend, and let's not just spend irresponsibly, but let's target the guys that we feel like that are out there that can help us.’ You can only target what's out there, right? So now you say, ‘OK, now we've got these guys, these names on the paper. Well, how do we bring them all together and form a cohesive team?’ And that's the challenge every year, in particular, when you're building it, where there is a significant influx of new people.
"In free agency, when they're coming from different locker rooms, sometimes they pick up good habits and sometimes, just the nature of being a veteran, you pick up habits that aren't so good. So the important thing is that we take a team-first, selfless approach to basically our journey this year."
McDermott said he felt that, overall, the Bills acquired players who “fit our DNA.” However, his optimism included some caution.
“Look, it's always a projection, right? Because of just the way free agency is,” the coach said. “That said, we feel like we were able to, at this point, add players that love to compete, love to work hard and can help our football team in some way, shape or form, in some fashion. ... The biggest thing we've got to do is integrate them into the guys we already have. And that takes time and every year you've got to build a team and I've said this before, you’ve got to build a team, put a team together, build the chemistry, get to know one another. And so that's a process that takes time.”
McDermott touched upon other topics. Here are some highlights:
On pretty much neglecting the defense in free agency. “Look, we were out to find the best players we could that could help our football team and we acknowledge that there were significant holes on the offensive side. That said, I don't think necessarily we were out to say we have to ignore the defensive players that are on the board and just go all offense. We were out to find the best football players that could, we feel like, we felt like could help our football team, regardless of offense, defense or special teams.”
On the importance of Josh Allen entering the offseason knowing now he’s the starting quarterback as opposed to last year, when he was a designated third-stringer. “Well, number one, it adds clarity to our situation, which is a good thing. So last year – I've already gone back and looked at the reps – we were trying to split the reps as evenly as we could so that our threes could develop as much as our ones and sometimes that's hard to do. But we know that Josh was running with the threes and so there was a process in place that we felt like was right for us and his development then and so, moving forward to now, there’ll be a process in place where he'll be out there with the ones and you try and get as much continuity with the guys that work with him starting Day One all the way through, hopefully, training camp.”
On if he’s had a chance to reflect on where things are heading into his third season as head coach. “I can tell you this: I feel better today than the day I walked in the door … because I've been around two situations like this once, in Philadelphia with Andy (Reid) and again once in Carolina with Ron (Rivera), and I know the cycle of how this thing works. And each one, though, is a little bit different. So when we came in, we had a situation where we had a team that was a little bit older, we had a team that had some leadership on it and we had a team that we weren't able to re-sign a lot of guys when we got here because we were challenged with the salary cap. We were challenged with the draft and the lack of developing of players. ...
"I would just say that, overall, we had a lot of areas that we needed to address. And that first year I felt like our team really came together, understood who they were. And then last year we were extremely young. And it's hard as you're going through it, but it's part of the process of getting it right, right? And, again, we could have gone into year two and said, ‘Hey, let's just kick that can down the road, let's be what I would consider irresponsible and continue to do what's been going on in terms of just spend, spend, spend.’ So as a coach, and as a GM, I'm sure for Brandon, last year we were so young, it's hard because we want to win, believe me. You wake up early in the morning, go to bed late at night with it on your mind all the time. That said, the part of the growth of that that comes out of it and the positive of it was you watch the energy and the enthusiasm of the football team, in particular in the last six and seven games and the way they played and the experience they got, now we're going to use that experience and energy and enthusiasm to continue to carry us forward as we as we continue on the climb.”
On why there's confidence in LeSean McCoy. “Well, you look at the history, number one (and) that the skills have been there. I went back, along with our offensive staff, and we looked at why the results were the way they were last year. How much was on LeSean? How much was on the other pieces involved? We all took ownership of that. That's where it starts and then I know LeSean is driven to be the best. That's been proven over the course of his career. I'm excited to see LeSean when he gets back and see how he and Frank (Gore) work together with the other running backs that will be in the room – Pat DiMarco and so on and so forth. I think it'll be a good combination.”
The Bills plan to release 31-year-old running back Chris Ivory, per a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The move would save the club $2.15 million against the 2019 salary cap, while costing $750,000 in dead cap money.
After the Bills signed Ivory last year, he proceeded to average only 3.3 yards per carry on 115 rushing attempts. he has not averaged more than 3.8 yards per carry since the 2016 season.