Try as the Buffalo Bills might to temper expectations, there can be no doubting their mission.
Be a winner. Now.
The “process” was a nice talking point for the first couple of years of the Sean McDermott-Brandon Beane regime. It’s time to set it aside for a real discussion about becoming a real force in the AFC East.
In a matter of 10 weeks, the Bills have remade a significant chunk of their roster.
It started with 18 free-agent signings, six of whom could end up starting. It continued with more critical pieces being added during the NFL Draft with Thursday night’s first-round selection of defensive tackle Ed Oliver from the University of Houston and Friday night’s second-round choice of offensive tackle Cody Ford from Oklahoma and third-round picks of Florida Atlantic running back Devin Singletary and Ole Miss tight end Dawson Knox.
It even includes a move the Bills didn’t make but considered: to No. 3 to get arguably the best player in the draft, Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. Even if they didn’t venture as far down the road for a potential trade with the New York Jets as some media reports indicated, the inquiry means they’re satisfied enough that holes have been filled that paying a big price to take a big swing for a position other than quarterback was sensible.
The Bills wound up with Oliver, generally seen as the second-best defensive tackle in the draft, by staying put at No. 9. Maybe they did get the best of both worlds by acquiring the disruptive inside defensive force they were sorely lacking without having to part with any future choices.
Their GM went right back to his “Trader Beane” ways Friday night. He sent a fifth-round pick to the Oakland Raiders and moved from the 40th to 38th pick in the second round to address another important need with the selection of Ford. Then, he gave up a pair of fourths to acquire the extra third-rounder for Knox.
This much is clear: The Bills have methodically and relentlessly attacked every single hole in the roster – and there were many – since last year’s 6-10 finish.
"No one puts higher expectations on us than us," McDermott said. "We work to be the best we can be every day. And that's really the mindset of our building. Expectations come in this game, right? And really where we are, in year three, we had to remake the roster. That takes time and Brandon's done a good job. We're still working on that, we still have more picks."
How close they actually are to a perennial contender is a matter of debate. But don’t mistake what they considered doing Thursday night or did Friday night for the 2014 trade to the fourth overall pick for receiver Sammy Watkins as a maneuver to make EJ Manuel a better quarterback. That was an ill-advised decision that proved ill-fated.
It’s much more along the lines of last year’s first-round deals that elevated them to No. 7 for their long-term answer at quarterback, Josh Allen, and No. 16 for their long-term answer at middle linebacker, Tremaine Edmunds.
Oliver and Ford are additional big pieces to a puzzle to which the Bills aggressively added with a long list of free agents.
Oliver does not have Williams’ size. His impressive work at Houston doesn’t equal Williams’ dominance at one of the best football programs in the land. And Williams might have fewer questions about his character.
None of that matters, because Williams is a Jet and the only concern the Bills have with him is to figure out how to keep him off of Allen’s back.
Conversely, the Jets and the rest of the Bills’ opponents will have to find ways to block Oliver, who replaced retired icon Kyle Williams, along with Ford, who will join what could very well be an entirely new starting offensive line. Even Singletary figures to the plan of sudden impact as another in a line of newcomers -- along with Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon -- to make an abysmal running game better ... perhaps minus incumbent starter LeSean McCoy.
To grasp the mindset of the way the Bills are evaluating talent these days, consider this anecdote McDermott shared from watching Oliver at Houston’s pro day: “I mean you could feel him, that presence, that energy, you could feel it. And when he worked out you could feel it also. The closer you got, the more you felt the quickness, the more you felt the power, the more you felt the juice; and really more than anything the competitive nature of this young man. He wants it and that hunger is a critical piece that we look for.”
You will probably need a program to know exactly who is playing where this season, but that should not be seen as the residue of a rebuilding project in its early or middle stages. What the Bills have done in the past 10 weeks is put together what they believe is a team that means business.
"There's a chance that half of our team is new," McDermott said. "That's a little bit uncommon around the league, but that's part of building it the right way, also. There is change. You have to embrace it, evolve and if you don't evolve, then you're not around very long. The competition is healthy. To stay where we were, that's not healthy. We're here to win championships."
For McDermott and Beane, it’s about winning. Now.