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Building the Bills: Inside key decisions that remade a franchise

As the 2016 season ended, the Bills were limping toward their 15th non-winning season in 17 years. Professional sports' longest playoff drought had reached 17 seasons. Bills co-owners Terry and Kim Pegula were in the market for another new coach with another new approach.

On Jan. 11, 2017, the Bills hired Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.

"I have gone to two Super Bowls," McDermott said at his initial news conference. "I know what that looks like, smells like and taste likes. So I feel extremely confident with my ability to lead this franchise moving forward."

He also used the word "process" seven times during that news conference and it became an oft-repeated and still-used mantra as he began rebuilding the Bills, and was joined in May by Panthers Assistant General Manager Brandon Beane.

The Bills enter their second playoff game in three years – their most successful stretch since back-to-back appearances in the 1998 and '99 seasons – and The News has dissected these 12 decisions that helped them get there, listed in chronological order.

Sean McDermott quickly revamped defensive backs unit

Sean McDermott congratulates his defense after a recovered Oakland Raiders fumble during the Oct. 29, 2017, game. (Harry Scull Jr./News file photo)

One given for any new NFL head coach is the expectation that he will fix “his side of the ball.”

It didn’t work out that way in Buffalo for Rex Ryan, who struggled to field a cohesive defense in his two years, despite his track record of defensive success.

Sean McDermott put the pieces in place for a defensive revival almost immediately upon his arrival at One Bills Drive.

The Bills signed the safety tandem of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer on the first day of free agency in 2017. Then McDermott added cornerback Tre’Davious White with his regime’s first No. 1 draft pick six weeks later.

All three additions have turned out to be home-run acquisitions. The defensive backfield has been the strongest unit on the Bills over the past three seasons.

Hyde, signed to a five-year deal, and Poyer, signed to a four-year deal, were superb talent evaluations by McDermott, because neither was a high-profile signing. Hyde ranked 13th among safeties in guaranteed money and Poyer ranked 32nd at the time of their signings. Each has missed just one game over three seasons and has played virtually every snap of their respective 47 starts.

“Versatility, smarts, intangibles, toughness is where you start,” McDermott said of their strengths. “And then you look at the skill set on the field – ball skills, the ability to take the football away and score on defense or set up our offense in scoring position will be big for us moving forward, and just the ability to run the defense and be that quarterback in the secondary was big for us.”

McDermott had his eyes on Hyde from “television scouting,” watching him play for Green Bay while the coach was defensive coordinator in Carolina.

“I remember watching Micah over the years just on TV, and watching him play different positions — whether it was nickel, safety, corner — and his role on special teams was a big like for us,” McDermott said of Hyde, who was chosen for the Pro Bowl in his first season with the Bills.

White was drafted after McDermott declined to put the franchise tag on Stephon Gilmore and let him leave in free agency.

White, drafted 27th overall in 2017, immediately stepped into Gilmore’s No. 1 corner spot and has not missed a game due to injury in three seasons. White has 12 interceptions over the past three seasons. His six pickoffs this season are tied with Gilmore and Minnesota's Anthony Harris for tops in the NFL.

— Mark Gaughan

• • •

Passing on Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson

Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs. (Getty Images file photo)

The Buffalo Bills were not alone in passing on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.

For as long as those two quarterbacks are in the league, however, their performances will be closely watched in Buffalo – especially when compared to that of Bills quarterback Josh Allen.

Nine teams passed on Mahomes before the Bills’ turn came up at No. 10 in the 2017 draft. The Bills, though, will always be the team that traded away the pick that became Mahomes, dealing the 10th overall selection to Kansas City and in return getting a pair of the Chiefs’ first-round draft picks, in 2017 and ’18.

At the time, the reasoning for the deal seemed logical. Coach Sean McDermott had only been on the job for about three months. Much of his time was spent constructing a staff. That left little time for an exhaustive search for a potential franchise quarterback.

Jordan Poyer is among the veterans the Bills likely will want to extend in 2020. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

The Bills had a general manager with one foot out the door in Doug Whaley. Tyrod Taylor was a serviceable quarterback and had restructured his deal to take a pay cut totaling $10 million for 2017 and '18.

By moving down to No. 27 in the 2017 draft, the Bills also missed out on Watson, who went two picks after Mahomes to the Houston Texans, but the consolation prize wasn’t a bad one: With the pick, the Bills selected LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White.

In three seasons, White has established himself as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. Nevertheless, there has been a fair amount of second-guessing of the Bills' decision. That's to be expected after Mahomes became the league’s MVP, throwing for 50 touchdowns in his second season. Watson, too, has become a star in the league, making the Pro Bowl twice and leading the Texans to back-to-back AFC South titles the past two years.

Allen's play has not risen to the level of Mahomes or Watson to this point in his career. Until that happens, there will be questions about passing on them. The Bills, Chiefs and Texans are all in the postseason this year, though, so it’s fair to say it could wind up being a rare win-win-win situation for all three teams.

— Jay Skurski

• • •

Cutting losses with Sammy Watkins was key move

Then-GM Doug Whaley hugs Sammy Watkins after the Nov. 8, 2015, game vs. the Miami Dolphins. (Harry Scull Jr./News file photo)

Sammy Watkins’ days as a Buffalo Bill seemed numbered once Sean McDermott took over as head coach and took decision-making power away from then-General Manager Doug Whaley.

It was Whaley, of course, who put his front-office career on the line by making the blockbuster trade in the 2014 draft to acquire Watkins with the No. 4 overall pick.

Watkins already was three years into his rookie contract when McDermott arrived in Buffalo. Would the new coach commit to investing the big money it would take to keep Watkins on a second contract?

The first clue to the answer came when McDermott made the level-headed decision May 2, 2017, to not pick up the fifth-year option on Watkins’ deal, which would have kept the receiver under contract through 2018 at a cost of $13.26 million for that year. It meant Watkins became a free agent after the 2017 season, and the only way the Bills could keep him would be to use the franchise tag, even more expensive than the fifth-year option.

Had Whaley stayed in charge, it’s likely the Bills would have picked up Watkins’ option, even though he had missed 11 games due to injury the previous two years.

Brandon Beane was hired as general manager a week after McDermott declined Watkins’ option. Three months later, the new regime decided to cut its losses with Watkins, trading him to the Los Angeles Rams in return for cornerback E.J. Gaines and the Rams’ 2018 second-round draft pick.

The draft pick looms large in the Bills’ 2019 success. The Bills used it in the package they sent to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to move up to the No. 7 spot in the 2018 draft and select quarterback Josh Allen.

Beane acknowledged the day of the Watkins deal that accumulating draft picks was part of the new regime’s master plan.

“With the draft picks, as we talk about short term and long term, that's a big part of with planning for the future,” Beane said. “We believe that you build through the draft, and in order to get us into a situation where we can achieve success and sustain it, building through the draft is the way to go.”

Gaines started the 11 games he played in for the Bills in 2017, then signed with Cleveland as a free agent in 2018 and was limited by injury to six games. Gaines returned to the Bills for this season on a one-year deal for $3.6 million but was placed on injured reserve during training camp.

Watkins caught 39 passes for the Rams in 2017, then went to Kansas City as a free agent on a three-year, $48 million deal with $30 million guaranteed. He caught 40 passes for the Chiefs in 2018 and 52 this season.

— Mark Gaughan

• • •

GM pulled rabbit out of hat with Marcell Dareus trade

Bills' Marcell Dareus on Aug. 31, 2017. (Harry Scull Jr./News file photo)

Brandon Beane is sure to make many more trades before his career as an NFL general manager is over.

He probably never will make one as beneficial from a salary cap standpoint as his deal to send Marcell Dareus to the Jacksonville Jaguars in October 2017.

The big defensive tackle chosen with the No. 3 overall pick in 2011 was just two years into a six-year, $96 million contract. Dareus was due to count $10 million or more in cap space and earn $10 million or more in real cash every year through 2021.

“It’s incredible he was able to get that deal out of here in a trade,” says Michael Ginnitti, managing editor of the sports business website Spotrac.com.

“There were so many years left and there was so much dead cap available that they were able to get out from under because of the guaranteed salary, I’d have to say that it’s arguably the biggest ‘worst contract’ ever traded.”

Dealing Dareus was part of Beane’s plan to eat up as many bad contracts as possible through the 2018 season. The Bills led the NFL in 2018 in dead cap space — money allocated to players no longer on the roster — at $70.3 million.

But that allowed the Bills to emerge in 2019 among the top three in the NFL in available cap space, which they used to sign a slew of free agents. They remain among the league leaders in cap space for 2020 and 2021.

Dareus still counted $13.5 million against the Bills’ cap in 2018, but he would have counted $16.5 million had he been on the roster. He was due to get another $11.5 million in cash and cost $18 million against the cap in 2019.

Making the deal even better: The Bills didn’t have to give the Jaguars any draft picks to take on the huge contract. Consider, when Houston unloaded the giant contract of QB Brock Osweiler to Cleveland in March 2017, the Texans sweetened the deal with second- and sixth-round picks. (Houston got a late fourth-rounder in return.)

Buffalo got a 2018 conditional sixth-rounder that became a fifth-rounder in return. The Bills used the pick on guard Wyatt Teller.

“Even in the other leagues, with baseball especially, what you’re seeing is teams get out from under bad contracts, but they’re having to give up major draft picks to go with it,” Ginnitti said. “You take on Dareus, but we’ll give you a first-round draft pick, too. The Bills didn’t have to do that. They got this done before that generation of deals kicked in. I don’t think we’ll ever see it again.”

Beyond the salary cap implications, Dareus didn't fully embrace McDermott's culture change as evidenced by being sent home before a preseason game at Baltimore for violating a team rule. He also saw his snap counts reduced early in the regular season as McDermott cited the need for a rotation along the defensive line.

After the trade, Dareus played 10 games that season, including facing the Bills in the wild-card game, and started 15 games last season. He played in six games this season before being placed on injured reserve following core surgery in October. Dareus has 2.5 sacks and 45 tackles in 30 games with Jacksonville since leaving Buffalo.

— Mark Gaughan

• • •

Ending 17-year playoff drought

Coach Sean McDermott during a 2018 game vs. Jacksonville. (Getty Images file photo)

All the Buffalo Bills could do was wait.

A 22-16 win against the Miami Dolphins on New Year’s Eve in 2017 gave the team a chance to end a 17-year playoff drought, but the Bills still needed some help.

Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals delivered. As the Bills watched from the visiting locker room at Hard Rock Stadium, Dalton threw a last-minute touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd to beat the Baltimore Ravens. That clinched a playoff spot for the Bills and set off a wild celebration in South Florida.

The trip to the postseason would be a short one. Buffalo lost at Jacksonville on wild-card weekend, struggling to get anything going offensively in a 10-3 defeat.

The drought, however, was over. A significant weight had been lifted off the franchise. The Bills’ vision, however, was not clouded by the postseason appearance.

Coach Sean McDermott made a significant change to his staff, replacing offensive coordinator Rick Dennison with Brian Daboll. General Manager Brandon Beane traded quarterback Tyrod Taylor to the Cleveland Browns, an indication the Bills were going to look for a franchise quarterback in the draft.

Ending the drought was nice, but it was clear the Bills were not a championship contender. They needed more talent and still had to navigate their way to a better position with the salary cap.

Today, just 12 players remain on the roster from that 2017 playoff team.

“That was kind of a surprise,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said of making the playoffs in McDermott's first season. “This one’s different. We had an expectation of being in the playoffs.”

McDermott has plenty of playoff coaching experience from his time as an assistant in Philadelphia and Carolina, but just the one playoff game against Jacksonville as a head coach.

“It's preparation as normal and we understand we're playing one-game seasons at this point, same as we were two years ago," he said of what he took away from 2017. "As a staff, obviously this is our third year for the most part together now, so that experience is good for us and the continuity that comes with that. But overall, we've got to put a good week of preparation into getting together and be focused and continue to grow through the week here."

– Jay Skurski

• • •

Dennison fired; Daboll takes over

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is a West Seneca native. (James P. McCoy/News file photo)

The end of a 17-year playoff drought didn’t stop Bills coach Sean McDermott from making a big change to his staff after one year on the job.

McDermott replaced offensive coordinator Rick Dennison with Brian Daboll at the conclusion of the 2017 season.

"He's been around winning both at the NFL level and at the college level,” McDermott said after hiring Daboll. “When you look at his history, he's known as a quality teacher and a bright offensive mind.”

It was a homecoming for Daboll, who grew up in West Seneca and attended St. Francis High School. He came to the Bills after one year in the college ranks, winning a national championship as the offensive coordinator under Nick Saban at Alabama. Daboll had previously been the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs, Dolphins and Browns, but the bulk of his coaching experience came under Bill Belichick with the Patriots. Daboll owns five Super Bowl rings from his time as an assistant coach in New England.

The Bills made the move after a year in which their offense ranked 29th in yards and 22nd in points. Dennison, who had previously worked under Gary Kubiak in Denver, was often criticized for being too conservative with his play calling.

He was not McDermott’s first choice for the job, but after Mike McCoy went to the Denver Broncos and Greg Olson elected to stay with the Los Angeles Rams, Dennison got the job.

The Bills ranked 31st in passing yards in his one season on the job. The team’s playoff loss to the Jaguars likely sealed Dennison’s fate. Buffalo managed just three points, with their only trip to the red zone failing when Dennison called for an ill-conceived run-pass option play for quarterback Tyrod Taylor on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

“There’s some calls we want back,” McDermott said after the game. “That’s probably one of them.”

The Bills ranked 30th in total offense in Daboll’s first year on the job, starting a rookie quarterback in Josh Allen. The offense improved to 24th overall in 2019, incorporating nine new starters.

– Jay Skurski

• • •

Trading up to get Josh Allen

The Bills selected Josh Allen with the seventh overall pick in the 2018 draft. (James P. McCoy/News file photo)

It was the worst-kept secret in the NFL leading to the 2018 draft.

The Buffalo Bills needed a quarterback. There were plenty to choose from, too. Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson were all first-round prospects.

The problem was, the Bills needed to get in a position to draft one. A 9-7 record in 2017 netted them the 21st overall pick. They also owned the Kansas City Chiefs’ 22nd overall pick.

That probably wasn’t going to be good enough, so General Manager Brandon Beane went to work. He traded left tackle Cordy Glenn and the 21st pick to the Cincinnati Bengals for the 12th overall pick in mid-March. That got him within striking distance and also saved $4.85 million in cap space in 2018 from the $14.45 million that Glenn was scheduled to take up.

On draft night, the Bills watched as Mayfield and Darnold went in the first three selections. Beane knew he needed to make a move to get his guy. He found a willing partner in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – trading the 12th overall pick, as well as a pair of second rounders – his own and one that came to the Bills from the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for receiver Sammy Watkins – to move to No. 7 overall.

With the pick, Beane chose Allen, the Wyoming product with a big arm who was one of the more polarizing prospects in recent draft history.

“We have to do what’s best for the Bills,” Beane said of reaction to the pick, which was not all positive. “We understand the position we’re in. Not everyone is going to agree with the decision. If we had drafted a different quarterback, I’m sure people probably would’ve disagreed with that. We all know that quarterback is a hot topic no matter what.”

Allen’s rookie season was marred by an elbow injury that cost him four games. He closed the season on a high note, though, and Beane knew that it was on him to improve the offense around his young quarterback. Beane did with two new wide receivers, four new offensive linemen, new tight ends and the drafting of running back Devin Singletary.

Allen has won over a good portion of Bills fans who were skeptical when he was picked. A playoff win would be a big step in convincing any remaining skeptics.

– Jay Skurski

• • •

Bills' maneuvering to get Tremaine Edmunds attention-grabbing move of 2017 draft

Tremaine Edmunds. (Harry Scull Jr./News file photo)

It was one thing for the Buffalo Bills to move up in the 2018 NFL draft to select the man they hoped would be their franchise quarterback, Josh Allen, with the seventh overall pick.

Filling that need had long been viewed as a given.

What arguably did more to enhance the reputations of General Manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott was their additional maneuvering in the same draft to land a second player in the first round: middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds from Virginia Tech.

The Bills traded first- and third-round picks (22nd and 65th overall, respectively) to the Baltimore Ravens for the first they used on Edmunds, 16th overall, and a fifth-round choice (154th overall), which they used for defensive back Siran Neal.

Edmunds filled a massive hole in a defense where the play of the middle linebacker sets the tone for the entire unit. He's responsible for relaying signals and making critical pre-snap adjustments.

Beane and McDermott appear to have found the perfect fit for that role in Edmunds, who has the added dimension of being an exceptional athlete with tremendous range. At 6-foot-5, Edmunds is taller than the typical middle linebacker.

He led the Bills in tackles during the 2019 regular season with 115 after finishing his rookie year as the only NFL player with 120-plus tackles, 12-plus passes defensed, two-plus sacks, two-plus interceptions, and two-plus forced fumbles. His strong play late last season earned him AFC Defensive Rookie of the Month in December. 

His lone interception this season came against Baltimore's Lamar Jackson.

Edmunds also has incredible upside, considering he was the youngest player drafted in NFL history, at 19, and has started 31 games before his 21st birthday.

Even at a young age, he is embracing a leadership role. Kyle Williams turned over control of a players-only meeting to Edmunds late last season. When the Bills opened offseason conditioning in April, Edmunds was chosen to address the media. The night before the Bills' victory at Miami this season, Edmunds decided to address the team.

"Me being a leader, I just wanted to take my leadership a step forward, just talk to the team," Edmunds said after the game. "A lot of guys, they look at me as a laid-back guy. I am. But it's always been in me. I just wanted to express it to my teammates. They responded well, and I can't think them enough."

— Vic Carucci

• • •

Bills' hiring of Ken Dorsey a key piece in Josh Allen's development

Quarterback coach Ken Dorsey works with Josh Allen during training camp on July 26, 2019. (Harry Scull Jr./News file photo)

After one season, the Bills recognized Josh Allen needed something extra to help with his development into the top-notch quarterback they expect him to become.

Having Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator, a role he filled only months before the Bills would make Allen the seventh overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, solidified the big-picture component.

But they wanted a more direct link with the person working with Allen on the finer points of playing the position. Enter Ken Dorsey, a former NFL quarterback with ties to Bills coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane from the four seasons they were together with the Carolina Panthers. The Bills hired Dorsey last February to replace David Culley as their quarterbacks coach.

Culley had filled that role since McDermott's arrival in 2017, but all his NFL coaching experience was in guiding receivers, with only brief stints coaching QBs in college.

Dorsey not only had a pair of three-year stints as a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns, but he also was the Panthers' quarterbacks coach from 2013 to 2017. McDermott and Beane got a close-up view of his work, as the Panthers' defensive coordinator and assistant GM, respectively, before they left for Buffalo in '17.

They were particularly impressed with the way Dorsey helped Cam Newton — who, like Allen, is a tall, big-armed, mobile passer — to become the NFL's MVP and Offensive Player of the Year in 2015, capping off that season by leading the Panthers to Super Bowl 50.

Allen developed an immediate connection with Dorsey.

"The type of relationship we have (is) where we can bounce ideas off of each other," Allen told reporters during offseason workouts. "And he’s been back there, he’s played the position, he’s seen it from a quarterback’s perspective. I think when you have a guy like that in a room, you really respect him. You really can understand what he’s saying and what he’s thinking because he has gone through all that stuff.

"There is no hesitation or doubt in his mind what he sees and that we can relate it and try to match up our ideas together."

Allen finished his second regular season with 3,089 yards in 16 games, an increase from 2,074 in 12 games as a rookie. His completion percentage rose from 52.8% to 58.8%. In 102 more attempts, he increased his touchdown passes from 10 to 20 and reduced his interceptions from 12 to nine.

— Vic Carucci

• • •

Offensive line makeover

Sean McDermott congratulates Buffalo Bills offensive guard Quinton Spain after a two-point conversion in the Sept. 22, 2019, game in Orchard Park. (James P. McCoy/News file photo)

The Bills entered the season with four new starters on the offensive line in a much-needed overhaul.

Left tackle Dion Dawkins was the lone returning starter from a group that floundered in 2018, finishing 19th in the NFL in pass blocking and 31st in run blocking, according to grades by Pro Football Focus. Buffalo improved only marginally in pass blocking (ranked 18th) this season but took a big leap forward in run blocking (16th), according to PFF.

The rebuild began with a massive payday for Mitch Morse, when the former Kansas City Chiefs center signed a four-year, $44.5 million contract with the Bills that made him, at the time, the highest-paid center in the NFL.

Money aside, he said it felt good to be wanted.

“I’m very proud to be a part of this group,” Morse said, “and I’m proud to be a partner with those guys.”

The other fellow first-year Bills starters on the line are left guard Quinton Spain, right guard Jon Feliciano and rookie right tackle Cody Ford, who was drafted out of Oklahoma with a second-round pick (38th overall).

Spain, undrafted in 2015, spent most of the first four seasons of his career starting for the Tennessee Titans, but he said the Bills were the only team to offer him a contract last offseason.

He signed a one-year deal for $2.05 million and was the only player to play 100% of the snaps on offense. He did not allow a sack.

Feliciano, a fourth-round pick by the Oakland Raiders in 2015, was a reserve his first four season in the league. He joined the Bills on a two-year, $7.25 million deal after they hired former Raiders offensive line coach Bobby Johnson. Feliciano filled in admirably at center when Morse was injured on the first series of a victory against Denver on Nov. 24.

“It’s no big deal,” Feliciano said about his versatility. “It’s what I’ve been doing my whole career.”

The Bills further bolstered the line by signing swing tackle Ty Nsekhe, who was looking to prove his worth after several years as a backup in Washington. Nsekhe signed a two-year, $10 million contract. He rotated with Ford at right tackle throughout the season until a right ankle injury against the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 17. He returned and re-injured the ankle in the regular season finale.

Of the Bills' primary offensive line starters other than Dawkins from last season: Guard John Miller started 13 games with the Cincinnati Bengals; tackle Jordan Mills played three games with the Arizona Cardinals and spent most of the season on injured reserve with a knee injury; and guard Vlad Ducasse and center Russell Bodine did not play in the league.

— Jason Wolf

• • •

Finding wide receivers

QB Josh Allen looks to his receivers before a snap in the Oct. 20, 2019, game. (Mark Mulville/News file photo)

The Bills had some level of interest in acquiring Antonio Brown from the Pittsburgh Steelers last offseason before landing a difference-making receiver with the same last name and far less baggage.

John Brown, playing for his third team in as many years, leads the Bills with 72 catches for 1,060 yards and six touchdowns this season.

Brown signed a three-year, $27 million contract in March after four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals and one with the Baltimore Ravens. He has since blossomed into a No. 1 wide receiver, the type of player the Bills were seeking when they traded for Kelvin Benjamin in 2017.

In Brown, the Bills found more than a good player. He’s a good teammate.

“It’s been great getting on the same page with Josh" Allen, Brown said. “Before I made the decision to come here, I watched all his YouTube highlights … and when I came here, it was everything that I had seen. And I’m just grateful to be working with Josh. I wouldn’t trade it for nothing.”

Brown is the Bills’ first 1,000-yard receiver since Sammy Watkins in 2015 and was ninth in the AFC in receiving yards.

He also became the first wide receiver in franchise history to throw a touchdown pass during the team’s Thanksgiving victory in Dallas.

That game was a homecoming for fellow Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley, who signed a four-year, $29 million contract with the team after spending the first seven seasons of his career with the Cowboys.

The 5-foot-8, 174-pound Beasley has offered a steady presence as the team’s slot receiver. He ranks second on the team with 67 catches for 778 receiving yards. He tied Brown for the team lead and set a single-season career high with six touchdown catches.

“I'm just glad I'm in a place that coaches believe in me, teammates believe in me and they give me opportunities to do what I do,” Beasley said.

The Bills were never able to find a reliable third receiving option. Robert Foster had just three receptions this season despite his emergence at the end of last season. Isaiah McKenzie had 27 catches, but he is not a true outside receiver. Duke Williams was rarely on the field, and kick returner Andre Roberts was a non-factor in the pass game with just seven targets. The Bills got inconsistent production from rookie tight end Dawson Knox, who had 388 receiving yards but some costly drops, and free agent tight end Tyler Kroft was injured for most of the season.

The contributions from the group overall allowed the Bills to trade former second-round pick Zay Jones to the Raiders in October.

— Jason Wolf

• • •

Cutting McCoy changes dynamic

Former Bills running back LeSean McCoy. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News file photo)

Call it addition by subtraction.

The Bills cut longtime running back LeSean McCoy before the start of the regular season, handing the running game to veteran Frank Gore and his understudy, Devin Singletary, a third-round draft pick out of Florida Atlantic.

“Sometimes it comes to where you have competition and a good player has to go,” General Manager Brandon Beane said on cut-down day. “We said it all along: There were going to be some tough decisions. It doesn’t get much tougher than cutting a guy with (McCoy’s) production.”

McCoy's future in Buffalo was the source of speculation throughout last offseason, despite Beane's showing steadfast public support. But McCoy was coming off a season in which he had career lows with 514 rushing yards and an average carry of 3.2 yards, and his production was not in line with his salary, which was scheduled to be $9.05 million in 2019.

Also, McCoy, 31, might not have been as willing to surrender touches as Gore, who signed a one-year, $2 million contract in March after spending the previous season with the Miami Dolphins. He also likely would have been an inferior mentor for Singletary, compared to the future Hall of Famer.

“He’s like a little brother, man,” Gore said about Singletary in November. “Ever since he got drafted, I’ve had him in my hip pocket. He listens to everything I say. He’s a great kid, great natural. He has a chance to be big in this league. He has no other choice but to keep working. I’m going to stay on the phone with him every day, even when I’m done. He’s very humble. He kind of reminds me of myself.”

Singletary rushed for 775 yards and two touchdowns on 151 carries this season and added 29 catches for 194 yards and two more scores. He appeared in 12 games this season, starting eight.

Singletary missed three games with a hamstring injury early in the season and was a healthy scratch in the meaningless regular season finale against the Jets, an indication of just how important he is to the Bills’ success.

Gore rushed for a career-low 599 yards and two touchdowns on 166 carries but also moved into third place in rushing yards in NFL history.

McCoy quickly signed with the Kansas City Chiefs and was reunited with Andy Reid, his longtime coach with the Philadelphia Eagles. He played in 13 games with nine starts with career lows in carries (101) and yards (465) and four touchdowns for the AFC West champions.

— Jason Wolf

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