This group of Bills expected to spend Monday thinking about their grudge match against the Kansas City Chiefs, not filling up giant boxes containing their locker-stall items, exchanging phone numbers with teammates and making flight arrangements to return to their offseason homes.
Instead, they faced questions. Myriad questions. Tough questions. Required questions.
But let’s start with the obvious: The Bills can’t run it back with this roster. No way, no how. It would be roster construction malpractice.
A downcast Josh Allen took responsibility for some of the Buffalo Bills’ offensive shortcomings Monday and made a clear effort to deflect blame away from offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey.
This mini-era of Bills football – four consecutive playoff appearances with largely the same core of players, but only one trip beyond the second weekend – is over. The Cincinnati Bengals saw to that with their emphatic, 27-10 playoff win Sunday.
Forget about being patient with this group and re-signing as many of the 21 free agents as possible and believing 2023 will be different than the end of the 2022 season. The way the Bills lost (they were pounded) requires a major internal evaluation by general manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott.
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They aren’t One Player Away. They aren’t one or two wrench turns from having a Super Bowl team. They aren’t in Keep Everybody Together territory. The first franchise-shifting decision for Beane/McDermott was drafting quarterback Josh Allen in 2018, understanding a step back after making the playoffs was likely in the offing. The next one is this offseason and acquiring enough talent to help Allen and the club ascend to the AFC’s elite.
“What’s it going to take? What is it? What do we have to do?” receiver Isaiah McKenzie said. “Obviously, that (isn’t) up to me. I’ll ask that question like you ask that question.”
What will it take? A near-flawless exercise in salary cap gymnastics. The Bills have several roster issues and very little money to spend. According to Over The Cap, the Bills are $8.49 million over the projected cap of $225 million. The Bills went all-in this year to win the Super Bowl and now the bill has come due.
The Bills could create space by moving money of under-contract players to later years, which isn’t great football business (because present problems become future problems), but is required football business. The only player who wouldn’t have any dead money is running back/returner Nyheim Hines ($4.79 million savings); they could re-work Hines’ deal to create some room.
(McDermott was perturbed with Hines’ lack of involvement on offense, one of many arrows slung by the big whistle at various parts of the roster and coaches during his 26-minute wrap-up briefing.)
Once Beane has money to spend, the needs make it prudent to go to the discount aisle of free agency.
In no order, the Bills’ priorities need to be: Running back, No. 2 receiver, slot receiver, right tackle, left guard, safety and middle linebacker.
“Every year, you start new,” McDermott said. “There will be a new roster and a new start to a new roster. We have to reset things. You don’t pick where you left off the season before.”
No, you don’t. Allen is the quarterback, but the offense has issues to address.
James Cook was drafted to succeed Devin Singletary. The Bills didn’t seem to trust Cook too much during the season despite Singletary’s fumbling issues (three lost fumbles). If Singletary walks, the Bills can use a Day 3 draft pick on a tailback who ideally can excel in pass protection.
Gabe Davis had the chance of all chances – ride shotgun to Stefon Diggs as the No. 2 receiver, but might project better as a No. 3. Cole Beasley was brought out of retirement to play the slot – obviously, a full-season option is more ideal because of how much “11” personnel (three receivers) the Bills play.
Left guard Rodger Saffold is a free agent and entering his age-35 season and right tackle Spencer Brown was inconsistent in Year 2. This would be my early lean on how the Bills spend their first round pick.
The defense also requires changes based on who is back.
“I’m a big believer in you are who you are in the last game of the season that you showed on the field. That’s what we have to address,” McDermott said. “We have to address those areas and do what is necessary to get to the Super Bowl.”
Safety Jordan Poyer is a free agent and there isn’t an in-house option to replace him, the same for middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who McDermott said had his best season.
McDermott called the defensive line “inconsistent,” which could portend changes.
McDermott pointed to his arrival in 2017 when the Bills stunk, had no money, few draft picks and many free agents. They overachieved and made the playoffs. That team had a very low bar to catapult over.
Entering the 2023 offseason, the Bills have been good (and sometimes great), but have little money, only three of the top 100 draft picks and many free agents.
The New Reality has begun for the Bills: What they put together from 2019 to 2022 wasn’t good enough to dethrone the Chiefs or Bengals. Now it’s about resetting while Allen is still in the 20s.
“We have a really good team and our window is still open,” defensive end Von Miller said. “Brighter days are definitely ahead.”
Only if Beane and McDermott have their best offseason.