Super Bowl-or-bust season? No, Buffalo Bills are taking longer-term view ahead of draft
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills have spent aggressively this offseason to win a championship, adding free-agent pass-rusher Von Miller and signing wide receiver Stefon Diggs to a $104 million extension.
But this is not a team adopting an all-in approach like the Los Angeles Rams did last year. General manager Brandon Beane rejected the notion that this season is Super Bowl or bust.
“It’s not that. It’s not. I understand the question, and I get why people would think that, but this is not a one-year ‘we gotta get to the Super Bowl or not,’” Beane said. “I want to get to the Super Bowl every year, but we can win the Super Bowl this year, and we’re gonna be fighting like hell to get back there next year. No move we made this year was an all-in, you-better-do-it-now [approach]. We’ve got a plan, and we’re gonna stay competitive. That’s the plan.”
The plan has gotten the Bills here, sitting with one of the NFL’s best rosters less than a week away from the start of next week’s draft (Thursday through Saturday, ESPN). The expectations now are much higher, but the approach is the same. Signing Miller to a long-term deal was a big splash to help them get over the hump that has been the Kansas City Chiefs, who have knocked them out of the playoffs the past two seasons. The goal is to have him make a significant impact on the field over the next couple of seasons, not just this year, while the 33-year-old Miller said Wednesday he intends to play out his six-year, $120 million contract.
“I can run with anybody, and I’m healthy and I take care of my body,” Miller said. “This is a six-year deal, so I’m looking forward to playing the whole thing. I’m trying to play the whole thing out. Tom Brady‘s done it; Bruce Smith has done it. All the guys that I look up to when it comes to longevity in careers.”
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Since coach Sean McDermott and Beane took over the team at different points in 2017, the core of the roster has been built through the draft. The Bills haves signed multiple draft picks in recent years to second deals, and they have rewarded top players such as Diggs and quarterback Josh Allen with big extensions, helped by the number of rookie contracts on the roster.
This year, the Bills have eight draft picks to work with. But the reality is that room on the 53-man roster is somewhat limited. That’s what happens to good teams. But because of the Bills’ belief in developing and building through the draft, next week is vital.
One position that’s an area of need for the Bills is outside corner. Many mock drafts, including Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay’s most recent, have Buffalo selecting a corner with the 25th overall pick. With Levi Wallace joining the Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency, a rehabbing Tre’Davious White (who tore the ACL in his left knee on Thanksgiving) and 2020 seventh-round pick Dane Jackson are slotted to start.
Beane, however, pointed to there being a variety of positions on the roster that he is not “comfortable with,” noting that quarterback is an exception. When asked about the position specifically, he said that they had chosen to invest up front by signing Miller and others when signing a high-priced corner was a possibility.
“If you’re strong up front, you can help your back end. That’s part of it, too. Where our purpose in free agency, we signed some D-tackles, obviously, and we were able to sign Von. But that was the focus there,” Beane said. “We could have gone less on the D-line and said ‘Hey, we’ll stick with what we have here on the D-line and maybe go target a higher-end corner, too.’ But it just felt like this was the best path, and hopefully, it’ll prove to be the right move.”
The Bills have talked with free-agent corners, with Miller involving himself by recruiting cornerback Joe Haden on the golf course, so signing a free agent remains a possibility.
McDermott, a former secondary coach, said that he feels there is depth in this year’s corner class. Under Beane as general manager, the Bills have never invested a high draft pick in a corner.
Moving up or down from No. 25 are viable options, but taking a running back with the first-round pick is also a possibility. Beane shared that in the past the front office has graded running backs as first-rounders. Buffalo used third-round picks in 2019 and 2020 to select running backs — Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, respectively — but a top back like Iowa State’s Breece Hall will likely be available when they pick.
“If there’s a player that I think is dynamic enough as a running back, that can add an element to our offense, this year, next year, whenever, we would still take him,” Bean said, “but it would have to be dynamic enough to be over another position that maybe is considered a higher position value.”
That’s the luxury of the spot the Bills find themselves in. They have eight draft picks to fill the few holes they have and can afford to draft whichever players make the most sense long term, not just to help win in 2022.
“We’re close, but we’re obviously not there,” Beane said of having a championship roster. “So, what do we gotta do? But you still have to have many foundational draft picks to be able to do that. You can’t just go buy players; it’s not gonna work, I don’t think.”