Bills free agency approach: Value, work ethic, fit

Posted Mar 13, 2018

GM Brandon Beane appreciates talent as much as any other NFL personnel executive, but it's not the end all, be all when the Bills finalize their free agent targets.

The time when free agent deals can be consummated is fast approaching at 4 pm on Wednesday, and the Bills will be a part of the action. For Brandon Beane’s first run through free agency as Bills general manager, however, there is a concerted effort to take a measured approach with the market to fill holes on the Buffalo roster.

“Responsible spending,” said Beane. “That (means) trying to plug holes where you can.”

Buffalo is armed a healthy number of draft choices, but Beane would like to take the burden off the draft by zeroing in on some potential fits for their team at a reasonable value.

“We have targets,” he said. “We’ll try and fill as many holes as we can, which helps us in the draft. We know we have to get younger in a lot of positions.”

Reading that Beane wants an influx of youth, one might think that means they want to lean more heavily on the draft than free agency. But there are plenty of free agents in their mid-to-late 20’s who have more of their career in front of them than behind them.

One example was free agent DE Owa Odighizuwa, who signed last week and is just 25-years old.

But responsible spending doesn’t mean only bargains out on the market. When Beane talks about responsible spending, Buffalo’s personnel boss means getting the best bang for their buck. He’ll actively pursue a player commodity that he knows will upgrade the team’s roster, but he does have a cut-off point.

“We’ll spend what we need to spend, but you don’t want to get into chase mode too far,” Beane told

Talent is important, but what really counts for Beane and head coach Sean McDermott are work ethic and fit in the locker room. And in most cases Buffalo’s GM won’t be spending big money unless there is first-hand knowledge of the free agent’s character makeup.

“If you know he fits your culture and all that, whether you’ve had him before or somebody else has had him… it would be hard for us if nobody in this building had a guy and then go and spend significant dollars on guessing,” Beane said. “I’d prefer to rely on a guy (here on staff) who can say, ‘I know what we expect out of guys and (player ‘X’) is what we’re looking for.’”

That’s why it shouldn’t be assumed that Buffalo will automatically target the most talented player at a position on the market. If he’s not a fit in their locker room it doesn’t matter how talented the free agent might be.

“I’m not necessarily looking to acquire talent (first),” said Beane. “We’re trying to put together a team. You evaluate everybody on their pure talent, but it doesn’t mean you’re targeting all the guys on the top line (for talent). It may be a guy a little further down who fits what we’re doing or a hole that we have.

“Maybe we really need a linebacker that also is an excellent special teamer. So maybe he fits need ‘A’ and need ‘B,’ so there might be a guy we pass over who’s a better line of scrimmage player, but you’ve got to have a certain number of players who line up in three or four phases on special teams as well. So that comes into the equation too.”

So although talent is important, it won’t blind Buffalo’s front office into signing a player for big money if the other characteristics they look for aren’t present as well.

“The key is to make wise [decisions and to] spend wisely. Certain guys, you’ve got to pay up here,” said Beane gesturing with a flat hand indicating an imaginary level. “Certain guys, you’ve got to pay down here. Whether it’s the quarterback, running back, defensive end, whatever position you name, you just have that limit. What you’ve got to be able to do is set where you think this guy belongs and not deviate from it.”

That can be easier said than done because the free agent market is far from a stationary entity. It’s constantly morphing and changing.

“It’s kind of a moving puzzle,” Beane said. “Until you get to free agency, sometimes you really don’t know the exact dollars it’s going to take. You price where you think these guys are going to be. Sometimes they price themselves out. Sometimes you find, ‘Wow, this guy’s a little cheaper than we thought, let’s try and hone in on him.’

“Teams make cap moves, the cap casualties… ‘Okay, I didn’t realize this guy was available.’ We have had some guys flagged that could be potential cap casualties, but until those moves happen, you don’t know.”

So as much as Beane and the rest of Buffalo’s personnel department prepares for the free agent market there are always some surprises. Which is why Beane, along with McDermott, rely on the principles they want their players to abide by when making free agent decisions.

“We want people who fit what we’re doing culture-wise,” Beane said. “Players who compete, work hard, fit our motto – HEART.”