It’s officially evaluation season.
That means we’re approaching the personnel evaluation phase of the 2019 NFL offseason. It starts in earnest next week, when the Bills and the 31 othter NFL teams assemble in Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl. It continues in earnest for the next 14 weeks, with draft evaluation, cross-checks by scouts, the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, on-site visits to NFL teams, private workouts for the prospects, and then, finally, the draft starting April 25 in Nashville.
Along the way, there’s free agency also. We’re just two months away from the start of the signing period for free agents.
With 10 draft picks in hand, and plenty of salary cap room, the Bills are likely to be busy in the next three months assessing and assembling talent. And they’ve got some holes to fill in their lineup.
But the cupboard is not bare. There are some building blocks in place in the Bills personnel mix.
One of the byproducts of Buffalo’s disappointing 6-10 season in 2018 is the identification of a critical, rock solid foundation at several important position groups.
Here’s an overview of the Bills building blocks going into the 2019 offseason:
1. JOSH ALLEN AND THE QB ROOM
Job No. 1 of the 2018 season was to develop the first round quarterback and determine whether he has what it takes to man the position into the future. The Bills got a resounding “yes” answer to their capability questions about Allen in his 11 starts at the position.
He’s got athleticism, a howitzer for an arm, intelligence, leadership traits, and maybe most importantly, a burning desire to compete.
Matt Barkley and Derek Anderson are also capable back-ups who have signed up for another stint in the quarterback room for 2019.
The Bills have the most important foundational piece set up to improve and excel, the quarterback piece they’ve been missing for decades.
2. TREMAINE EDMUNDS AND THE LINEBACKERS
The Bills other first round pick from 2018 got 15 starts in his rookie campaign and full immersion into the ‘quarterback’ position on defense. Tremaine Edmunds called the defensive signals from day one and gradually became more comfortable lining up his defensive teammates in the right spot on every down.
Edmunds recorded two interceptions in the final quarter of the year and double-digit tackles in the final two games. He was also named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month in December.
Sean McDermott looks at Edmunds and Josh Allen as the two critical pieces of his roster—middle linebacker and quarterback.
“They’re occupied by two young players with bright futures, and whose best football is ahead of them, if we continue and they continue to do things the right way with their development,” said McDermott.
Edmunds is the centerpiece of a good foundation at linebacker, with Matt Milano expected to bounce back from his injury to reclaim his weakside linebacker spot, and veteran Lorenzo Alexander already re-signed for one more year at the position.
3. YOUNG PLAYMAKERS AT WIDE RECEIVER
There’s no question the Bills need a talent upgrade at wide receiver. But they start with at least two young playmakers they can build around.
Former second round draft pick Zay Jones led the team with 56 catches in 2018, seven of them for touchdowns. His play got stronger later in the year as he developed chemistry with Josh Allen.
Undrafted rookie Robert Foster should return to the lineup next year with much higher expectations. He returned from a short midseason stint on the practice squad to become Buffalo’s most dynamic weapon in the passing game. His speed provides an element the Bills will need as they add pieces to the receiving corps.
4. SOLID SECONDARY
It’s the deepest and most talented unit on the roster — the Bills defensive backfield. And it’s young. Safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer will go into their seventh NFL season in 2019. Cornerback Tre’Davious White will enter his third year and the other corner, Levi Wallace, was an undrafted rookie last year. Nickel cornerback Taron Johnson is coming off his rookie year also. The Bills secondary is loaded and virtually set for the next few years.
There are questions to answer and holes to fill on the Buffalo roster in the next few months. But the foundation is in place—the building blocks are set up for long-term success.