4 early signs of optimism for the 2020 Bills

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The market is bullish when it comes to the prognostications on the Bills in 2020. On the heels of Super Bowl LIV many national analysts believe in what Buffalo is building. Most point to head coach Sean McDermott and quarterback Josh Allen as the chief reasons why they believe the Bills can contend next fall.

While Buffalo's sideline boss and quarterback are certainly good reasons to be encouraged about the Bills prospects, the truth is there are many more elements of the Bills roster that have helped to put them in position to be a serious threat in the AFC.

We take a closer look at some of the other components that should serve in keeping Buffalo in contention for the foreseeable future.

1. Player development

It was one of the most absent parts of the Bills franchise for more than a decade. The lack of player development at One Bills Drive for the first 15 years of the 21st century kept good draft choices from becoming great players and high draft picks from becoming franchise cornerstones.

Under McDermott's staff however, there are a countless number of players that successfully advanced their games. Whether it's an undrafted player like Levi Wallace, who has developed into a starting caliber cornerback or a fifth-round pick like Matt Milano, who is now a borderline Pro Bowl linebacker, the Bills coaching staff has collectively raised the level of play of several players.

"I thought Sean (McDermott) and his staff did a really good job with the players and where we started even before the draft and then developing our rookies," said Beane. "If you don't have good coaches it's hard to win in this league."

Buffalo's 2019 draft class came through in a big way when injuries pulled some veteran players from the lineup.

"You look at our team and who was out there in the playoff game, you've got Dawson (Knox) out there, first-year player, you've got Devin (Singletary) out there first-year player. And you've got some other first-year players and second-year players making big time contributions and I think this rookie class overall, probably progressed quicker than the class the year before and that's a credit to them," McDermott said. "It bodes well for us in the future."

2. Young core

Josh Allen is obviously the face of Buffalo's youth movement and hope for being in playoff contention for years to come, but he's far from alone.

Most are familiar with Tre'Davious White as a young cornerstone player, but Dion Dawkins and Milano are also important pieces from the 2017 draft class.

In addition to Allen, Tremaine Edmunds, Harrison Phillips and Taron Johnson make for a solid group of major contributors.

And the aforementioned 2019 class has the potential to offer front to back value.

"I thought Ed (Oliver) did a really good job first year," said Beane. "I thought he had a really good camp. I think once the game started slowing down he picked his game up. I think he ended the season playing well. I love Cody's versatility and Cody (Ford) got some great experience this year. I thought Devin had a really good year. As the year went on, he began to get more and more touches in the games whether it was the pass game or the run game. Dawson (Knox) did a nice job being thrown in as a rookie."

Knowing linebacker Vosean Joseph will be off injured reserve entering his second year and safety Jaquan Johnson and tight end Tommy Sweeney both showed promise on special teams and in reserve roles on defense and offense, it could be a complete draft class that contributes entering year two.

3. Offseason decision making

Entering his third offseason with the Bills, general manager Brandon Beane has demonstrated a keen eye in identifying what Buffalo's roster needs and then finding the right fits. In the free agent market, he and his pro personnel department have largely avoided spending lavishly but have been able to combine value and quality in most of Buffalo's signings.

Stephen Hauschka, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer brought much needed stability to the team's kicking game and secondary in 2017.

In a cap-strapped 2018 offseason, Beane and his staff found affordable short-term reinforcements and only paid long-term for Star Lotulelei and Trent Murphy to rebuild the defensive line.

The offensive overhaul of 2019 helped to raise the level of play on that side of the ball with playmaking pieces like John Brown and Cole Beasley while also refortifying the offensive line with Jon Feliciano, Mitch Morse, Ty Nsekhe and Quinton Spain.

Beane assures that responsible spending will continue despite having better than $80 million in cap space. That's because Buffalo's personnel chief believes they're more than a player away from being a Super Bowl contender. Beane additionally feels staying perennially cap strong is the way to keep the team near the top of the NFL food chain.  

"It will allow us to do what we need to do to get better," said Beane of their current fiscal standing. "We want to be cap strong as long as we can. Hopefully Josh (Allen) continues to ascend and hopefully he makes us pay him some of those hefty salaries at that time. We want to be able to have the cap strength to handle that and not have to release three other players just to stay under the cap. So, it's not just that 80-plus million this year, it's making sure we are cap strong 2021, 2022 and beyond."

Beane also won't deviate from his philosophy of drafting, developing and re-signing the homegrown talent.

"We have to continue to build it and just continue to draft a bunch of young guys and add them into our group," he said. "You have to be patient. You have to still do it the right way. We're not changing the plan. Hopefully we'll just be able to add some pieces here and there to help us take the next step."

4. Stability

At the team's end of season press conference, coach McDermott said more than once that the goal of the offseason is to retain as many of their players with expiring contracts as possible. McDermott and Beane know the value of continuity. After seeing how well it worked on the defensive side of the ball, the hope is they can duplicate it on offense. 

"Going forward, a lot of our guys on offense will be back, and so I think that will help," Beane said. "I do think continuity is important and we've had more of that. Of the three phases we've had the most constant on defense. We've got to build that continuity on offense and this will now be year three in Brian [Daboll]'s system, year two for John Brown, Cole Beasley, a lot of these O-linemen that we brought in. So, we'll be able to pick up in a different place in April and May when they get back than where we were a year ago, when they were just having to learn the play calls and where to line up."

Buffalo is one of just a handful of teams that still has its head coach and offensive and defensive coordinators all on staff for more than two years. That should aid in familiarity, the ability to play fast and overall execution. 

Beyond that McDermott is looking for additional ways to build upon the strong foundation they're forged.

"We've got some thoughts on where we need to improve, and certainly continuity is important not just from coach to player, but coach to coach and player to player and the list goes on," McDermott said. "So, you know, the more we're around each other, the more continuity, that's where we talk about keeping this team as intact as possible. That certainly helps you."

All told the Bills have put themselves in a very favorable position to compete with the top tier of NFL clubs. They've tasted the playoffs and it's only motivated them to take things further than they did in 2019.

"I promise you our guys are hungry," said Beane. "We'll be back."

Scroll through to view the top images from the 2019 Bills season as chosen by Bills Team Photographer Bill Wippert and Bills Contributing Photographers Sara Schmidle, Craig Melvin and Jeffrey T. Barnes.

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