Step one — free agency.
Now it’s on to step two — the draft, a little more than a month away.
The Bills critical off-season roster re-boot started in free agency two weeks ago with a flurry of signings, four of them on the offseason line. And that start at rebuilding the player talent has won the team noteworthy praise among the national football media.
“I think the Bills laid a plan,” says ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates. “When I examine how teams do in free agency, it’s not merely about who added the most talent, who spent the most money, who signed the most players. It’s about whose vision was executed,” he told One Bills Live last week.
Yates and others say even though the Bills have added a dozen free agents in the last two weeks, they haven’t spent wildly. And they’ve done it with an eye on long-term sustainability.
“The Buffalo Bills are probably saying if we do this right, we’ve got some of the ingredients in place to do this for 10 years,” Yates said. “Nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, but I just think if your plan is to win over the next 7-10 years, it doesn’t just happen by striking it big with a couple of smart draft picks, it’s done in a lot of ways including managing a really smart salary cap.”
It all starts with having the quarterback in place. The obvious development of last year’s first round draft pick, quarterback Josh Allen, gives the Bills the most important building block. Now the challenge is to add to it.
“I’ve got a young quarterback that I’ve gotta get right,” NFL Network analyst Charles Davis tells One Bills Live. “You build around that kid (Allen) and you build to protect that kid. If you’re going to invest in him, you better invest all the way in him.”
Building around the quarterback, while he’s still on his rookie contract and affordable, is the preferred approach for the Bills and other teams. Yates says a talented rookie on his first NFL contract opens a window of opportunity for smart teams.
“I look at what the Bills did in this window of having a young quarterback on his rookie contract — it allows you to spend differently,” according to Yates. “I thought the Bills did an excellent job of identifying players who are core pieces of the roster going forward and spending commensurate with their value.”
And if you’re looking for a model for the Bills approach to roster building, several NFL observers say look to the Bears and the Rams — both playoff teams a year ago led by young quarterbacks.
“I feel like these teams with quarterbacks on rookie contracts understand you only have so much time when you have a lot of financial flexibility,” says Robert Mays, staff writer for The Ringer. “That’s why the Bears did what they did last year, and the Rams made some similar moves.”
Davis thinks the Bears and Rams model would work for Buffalo also. “Take a look around — what have the Bears done for Trubisky?” he asks. “They tried to beef up the offensive line and bring in some help out on the perimeter for him. Jared Goff — look at what the Rams did, going to get Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan, they beefed up the offensive line. They’ve gone two straight years with the same starting five to protect that kid and look what it’s done — they’re in the Super Bowl.”
Bills fans are used to hearing it, but the NFL observers say there definitely is a “process.” And they view the Bills as moving quickly and efficiently down the road of that process, on their way to potential long- term success.
“I thought the Bills did a really good job of understanding that they needed to add some pieces without getting crazy,” Will Brinson of CBS Sports.com told One Bills Drive. “One of the things we’ve seen from teams that try to get better after adding a young quarterback is that they get the quarterback and then they don’t prop up the quarterback.”
Adding four offensive linemen, three wide receivers and two tight ends in the last two weeks shows the Bills are trying hard to prop up the quarterback. And they’re doing it without taking big hits to their salary cap. That’s not easy to do, Says Mays of The Ringer.
“To add talent to the roster at several different positions, while not putting yourself in a bad spot down the road, that’s difficult to do,” he says. “And when you consider how much reshaping they had to do on the offensive line, adding four starters at four different spots – that’s so hard to do without being irresponsible.”
The goal is to be responsible, and smart, and get better for now and for the long term. The next test is just over a month away.