The echoes of the 2015 Bills season remain. Two weeks after the end of the campaign, Bills fans are still debating the wins, the losses, and the ups and downs of an 8-8 campaign.
But at One Bills Drive, the focus is already on the 2016 season. GM Doug Whaley and the Player Personnel Department are already at work on free agency, the draft, and assessing the team's needs for next season.
Whaley says while fans get to dabble in draft evaluations and free agency lists – he and his staff dive right in.
"It's not a hobby for me. I love it," Whaley says.
Rex Ryan and his coaching staff are knee deep in player evaluation and assigning grades for the 2015 season. Whaley and his staff await those grades and the input they'll get from the coaches from each position group.
"The coaches are preparing that right now," says Jim Monos, the Bills Director of Player Personnel. "Doug and myself will meet with the Coordinators and Coach Ryan and hammer it out. We'll get down to the nitty gritty as far as who are we prioritizing, and what our needs are. We rank them, and it gives us a good focus for the offseason."
Monos says the personnel review of the current roster with the coaching staff gets very specific.
"We like to say, is this guy a starter? Is this a guy we can win with? Or are we just getting by with him as a starter? That's the type of discussions we have," Monos says. "You really need to step up, whether it's Doug or Rex or whoever, you really have to step up and have conviction as far as who we have on the field."
According to the GM, having one year working with Ryan's coaching staff gives his scouts insight into what type of players to look for in the draft and free agency.
"The longer we are together with this coaching staff, we know what type of players they like," he said. "They know how we value in a player. And we just marry that. We're going to make mistakes. Nobody in this business can bat 1.000."
The personnel calendar is already in full swing. Whaley and Monos scouted the inaugural Tropic Bowl in South Florida last weekend. This week, they're in St. Petersburg, Florida for the East-West Shrine Game. And then next week, most of the Bills scouts and coaches will assemble in Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl.
According to Monos, it's critical to watch the practices leading up to these all-star games, as opposed to the game itself.
"That's what I like the most – watching them in practice during the week," he says. "It's not so much the game itself, because they're kind of vanilla football. The practices are outstanding. You get a lot of former or current NFL coaches coaching these teams. The drill work is a lot of what we want to see. You can see a lot of ball skills with defensive backs. The receivers running routes – if they're in an offense where they don't run a lot of routes, it's a chance to see that. Really, the practice is where we get a lot of the evaluations."
Once the all-star games end, it's back to Orchard Park. Whaley says he and his staff will have their preliminary draft board up by early February. That gives them almost three months to adjust and tweak the draft board, based on the combine, college days, private workouts, and more film study by scouts and coaches.
Sometime during this process, the Bills will get a specific idea of their offseason personnel needs. Whaley says it comes together almost organically during the weeks ahead.
"That is crystallized when we meet with our own coaches and we go over our own roster," according to the GM. "We try to marry what they think with what our personnel people think as far as where we're strong, where we are weak, and where we need to upgrade. That's when you start formulating your needs."
Needs will be set. The draft board will be up. And the Bills coaching staff will communicate directly with the personnel department on what players or type of players they need. Whaley says that's especially true on the offensive side of the ball.
"Our offense is a little more specific as to what they need," he says. "Greg Roman has a system and it has obviously worked wonders. On the defensive side of the ball, Rex says, 'give me the best players, and I'll make them play.' Not that G-Ro wasn't. But we had a lot more pieces on the defensive side of the ball, so we said let's just get an impact player. On the offensive side we needed to be a little more specific. The lines of communication between the personnel staff and the coaching staff are always open, always on a positive note. And everybody's working towards the same goal."
Working now. In January. With much of Bills Nation still looking back at 2015. In the player personnel world, they're always looking ahead.