Bills GM Brandon Beane said from the outset that the team’s approach in free agency would be one rooted in value as opposed to lavish spending, and he largely stuck to that mantra in March and early April. Buffalo’s free agent acquisitions have now put the club in a favorable position as they enter the draft armed with nine total picks and six in the top 100.
“Obviously, our big-ticket item was Star (Lotulelei) and we really wanted to be stout up front versus the run and pass,” Beane told Buffalobills.com. “I really feel like that was an important piece to get.
“I thought we got other pieces that help us as we prepare for the draft where we can say, ‘You know what? We’re good here.’ And now in this draft process we’re able to ask ourselves, ‘Does this prospect compete here?’ And for the most part we don’t have many glaring holes. We do have a couple, but I don’t feel like we’re entering the draft with five starting positions that I’ve got to find in this draft.”
Of all the perceived needs on Buffalo’s roster, the personnel department arguably improved their defensive front the most, adding Lotulelei, DE Trent Murphy and re-signing Kyle Williams.
With the 2018 free agency period officially open, here's a look at Buffalo's pickups.
“Definitely feel both the run and the pass defense will have an opportunity to be better,” Beane said. “Star will help hold the doubles to keep Kyle singled up more and then I think our edge rush with Trent (Murphy), Shaq (Lawson) in year three and Jerry Hughes veteran leadership (will be strong). Last year, we didn’t have as much inside push as you’d want. This should help us get both inside and outside push to help collapse that pocket.”
Where there has been more subtraction than addition to this point however, has been on the offensive line. Yes, the Bills signed veterans with starting experience in C Russell Bodine and OT Marshall Newhouse, but there have been subtractions via trade (Cordy Glenn), free agent signings (Seantrel Henderson) and the unexpected (Eric Wood).
“We need some young players to still come in here to build some young depth in there because some of these guys are going into their last year of their contracts up front,” said Beane. “That’s an area we’ll continue to look at.”
Just looking on paper, the Bills have addressed both the linebacker position and wide receiver, but not with the name recognition that fans might expect.
Going into this offseason though, there was a built-in inhibitor that was going to keep Buffalo from addressing every positional need they had.
“Everybody has to remember that we also had $45 million in dead money this year,” Beane said. “That’s something I hope we’ll never see here again in Buffalo after 2018, but that’s real right now. There was no absolute way that we were going to be able to go into free agency with where we were financially from a cap standpoint, not cash, and check all the boxes. If we had filled receiver, we might not have filled something else.
That doesn’t mean that Beane has given up on free agency as a tool to upgrade Buffalo’s roster. In fact, the next several weeks are typically a time period on the NFL calendar where quality veteran players are released from rosters.
“Acquiring players is a 12-month business. We don’t play meaningful football until September and a lot of things can happen between now and then. Let’s say we don’t even draft one of those positions for example. There will still be guys out there at certain positions because teams will draft a player where they already had depth,” Beane said. “They might decide they don’t want to pay a quality, veteran player five million dollars when they just drafted a guy for the same position. Let me free up some cap space and release him.
“We saw it with (Jeremy) Maclin and (Eric) Decker, who were released in May and June last year. There are always ways to add to your roster.”
Beane even suggested trades as an option if they don’t come up with everything they need in the draft pool at the end of the month.
“Things happen in August,” said Beane, who executed trades to acquire CB EJ Gaines and WR Jordan Matthews during training camp last summer.
That’s why Buffalo’s GM feels he and his personnel team now have the kind of flexibility they want in the draft. It’s not only because of the nine picks they currently possess, but because of the positions they’ve been able to address in free agency. Beane won’t feel pressured to address a positional need even if the value doesn’t line up, a practice that many NFL clubs have fallen victim to once or twice.
“When we get to draft day we’re not going to reach. We’re not. I have seen that and it rarely works when you reach,” he said. “I’ve seen where decisions were made and it’s decided that a team will not come out of the draft without ‘X’ position filled. I have a lot of examples in my head right now that happened.
“Most teams say they won’t reach. I’ve told my guys to hold me accountable. If they see me starting to reach somewhere that doesn’t match our value I’ve told them to grab me.
“We can’t just go say, ‘Hey I’m going to take this guy in the first and this guy in the second and now we’ve checked those boxes.’ We have to draft best player available. We’ve checked a decent number of boxes, but we still have work to do.”