Bills general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott met with the media via Zoom on Thursday to discuss Buffalo's free agency moves ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft. Here are five things to know about what Beane and McDermott had to say.
1. A wide receiver + quarterback added to mix on offense
The Bills have used free agency to re-sign most of their own players, but have added a couple of new faces on offense. Buffalo added quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on a one-year deals.
Trubisky comes to the Bills to serve as the backup to quarterback Josh Allen after that role was previously held by Matt Barkley for the last three seasons. Brandon Beane believes the second overall pick from the 2017 NFL Draft is an athletic quarterback that can help the Bills if his name is called.
"We were a game away from the Super Bowl and injuries happen," Beane said on why Trubisky is valuable to the team. "This guy's won 29 games from 50 starts. He's got a good resume, even though he's a younger player. We know how Josh [Allen] plays. Josh is not scared to try and lower his pads or take a hit. If Josh was out for a few weeks or something like that, we would want to make sure we have the best player that we can."
Beane said he looks at the one-year deal as a reset for Trubisky and hopes this can help him earn a starting job in the future. He sees similarities in Allen and Mitchell when it comes to their success with the RPO.
"You have your starters and then you have your depth players, and we just think Mitchell will come in here, and he's going to be excited to join in the mix. Assuming he's the backup, if Josh goes down, with his experience, he would be able to keep the ship afloat until Josh got back in the lineup."
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders brings 12 years of knowledge to an already bright group of receivers. The receiver caught 61 passes for 726 yards and scored five touchdowns last season with the New Orleans Saints.
Sean McDermott admitted this is a player they've been keeping an eye on for a while and are looking forward to having him be part of the group.
"He's a guy we've tracked for a couple years," McDermott shared. "He's been in winning locker rooms, he's won a Super Bowl. Obviously, he had some big-time impressive numbers this season."
With the release of a talented player like receiver John Brown, McDermott and Beane wanted to make sure they weren't taking a step back in an area that was one of their most successful from 2020.
"You never want to lose your fastball, in terms of what we were able to do last season," McDermott said. "We thought it was important, Brian [Daboll] and I, Brandon [Beane] as well too, to make sure that we didn't lose our fastball. But with respect to the play at the wide receiver position, obviously that involves a tough decision as well with John Brown."
2. The importance of re-signing your own
Brandon Beane hasn't made the same splash this offseason that he did last. It's been just over a year since he traded for wide receiver Stefon Diggs. But, Beane has made a splash in the locker room by following through with his philosophy of draft, develop and re-sign.
Not all the players they re-signed this free agency are draft picks, but it follows suit with the culture that's in place at One Bills Drive. Linebacker Matt Milano was drafted by the Bills in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft and offensive linemen Daryl Williams and Jon Feliciano have developed under offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and offensive line coach Bobby Johnson.
Beane is pleased to see that players want to stay in Buffalo rather than continuing their careers elsewhere.
"We want the guys that want to be here," Beane said. "That's what's so exciting about our guys that we were able to retain is how excited they were to extend and stay here for years to come."
When linebacker Matt Milano met with media after agreeing to a contract extension, Milano shared the reason he wanted to stay was because of the trajectory the team is on after making it to the AFC Championship in 2020. Beane said the goal was to always get such an important piece of their defense back.
"At the end of the day, these guys, when they play it out, you want to let them honor their right to go out and test their market, but all along we had hoped to get Matt back," Beane said. "I think quite candidly if we hadn't had the pandemic, the lowering of the cap, the uncertainty of where everything would be, I think we would have gotten Matt extended last year when we did Dion [Dawkins] and Tre'Davious [White], but things were getting tight. The great thing is we had very honest dialogue with Matt at that point in August that we wouldn't do it then, but that we would try like hell this spring to get it done."
Beane understood with the amount of free agents the team had, it was impossible to keep them all. He hopes they aren't finished on bringing more players back.
"As we said a couple months ago, we knew we would lose some," Beane explained. "But to be able to get the guys back, Matt [Milano], Daryl [Williams], [Jon] Feliciano, the other guys and we're still trying to add some. We agreed to terms with Taiwan Jones today as well, so glad to get him back.
"Then we'll continue, we still have some other guys that we'll continue to monitor and maybe more of them return once they figure out where their fair market value is."
3. The need to improve these areas of the offense for 2021
One of the areas the Bills said they wanted to improve in after the 2020 season ended was the run game. Buffalo ranked 20th averaging 107.7 rushing yards per game.
Running back Devin Singletary finished the year with 156 carries for 687 yards and rookie running back Zack Moss had 112 carries for 481 yards. Much of the offensive line from the 2020 season will return to the field as well—Dion Dawkins, Daryl Williams, Mitch Morse, Jon Feliciano and Cody Ford are all back and set to be healthy for the upcoming season.
Beane and McDermott think this group can take the run game to the next level in 2021.
"We believe in the personnel we have," McDermott said. "We can run the ball with people we have on the roster."
"It's not that we didn't run it well, it's just you want to be able to run it even when they know you're going to run it," Beane shared. "We did that late in the Pittsburgh game. I thought it was very good, but there were some other times that we didn't. We believe in Devin [Singletary], we believe in Zack [Moss].
"We'll continue to look for competition, whether it's free agency or the draft. Whether it's offensive line or the running back room, but we feel good with who we have if we don't add anyone."
The tight end group was another area that Beane and McDermott thought underperformed last season. Tight end Dawson Knox dealt with injuries and COVID-19, which meant he only started in seven games. In his 12 appearances last season, he recorded 24 catches for 288 yards and scored three touchdowns.
Beane thinks it's fair to expect more production out of the tight end in his third NFL season.
"We think Dawson going into year three, big expectations for him and it's an important offseason for him," Beane said. "We know he's already told us he's planning on linking up with Josh [Allen] out in California, which would be good just to continue for those guys to get more reps. Tommy Sweeney unfortunately had the COVID set back and was ruled out for the year, but he's excited about joining back in."
Just like any position, they'll keep looking to see if anything is available that could add competition and more talent to the tight ends room.
"We'll still continue to look for free agents out there," Beane shared. "We're also monitoring the draft, but continue to add depth to the position. It's not one specific thing, it's just a really good player that however Brian [Daboll] could use them, whether it's in the run game or the pass game."
4. Why multiple players restructured their contracts to stay in Buffalo
With a lower salary cap number this season due to COVID-19, Brandon Beane has had to get crafty with contracts to remain within the cap. That has meant the willingness of players to restructure their contracts in order to stay in Buffalo. Defensive linemen Mario Addison and Vernon Butler, as well as center Mitch Morse were three players who put the importance of the team over money.
"We have such great pros and had very honest conversations with those guys," Beane said. "They wanted to be here, they want to win, they want to be a part of it. It was never an ultimatum for any of them, 'Take this or you won't be here.' It was, 'Can you help us here?' We want to try and keep as many guys as we can, which I think we showed these guys the next week once we got those restructures done to re-sign some of our own.
"I think the guys appreciate that, but again always tough when you're talking about the business part. I think all those guys handled it very well and we're really appreciative."
McDermott thinks it further proves the culture of a team-first mindset that players have helped build in the locker room.
"The word that comes to mind is unselfish," McDermott said. "I think that's a key characteristic of good teams. I'm very appreciative as Brandon mentioned, but big time move with the guys that were able to do it. We appreciate it, very unselfish."
5. Keeping their eyes on the market
We are just a couple days into free agency and while the Bills have to be wary of the low salary cap this season, there could be some future moves ahead. Beane shared the scouting department will continue to work into next week to see what's available on the market.
"There's still a lot of guys out there with interest on both sides," Beane said. "Our scouts are talking to agents all through the day, as are we. Just trying to stay afloat to what the market is. If there's guys that we think fit holes that we have or depth players, whatever we're looking for, we'll try and fill them."
One position group that added several new faces during last year's free agency was the defensive line. While defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier wants to see more pressure from the front four, Beane expects the group from last year to improve. And like any position, he knows competition could always be added to the group.
"There's a lot of guys out there, we're still looking," Beane said. "I know it was mentioned, J.J. Watt earlier. It still has to be the right fit. We have a lot of guys coming back. We'll have year two with Eric Washington, Mario [Addison], Vernon [Butler], Star [Lotulelei] will be back. I think we're going to have more continuity, and early in the year, I didn't feel like these guys were in sync with rush games and all that.
"I thought after the first four or five games, they really got into their groove and started getting better. We anticipate these guys to pick up where they left off."