INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Bills head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane made time to meet with the media on Tuesday early afternoon in between their long list of NFL Draft prospect interviews. McDermott and Beane will be in Indianapolis through Sunday to meet with several prospects as well as watch them compete in a multitude of combine drills. Coming off of a 10-win season and a playoff appearance, the two look at the upcoming draft as one way to continue to improve.
"This will be a new football team in 2020 and so it's going to be an exciting season and exciting offseason," McDermott said. "I'm excited about the direction of our organization and where we're headed. We've got a lot of great people back in Orchard Park and we have a good group of young core players to build from and a good locker room that's taken years to get there. This is an exciting time to be a Buffalo Bill and I'm excited for the season, but we've got free agency and we've got the draft which is why we're here, and a lot of days and weeks between now and then."
As this young core in Orchard Park moves on from being first and second year players in the NFL, McDermott is looking for them to develop into the team's leaders this upcoming season.
"We look at the guys that we have from a leadership standpoint the Lee Smiths of the world, the Micah Hydes," McDermott explained. "When you look at Josh [Allen] and Tremaine [Edmunds] and their growth and development, they're going to need to take on some of that ownership and responsibility as well. But that's part of their development in the time that we spent with them and their maturation. That's part of the next step for them and they're ready for it and they've got the respect of their teammates."
One of the main goals heading into free agency and the draft is to improve the offense. Beane and McDermott think the team made strides in the right direction in 2019 but what to build on the positives by putting more weapons around quarterback Josh Allen.
"We need to score more points, that's what we need to do," Beane said. "There's so many reasons why we need to score more points. You have to protect better, you have to run the ball better, you have to throw the ball better, we have to catch it better. I mean we have a lot of work to do and it starts with me making sure I'm bringing the right personnel. There were some things we did this offseason and last year that helped and I thought, Brian Daboll, his staff and Josh [Allen] took a step in the right direction. Obviously, it wasn't enough. We have to take a bigger step next year. Those guys be the first to tell you, we got to grow."
Many of the mock drafts have the Bills drafting a wide receiver with the 22nd pick to complement John Brown and Cole Beasley but McDermott believes it's more important to look at the playmakers as a whole on the board at that time when they choose.
"I think the game changes in so many ways," McDermott said. "So whether you're adding a wide receiver or protecting your quarterback, I think it's important that we continue to add pieces on the offensive side of the board and adding playmakers is important. But, if you have playmakers and no one to protect the quarterback, that doesn't work either. We've all seen that, so going about it in a responsible way trying to do both would be ideal."
On the defensive side of the ball, even with the potential to keep defensive linemen Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips, Beane and McDermott are interested in the depth at edge rushers in this year's draft class.
"Shaq's [Lawson] a good football player, Jordan's [Phillips] a good football player," McDermott said. "We've got some guys that are free agents up front. We do believe in building it up front as you guys know on both sides of the ball. So that's a position that we're always going to look twice at to make sure that we've got what we feel like is enough to win."
Beane sees the edge position as superior, and one that's not worth passing up on at any round in the draft if it's the best available.
"I think even if we signed back both Shaq [Lawson] and Jordan [Phillips], both guys you mentioned it would not deter me in any round to take another pass rusher," Beane said. "I think it is one of the premium position you see where those guys, the elite ones, get paid. After the quarterback that's usually the next highest paid position, so if there's a guy there in any round that we think can come in and help our roster, we would take him."
With free agency looming, set to begin on March 18, Beane explained finalizing extensions for players on the existing roster can happen from anytime now until after the draft. In the past, the team has done more deals after the draft due to the packed schedule right after the season wraps up.
"It can vary," Beane said. "I think we've done, probably the way it's worked out, I've done more after the draft since I've been here. I think we did Jerry [Hughes], we did [Stephen] Hauschka, Eric Wood. There might have been one or two others. There's just so much going on from when the season ends, through the draft and free agency. It's hard to slow down and focus on guys that we already have under contract. Things will slow down a little bit for us on the personnel side, you know in mid-May where I can kind of focus, but I would not be hesitant to do a deal now if it made sense with the agent."
Buffalo reportedly has the fourth-most cap space in the NFL with approximately $83 million, but Beane isn't looking to spend most of that money in free agency. Instead, Beane and McDermott value keeping and developing players who are currently on the roster first over looking into what's on the market. It's the balancing act of spend now or save for the future.
"It's all hard because people say well you have $80 million," Beane said. "If you know me, I want to draft, develop and sign our own folks. It's not like you go out and spend a bunch of money free agency and then watch our own guys walk out the door, so it's a fine line. We do have holes to fill, but we also want to make sure we have money in 2020. Then we got some guys coming up in 2021 and 2022, I want to make sure we have the funds to be able to resign those guys, if they're willing to sign back with us."
Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and the Bills agreed to restructure his contract for the final three years of his deal. Beane emphasized the importance of what Lotulelei brings to the team as well as how the contract restructure helps the team with cap space.
"The impact is it gives us money back to use elsewhere. Star has been a great player for us and has done a great job," Beane explained. "Unfortunately he doesn't get the credit he deserves and I'm probably his biggest defender out there and I'll continue to be for the sense that if you ask our d-line and you ask our linebackers, you go ask Luke Kuechly in Carolina, I know how much he loved him and told me that he missed him when he left. They'll say that this guy eats blockers and he helps our run game. One of the biggest things we struggled with in 2017 was our run defense and if you don't stop the run, you can't get to third and long to let the pass rusher free, so that's what Star does. But we did work a deal with him which gave him some guaranteed money and kind of protected him. Then he gave us some back in return."