By any account, it was a good week for the Bills: 10 free agents signed; nine of them on the offensive side of the ball; including four offensive linemen and three wide receivers.
But here’s a caveat from Bills general manager Brandon Beane after the first week of free agency.
”You don’t win any championships in March, so I don’t want people to get too crazy,” Beane said at the end of the week. “But we’re excited about the guys and looking forward to welcoming them here once the offseason program starts next month,” he added in an appearance on One Bills Live Friday.
With five weeks to go until the draft, Beane is ready to shift the focus of the Bills personnel department to the three-day draft in Nashville. But he’s ready to pounce if an interesting free agent pops up in the next several weeks. And the Bills have significant salary cap resources still available; somewhere around 30-40-million dollars.
“Yeah, we are still well under,” Beane says. “We are high 30’s or low 40’s. Somewhere in there. We will tally it up once we get done this week.”
“Most of our focus is on the draft now. If there is an opportunity, a guy gets cut, or a guy for some reason is available in a trade, at what we think is a position of need – we’re not done, if it fits. But most of our focus now moves to the draft.”
In his 22 months on the job in Buffalo, Beane has made it his mission to repair the Bills salary cap situation. With big ticket contracts on the books when he took over in May 2017, leading to almost $54-million dollars in dead cap money last season, it has been a painful fix for the GM. But the pain is over. Beane says the Bills are positioned well now and into the immediate future as far as the salary cap is concerned.
“We’re in a cap-strong position,” he says. “Ideally, that’s what you’re always in. The more of what I call ‘blue’ players, very top-end players you can add to your roster, the more money and resources you have to use. But right now, we’re building this thing. We’ve got some young guys who are on rookie deals. We are cap strong.”
Beane and the Bills tried to keep the cap under control by signing some value free agents this past week, shying away from big ticket “splash” signings. Cap experts gave them high marks this week for “value” signings like Cole Beasley, Tyler Kroft and Ty Nsekhe. And they were willing to take a chance on projecting bigger roles, potential starting roles, for some free agents who haven’t spent much time in the starting lineup or with major roles. That helps keep free agents affordable.
Those “projections” are key, according to Beane. They may be the essence of pro personnel scouting.
“There’s certain guys in this league that my mother could go out and say, ‘Hey, go sign him and pay him. Look, I’m watching the game and he’s very good at his position,’” Beane told One Bills Live.
“But when you get into guys that have not been in every game, been everyday starters making Pro Bowls and being All Pro--those are the guys that you have to do more projection. Do they fit what you’re doing and when they’ve had their chance, have they made plays?”
“You're looking for production,” he continued. “When they had the chance, how did it look? How did they do? How many games have they played? I mean a guy who only played two games – that’s a bigger projection. If he’s played 12 games last season vs. two then I got a little better idea of what he can do.”
The upcoming draft is all about projection for Bills scouts, who must evaluate players who’ve never taken an NFL snap. And the Bills go into the draft with 10 picks overall, one in each of the first three rounds and seven in the final four rounds.
Beane believes one of the major accomplishments of the first week of free agency for the Bills was the virtual elimination of any “positional emergencies” on the roster. With multiple pieces added to the depth chart at wide receiver and on the offensive line, for example, the Bills have ensured they can the draft the best player available, regardless of position.
“Listen, we still have some spots that we are not as solid as some others,” Beane says. “But we don’t feel that there is a glaring hole that we have to fill immediately on this roster. We do see some areas where we can get stronger and hopefully the draft will fall our way again in some of the higher rounds, but we’re going to draft the best player available. I’m going to tell you that every single time and that’s real because I think that’s how you build the team that we want.”
With the 2019 free agency period officially open, here's a look at Buffalo's acquisitions.