How the Bills will use free agency to provide clean approach to draft


Bills GM Brandon Beane has vowed never to draft for need. He believes drafting for positional need only gets you in trouble. That's why the front office intends to use free agency to eliminate as many glaring needs as possible.

"One approach to free agency is to use it so we can look at the draft and take the best player available," said head coach Sean McDermott. "Basically, that there are no position emergencies. So that's one avenue. We'll use the draft primarily to build our football team, but we do have some cap space to sign some free agent players and to add them into our culture and great atmosphere that we're building in Buffalo."

Of course, taking care of all positions in need of numbers or an upgrade in talent with just free agency is easier said than done.

"It is hard," Beane told "Definitely in our build we're not coming off a 12-4 season or a team that doesn't have a lot of holes. We do know where they're at. Again, free agency is very fluid, and you just don't know how it's going to fall.

"You have to be careful not to fall in love with a player or players and chase someone out of your price range. You'll be disappointed and set that player up for failure because they're not going to be able to meet the price in performance with the fans, the media, their teammates or their coaches."

But the Bills should be able to take care of some of their deficiencies with the open market in two weeks' time due mainly to the fact that they're in the most advantageous fiscal position since the Pegulas made Beane and McDermott a team.

"Financially we're in a much different spot," said Beane. "Last year, there may have been guys that we just didn't have the money to even compete for. We didn't get deep into the weeds with the agent. Now there's really no free agent that we can't talk to.

"It's not like an agent is going to tell us we don't even have the money to afford this guy, why waste our time. But we still have to be smart. That's the difference with where we're at. We have to spend wisely, but we're not constrained to really any player who is available in free agency.

"Now it's a matter of are they a fit? What's your value of the player and what are you willing to spend and acquire?"

Beane used the word "judicious" at the end of the 2018 season when asked to describe their approach to free agent spending. He doesn't want to put the team back in cap jail after biting the bullet over the last year and a half by eating dead money from bad contracts from the previous regime.

"A lot of credit has to go to Brandon Beane and his staff," said McDermott in getting out from under some restrictive long-term player deals. "It's been tough sledding at times having to endure what we had to endure the last two seasons in terms of our flexibility. Our ability to spend and do some things. We're back into a healthy situation going into this year as it relates to the draft and now with the salary cap."

Photos of the Buffalo Bills at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana. Click through to see Head Coach Sean McDermott, General Manager Brandon Beane and more.

With three pending free agents on their own roster who held down starting positions on the offensive line, the offensive front is almost a mandate in terms of adding talent both in free agency and the draft.

"We've got some guys who are free agents that we could bring back, but if all of them left we could have two to three holes," Beane said. "We've done our homework and we'll see what happens in free agency. We'll try and make sure we add a couple of those back if it's not those same guys, it'll be guys coming from other teams. Then the draft."

Wide receiver is another glaring need. Buffalo has some promising young talent at the position but could use a proven veteran. Whether the Bills choose to bid on a free agent who still has some ceiling left, or they swing for the fences with a trade offer for a talent at his peak, Beane did not sound like a general manager who was going to limit himself in defining a number one wideout.

"I'm not one to subscribe to a number one receiver," he said. "It's a position where they come in all sorts of sizes. You have guys who are 6-5 and 6-6 and are outjumping people and then you have some 5-7 and 5-8 guys who are making plays. There are a lot of different sizes and flavors, veterans, young guys, speed, size. We're just looking for good football players, good receivers, who can make plays that Josh (Allen) can count on when he throws them the ball they're going to be where they're supposed to be and make plays."

But finding the right fit for Buffalo's roster has been more than performance on the field. Beane and McDermott are resolute with their standards and who fits the culture of their team.

"What we're looking for is to add winners to our roster. Guys who have a history of winning, staying healthy, success," said McDermott. "Those are the things you generally look for. Guys who mesh with the guys we already have in the building at One Bills Drive.

"I would hope prospective free agents see the culture we're building and what it means to be a Buffalo Bill and how important this football team is to our fan base. Whether it's Western New York or the entire world, playing for the Buffalo Bills is unique and offers a great opportunity. It's different than playing for any other team in the NFL."

While there is plenty of work to be done in filling some holes on Buffalo's roster, the burden has been eased for Beane after the club has been able to lock down some cornerstone players in the last two draft classes, most recently in the form of Josh Allen and Tremaine Edmunds.

And that allows them to effectively address some other positions.

"Those are important pieces," said Beane. "It's a quarterback league so that's piece number one that you need to have, and we've been good with where Josh is at. Tremaine and those guys on defense. Now it's time to put more pieces around them. There are some pieces there, but that's what it's about. Add some more pieces in free agency and then in the draft adding more guys who can grow with this group and see where we can take it."

The 2020 NFL Scouting Combine is underway in Indianapolis, Indiana. Click through to see photos of current Bills players from when they performed at the Combine.

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