There aren't many fifth-round picks who have had quick success like Bills linebacker Matt Milano. Due to that growth and potential, with Milano becoming a free agent, Bills general manager Brandon Beane said he had the right to test the market.
"We'd love to be able to get Matt [Milano] back," Beane said at the end of January reflecting on the season and looking ahead to free agency. "He knows that. I shared that with him and I'm sure Sean [McDermott] has as well. The business side matters.
"He wants to and he's earned the right to go to free agency and see what his market bears. We'll do our best to retain him and as many guys as we can."
Milano didn't test the market because the team he fell in love with got to him first.
"I just told my agent, 'I love Buffalo. I want to be in Buffalo. I love what they got going on there and see if we can make something happen,'" Milano said to media over Zoom. "I think that's what we did. It was a fair deal kind of for both sides.
"The culture that's brewing there right now is unreal. We got a little taste of it last year and the past four years. It's something that I want to continue on for the next four years."
Milano explained the culture in Buffalo is one reason why he couldn't leave. He reminisced on being a part of Bills head coach Sean McDermott's first draft class, what it meant to be a part of that core group and the goals the guys have to finish what they started.
The linebacker is also thankful for the faith the organization had in him when they drafted him in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of Boston College.
"From the beginning, the Pegulas, McDermott, Beane, they all believed in me from the beginning and giving me that opportunity from the jump meant a lot to me," Milano said on what it was important to stay with the Bills. "I just couldn't pass that over. I've built great relationships with everybody in Buffalo. I just want to continue to do that. We're on a winning team, the trajectory is going up. It's all positive things there, I'm just happy to be a part of it."
In four seasons, Milano has grown tremendously. The linebacker helped the team go 10-0 during the regular season this past year when he was on the field. Even though he missed games in 2020 due to injury, Milano still made his presence felt by recording 3.5 sacks, nine quarterback hits, four tackles for loss, four passes defensed, one interception and 44 tackles.
"Obviously just being anywhere for four years, you're going to grow dramatically," Milano said. "I think just overall as a football player, understanding the game more, the ins and outs of the defense. Kind of now shifting my mindset over to how we're being attacked and that kind of thing. Once you have the defense down you can think about other things and that's how you kind of move to that next level.
"But like I said before, I think I'm nowhere near where I want to be or where I've been before. I'm just going to continue to keep training. I'm going to go harder than ever right now and kind of earn this contract."
Milano has been playing next to linebacker Tremaine Edmunds for the past three seasons and understands their chemistry together is a key piece to the defense's success. Looking ahead, Milano thinks he and Edmunds are just scratching the surface of what they can accomplish.
"I feel like Tremaine [Edmunds] and myself haven't even reached our best ball yet," Milano explained. "So that's still on its way to come, but it's been great. Tremaine is an outstanding player and me and him feed off each other pretty well. So having that relationship continue on for however many years we're together definitely played into the factor a little bit. I'm excited to get back to work with him and we're expecting some big things this year."
When news dropped that Milano had re-signed with the Bills ensuring his future in Buffalo for at least the next four years, his teammates were quick to show support.
"They were hyped," Milano shared with a smile. "I had Tre'Davious [White] FaceTiming me, Dion [Dawkins], Micah [Hyde], everybody. Everybody shouted out to me. It was awesome.
"Just that alone shows you how the culture is crazy there. I feel like you don't see that everywhere else, guys congratulating you when good things happen. It's awesome to see that and I'm happy to be a part of it."
Milano joined the Zoom call from many miles away in Florida, but that didn't make it difficult to see how thrilled he was to be staying in Buffalo.
"I'm excited to be here," Milano said. "I love the fans. I love the culture they have going on there. Everything about it, I just couldn't see myself somewhere else right now at the moment, especially with what we've been building over the past four years."
Milano joins offensive lineman Daryl Williams, linebacker Andre Smith and safety Micah Hyde as those who have signed extensions. We will see who's next with free agency beginning on Wednesday, March 17.