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Top 3 things we learned from Bills HC Sean McDermott during NFL's annual league meetings

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Bills head coach Sean McDermott gave new updates on Buffalo's roster, free agency moves, and potential rule changes for 2024 during his media availability at the NFL's annual league meetings in Orlando.

Here's what we learned on Monday:

McDermott: "I've found my role" on NFL's Competition Committee

In the days leading up to the NFL Combine in February, the league announced that McDermott (along with Rams coach Sean McVay) had joined the NFL's competition committee — an eight-member group tasked with reviewing all competitive aspects of the game.

It's been just over a month since McDermott took on the role and he says the information and feedback he's been able to be around during the meetings have made him "a better head coach."

"It's been great conversation in there, it really has," McDermott said."I just feel like, to be honest with you, a lot of people say, 'hey, that's a lot of time.' And it is a lot of time, but I think it helps me also in the job I'm currently in be a better head coach because of the information that you're around in those meetings."

McDermott shared that the competition committee has had over a dozen meetings over the last month to discuss potential rule changes. 

"Appreciate the guidance that I've been given in the room of how things work. I've tried to do a lot of listening and yet add my opinion on things where it's been called for," he said. "We've got a lot of great ambassadors for the game in that room… I've found my place in that. I've found my role. I appreciate how they value what I've brought to the table."

A few hours after McDermott met with the media in Orlando, the NFL announced that it is banning the hip-drop tackle for the 2024 season, a potentially dangerous tackling technique. The rule change had not been finalized during McDermott's availability but the head coach offered thoughts on what the discussions had been like surrounding the issue.

"I think it's trying to keep a balance and find that delicate balance of where we need to land on things. There has been a lot of talk about the hip drop tackle. At the end of the day, we've got to do what's best for the game and keeps the players as safe as possible. There are two sides to that argument in this case," he said.

Which returning players are expected to take on bigger roles in 2024?

With several starting-caliber departures this offseason, including Jordan Poyer, Mitch Morse, Tre'Davious White, Leonard Floyd and Gabe Davis, there will be a new pool of candidates expected to take on important roles in 2024.

McDermott shared which players he has in mind to fill those shoes, starting with DE A.J. Epenesa who has been a valuable rotational player with the Bills since getting drafted by the team in 2020.

Often a reliable depth piece on the defensive line the last four years, Epenesa will now have a chance to compete for a starting role during the offseason. The Iowa product has totaled 6.5 sacks in each of the last two seasons, and he took his game to the next level in 2023 with a career-high 20 tackles and two INTs.

"The role he could be in this year is one of those starter roles, and so that consistency is gonna be important for us," McDermott said.

McDermott added that what they are looking for specifically from Epenesa this year is being able to continue to play at a high level when the bumps and bruises of a long season pile up. Epenesa didn't record a sack over the final seven games of the regular season and missed two games in December with a rib injury.

"A.J.'s always gotten off to a good start, and now it's about saying, 'how does he maintain that through the course of a season?'," McDermott shared. "It's A) staying healthy and then B) producing at that level. We've seen the flashes and that's what gets you excited. Now, bringing him back, it's a chance for him to continue to grow."

McDermott is also eager to see the development along the offensive line with Connor McGovern expected to step into the starting center spot and David Edwards sliding into McGovern's previous spot at left guard.

McGovern has primarily been a guard throughout his four-year NFL career but does have experience playing center. One of the reasons Buffalo signed McGovern last offseason was because of his versatile traits.

"He's played it. He's got it in his background. Not a ton, but he's done it before and so we'll see where it goes. Connor's been a great addition to our team," McDermott said.

Edwards, who came in as Buffalo's jumbo-package offensive lineman, was a free agent going into the 2024 offseason but the Bills made it a priority to bring him back.

"David was a great addition to our team, not just on the field but off the field. And his role last year, very unselfish in his approach. And you saw him, he was the jumbo tight end one play and then he was coming into the game as a guard. And just a great addition in terms of the overall package: player, person, family. It was great to get him back," McDermott said.

How do the new additions fit?

Buffalo made a handful of under-the-radar free agent signings— seven of their new additions were of the one-year deal variety — and McDermott believes the Bills roster is still under construction with respect to both potentially more free agency signings and building through the draft.

"We're a work in progress roster wise when you look at it, most people are. We've had to let a number of players go, so I think we're working on putting this thing together," he said.

One of the additions McDermott is most looking forward to seeing on the field is WR Curtis Samuel who signed a three-year deal with Buffalo. Samuel

"Curtis Samuel is a good addition and he certainly has the speed you're looking for and the ability to maybe line up in different spots," McDermott said.

The Bills also added help defensively over the last week with the signing of safety Mike Edwards and DT Austin Johnson. The deal with Johnson is not yet finalized, but Bills GM Brandon Beane said Sunday evening that he expects it to get done soon.

"The type of person he is, the type of professional he is. And DaQuan (Jones) has a good relationship with him, and obviously, going back to Penn State there," McDermott said of Johnson.

As for Edwards, McDermott believes he brings the necessary traits to succeed in Buffalo's scheme.

"When I've seen him start, I've been intrigued, right, by the way he plays, his style of play, the systems he's been around," McDermott said of Edwards. "The ability to blitz, the ability to play down low, the ability then also to play in the deep half, and the post at times – that flexibility, if you will, is desirable, and I'm anxious to see how he fits into what we do."

Over the last two days, both Beane and McDermott have expressed optimism about the direction of the team for the 2024 season while still maintaining they are continuing to push the envelope for building the strongest possible roster.

"We've been fortunate to have success. That said we're not content with being where we are and you've constantly got to reinvent yourself, evolve both schematically roster wise, trying to stay ahead of it," McDermott said.

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