INDIANAPOLIS -- The start NFL Combine week got underway Tuesday morning and there was no shortage of storylines for the Buffalo Bills. The team announced several coaching staff changes and both GM Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott met with media members in Indianapolis.
Beane devoted much of his time with reporters discussing the state of Buffalo's roster and what holes the team is looking to fill in the offseason. Here are five noteworthy things to know from Beane's press conference:
1 – Contract restructures on the horizon
Beane stated it plainly. The club is pretty well over the cap for the upcoming league year. Buffalo's fiscal situation will force his hand in making some roster moves. The options at his disposal are contract restructures, player releases, and player trades.
It's possible that Buffalo's player personnel boss will make use of all of those avenues to create the cap space needed to build another contending roster. But when asked what will make up the biggest piece of creating cap space, Beane said it will be re-working player contracts.
"Probably more restructuring than outright releases," said Beane. "Not to say no one will be released, but we are definitely looking at everything. We've got a plan kind of laid out working through that with certain players' representatives and things like that. But we're definitely in that $20 (million) range of being over, so we've got until March 15th to get in compliance. And then obviously we've got to create (cap space) to be able to add some players back and sign your draft picks and all the above so working through that right now. Those conversations will continue between now and the start of the league year here."
The approach Beane and his front office takes will be interesting. Do they re-work some of the larger contracts on the roster to get the most cap relief while involving fewer players, or do they create cap space with more of a multi-layered approach?
Beane didn't deny that Josh Allen's contract would be a possible candidate for a restructuring.
"It's definitely one of the bigger numbers that you can create space," Beane said of Allen's contract. "So we would definitely have to strongly consider. We've got kind of our 'A' list and our 'B' list of how we do it. And so we're having those conversations right now."
2 – Edmunds and Poyer talks to take place
They're the two highest profile free agents the Bills have this offseason. LB Tremaine Edmunds and S Jordan Poyer could hit the open market in two weeks absent a new contract with the Bills. With Buffalo in need of shedding approximately $20 million from their current cap total to become cap compliant for the new league year, re-signing two free agents who are likely to command expensive contracts sounds like a tall order.
But GM Brandon Beane is going to have discussions with the representatives for both players, who have been fixtures in Buffalo's defense for most, if not all, of head coach Sean McDermott's tenure.
"We'll have dialogue with those guys," said Beane in an appearance on 'One Bills Live' at the NFL Combine. "I don't want to get into how deep we are with either but yes, we will have dialogue, if we haven't already with their reps. I spoke to those guys at the end of the season, and they know we love and respect and appreciate them and this is the business part. It's not scholarships. It's not college where you can say, 'I'll give you another year on a scholarship.' That would be easy."
Beane realizes that after being unable to do much with Jordan Poyer's contract last offseason at the player's request, aside from including incentives, and knowing Edmunds, at age 25, is just entering the prime of his career, retaining both or even one could prove challenging.
"You don't want to lose good players," Beane said. "That's not the goal. You want to keep as many as you can, but we do have to fit it into that pie. And it won't be easy, but we'll look and see what ways we can keep one or both. And if we can't keep either one of them. We'll look into other ways to refill those voids."
3 – Adding offensive playmakers isn't restricted to receiver
There's little question that the Bills are in an arms race in the AFC when it comes to offensive weapons. Buffalo certainly has their fair share, but it could be argued that their chief adversaries in Cincinnati and Kansas City have better quality depth.
It has led to a popular opinion that the Bills need to add receiver talent both in free agency and in the draft. But it's not that cut and dray for Buffalo's general manager.
"You're looking for mismatches out there you really are," said Beane of acquiring offensive weapons. "It's not like you've got to go fill (a need) with a receiver. We're looking for positions on offense beyond the O-line where we can add a mismatch type player. That's where we went in and found James Cook last year and we added (Nyheim) Hines. Just guys that you can do different things with that can be a mismatch from your standard receiver like a Stefon Diggs or a Gabe Davis."
This year's draft offers a tight end class that many consider the best in a decade. There is talent at that position that offers mismatches.
"You're trying to determine is the tight end just a receiver only and they know it so they're probably going to play him like a receiver," Beane said. "But if you can find those guys that are not a throw away in the run game and can put their hand in the dirt and at least crack neutral. Then maybe you get the defense into base personnel. And you can throw it off of that. Or good enough that if they want to play you in nickel and you've got two tight ends in the game, you're in 12 (personnel) that you can run the ball."
4 – Bills unlikely to use the franchise tag
With a tight cap situation the Bills don't believe they're in a position to utilize the franchise tag even if they wanted to.
"I don't see us using the franchise tag," said Beane. "I mean, never rule it out. But with our cap, I just don't think we'd be able to hold a number like that for either of those positions."
Beane was referring specifically to the linebacker and safety positions knowing with Edmunds and Poyer being their most prominent free agents they would be the most likely franchise tag candidates.
The franchise tag for a linebacker is $20.9M, while the figure for a safety is $14.4M.
5 - Safety a primary need
With all the focus from Bills fans on getting more firepower for the offense, sliding under the radar as a need position for Buffalo is safety.
Not only is Jordan Poyer set to become an unrestricted free agent, but so too are Jaquan Johnson and Dean Marlowe. Cam Lewis is set to become a restricted free agent and even though Damar Hamlin is under contract, his playing future is still up in the air.
That leaves just Micah Hyde under contract for the 2023 season.
"I think it's one of them for sure, depending on whether we can bring Poyer back," said Beane when asked if safety is a need position. "Micah definitely plans to return this year. I think we'll just kind of see how the roster construction comes. Who do we have back, who were we able to bring back? Whether it's Jordan Poyer or whether it's adding another if you lose Jordan, and you have to add someone else. And who do you add in the draft? I think we'll just look at our roster and ultimately, we're going to try to get the best players on the field."
Another potential option at safety is Christian Benford. He has some experience at the safety position and when he was drafted by Buffalo last spring, Beane did mention that his long-term position with the Bills could be at safety.
"If we feel he's one of our best 11 and safety is his best spot we wouldn't hesitate to move him there," said Beane. "If we think it's at corner, then we'd leave in there. He showed he could play corner last year. We love his ball skills. We love the mental part of his game. So no decisions have been made. Part of it is just going to be we're going to see how we build the roster this offseason."
As for Hamlin, Beane said he still has to meet with two to three more specialists, but his goal is to resume his football career.
"Our medical staff, we've had one to two guys traveling with him to see these specialists because it will be a decision for Damar, but it'll also be a decision for us," said Beane. "We want to make sure that we're hearing everything, assuming he gets full clearance, I know he would want to play. I know that's his end game to continue playing. We want to make sure that we're all in sync. Assuming the doctors say at some point, he's seen them all and we're in agreement that we're okay putting him out there, too, but so far, all is well with his testing and we'll just let that continue."