1. Bills not peaking at the right time a factor in playoff exit
There's no doubt that there is frustration in the air because the Bills didn't get the postseason result they were looking for, but GM Brandon Beane is proud of his team's work ethic and the overall effort they displayed from the start of the 2022 season until the end.
The team found a way to win 13 games in the regular season, one playoff victory, and they captured their third consecutive AFC division title. But in the eyes of Beane, their postseason run didn't extend into February because they weren't able to finish at home and play their best football at the end.
"That's the key," Beane said. "You got to win enough games to put yourself in position to make a run, but you got to be playing your best football when you're going to run into a good team like we did the other day."
The GM shared that when the Bills hit the playoffs, "they weren't in a groove the way they were in 2020 or 2021." Even having the home-field advantages that come with the No. 2 seed, they were unable to play a complete 60 minutes which was an area of the game that they struggled with all season.
"I would say at the end of the season that we never put together — I don't have the answer for you — we never put together a complete game," Beane said. "If you look back at some of the games we had early in the year, we had stretches in games, but we never from kickoff to the final buzzer, we were finding a way and that's where I give a lot of credit to this team. It wasn't always the offense, it wasn't always the defense, Nyheim Hines in the Patriots game. Unfortunately, we were not playing our best football at the end."
2. Evaluations of the offense in Ken Dorsey's first season
The Bills ranked second in the NFL averaging 28.4 points per game during the regular season. Unfortunately, in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Bills struggled to meet their season average in points. When looking at the offense's performance this season, Brandon Beane wants to make sure he doesn't place too much value on one game but knows it also reveals ways to improve.
"We've got to be better in all categories because 10 points didn't get it done," Beane said. "You don't want to throw out everything we did this season. Again, we did a lot of good things statistically, and a lot of them were very similar to the previous year."
Beane explained he thought the offense did a good job of scoring points up until the bye but things changed in the second half of the season.
"For whatever reason, I think the second half of the season, I don't know if some of it was starting with Josh (Allen) getting his arm hurt," Beane said. "I'm not saying it did, I'm just saying various things happened. That was when some more of the adversity hit. We played seven home games and nine and a half road games, one was called early. That's part of what we've got to look at. I think we've got a lot of good players, but it didn't all play out every week the way it kind of started early in the season."
When asked if quarterback Josh Allen needs more around him to succeed, Beane said he always wants to invest in helping his quarterback grow.
"I'd love to have the perfect line and I'd love to get as many weapons," Beane explained. "We're always looking. We added Nyheim (Hines) in season. In which, it was to help our offense, as well, another weapon for Josh and also give us a weapon on special teams. I think Nyheim will be a guy in particular, having an offseason to learn."
In his first season as the play caller of Buffalo's offense, Beane thought offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey did some good things and will learn from the rest.
"You got a guy who played the position at a very high level, won national championships on a major college team, and that's an asset, too," Beane explained. "Knowing what, in this case Josh is going through. So Ken will be very self-critical. We'll all put our heads together, of hey, these things went well, and these are some areas maybe we want to grow. Sean (McDermott) talks about having the growth mindset, and I believe Ken does have that. And we will continue to look for ways to help him and that's our job to kind of support him in that as he enters year two."
3. Bills roster is different than KC or Cincy, but they can still compete in the AFC
For the second consecutive season, the Bills are on the outside looking in this weekend for the AFC Championship game as the Bengals and Chiefs meet in a rematch for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
Beane didn't mince words Tuesday when he called the 17-point loss to the Bengals "a blowout", but he also offered some perspective on where the Bills fit into the AFC race going forward. He was asked what the gap is between the Bills and the two teams in this weekend's AFC title game and had this to say in response:
"I don't know. I don't want to sit here and say. They're both good teams, but I mean, we won 13 games. I think we have a good team. We didn't show it the other night, the team we are, but I think we played a lot of good programs this year. We lost three games by eight points. Listen, I'm going to own all the things we can do better — no doubt," Beane said.
One point that the Bills GM made that stood out was that the Bengals are in a short period where they are benefitting from QB Joe Burrow and WR Ja'Marr Chase still being on rookie contract deals, while Bills QB Josh Allen and WR Stefon Diggs are not on rookie deals.
"They right now are on the advantage of a rookie quarterback contract," Beane said of Cincinnati. "And they had some lean years and without getting too much into their build, I don't want to suck bad enough to have to get Ja'Marr Chase. I would love to have him, but you got to go through some lean years to do that. They were able to get Burrow at one, and I don't remember where Chase was drafted, but it was pretty high."
Beane's comment on Chase was in regards to building up roster talent through the draft, not a shot at the Bengals. The Bills haven't had a draft pick higher than 7th since they took Josh Allen in 2018, while Cincinnati picked Burrow first overall in 2020 and Chase fifth overall the following year.
Still, Beane said he feels confident that the Bills are still in position to battle for AFC supremacy in future seasons and it's not just about going all in for one year.
4. Why getting under the cap will be important in 2023
Over the next few weeks and months, the Bills will have discussions about which players they want to re-sign and what positions they will need to invest in during free agency and the draft. The salary cap number will drive many of those conversations. Due to waiting on a few TV deals, that number isn't final yet but Beane knows even if it's more than the $208 million they had this year, he will most likely have to find ways to get under the cap.
"I couldn't tell you if it's going to be $220 or $230, I'm hoping for a lot of dollars because we need it," Beane said. "But right now, we're probably in the $240s of what's on the book. It's (the cap) not going to be $240 something. So, the short answer is we're going to have to get under the cap by moves.
"It could be roster cuts, and that's all the free agents that you guys are aware of not on the books. All of those are counting zero dollars. So, there's not going to be a Von Miller signing or somebody. We're going to have to work to get under the cap so that we can operate next year."
Since they'll have to find ways to meet the cap number, Beane said he and his staff will need to be innovative.
"We'll be creative, we'll do things. We may have to rework a few contracts," Beane shared. "It's not that we're not going to do that. But I also don't want to, in two years, be a hundred million over the cap, like we've seen teams have to do."
One way to avoid spending is through the draft, which Beane says will be very important.
"We gotta hit on draft picks, we gotta find low-cost free agents that can find roles, whether it's key backup, a solid starter, whatever it is," Beane said. "It'll be on me and our scouting staff to make the right moves."
Just like we heard Sean McDermott say on Monday, Beane values talent up front.
"We want to be strong up front. We do," Beane said. "On both sides of the ball. If we think there's players, whether it's draft, free agency, whatever it is, that are better than what we got up front, then we'll definitely not hesitate to add there."
5. Assessing the play of key players + what the future holds in free agency
Beane addressed some of the key components of Buffalo's roster, including LB Tremaine Edmunds, S Jordan Poyer, LB Von Miller, OL Spencer Brown and last year's rookie class:
Potential of re-signing Poyer: "I give Jordan a lot of credit. And he is a pro. I know the whole contract thing and like, people can handle those in many different ways. We all see that. But a lot of respect for how Jordan handled this and he's a great pro and did a lot of great things for us and we'd love to get him back, for sure. I'd be the first to tell you. Again when we get some clarity on the cap, and what we can do, we'll know more there."
Edmunds' standout year and potential of re-signing: "He's just been amazing to watch his growth from a 19 year old. I mean, it's not like he's 29, he's still a kid. He is a young man. But very proud of who he is. And you can just see his maturation… So he's a big part of our success as well coming in with Josh that year. Like Poyer and many of these other guys, I would love to keep them all and we'll do our best."
Miller's rehab from ACL: "Yeah, I think Von's in a good spot. I think he's doing well. I expect him ... I'm going to say the same thing. I expect him for a good portion of 2023; I'm not ruling out all of 2023, but I don't want to say that either. I think it's too early. I was asking Nate Breske (Bills trainer), he's seven weeks, it's crazy how time flies, but that was seven weeks ago when he had that surgery."
Spencer Brown's performance in his second season: "What I saw in Spencer is a guy, the second half of the season that played better than the first half of the season. So I got a lot of confidence in him. He's maturing, he's understanding the league, a lot different type of pass rusher he's having a block here than what he saw at Northern Iowa."
Evaluation of 2022 rookie class: So, without going through them all, I think that most of them helped us in some way, and we'll be counting on them even more. Whether it's – Kaiir rotated some this year, started some. We'll be counting on him more. James Cook, he got more comfortable in the offense, figuring out the pro game. We talked about it's a transition on the field, but also a transition of life to what's a professional player versus what's a college player. And we just have to give these guys all time, but they're all our DNA."