Ready or not, here it comes. Virtual offseason workouts for Bills players and coaches begins today. The 2020 NFL Draft begins on Thursday – the high point of the strangest offseason in NFL history.
The Bills and the rest of the league have had to deal with the coronavirus and the quarantine imposed by the government. The NFL has continued to conduct business over the last five weeks. And the Bills, like most NFL teams, have done it by displaying innovation, intelligence, versatility, and most of all generosity within their local community.
Here are some of the highlights of Buffalo's 2020 offseason at the midpoint of the most unconventional offseason in history:
1. A SURPLUS OF GENEROSITY
Everywhere you turn, from the ownership level, to current Bills players, former ones, Bills staff, coaches and even top administrators, the Bills have turned out in force to provide relief for those hit by Covid-19, those caring for patients, and community groups dealing with quarantine issues and upheaval.
Bills quarterback Matt Barkley and his wife, Brittany, donated a $10,000 to Hope House in Buffalo, an organization run by the Matt Urban Center that services homeless women and children. Barkley says an Easter visit to Hope House last year promoted he and his wife to act this year.
"We were thinking this year, what they must be going through right now, while they are quarantined and locked down," Barkley said. "So those funds are going to immediate Covid-19 relief and to provide entertainment, whether that's board games or puzzles or Ipads, it's up to their discretion. Whatever it takes to keep those kids entertained."
Barkley says it isn't hard to imagine the challenge presented to the workers at Hope House.
"I have two kids bouncing off the walls at home now," he says. "To have 25 kids at this smallish center back in Buffalo — we just wanted to be able to give back in that little way. Hopefully it goes a long way."
Even former Bills who no longer live in Buffalo, like quarterback Doug Flutie, are thinking of ways to help the community. The Flutie Foundation provides relief and information for families afflicted by an autistic family member. And the foundation sent a portion of proceeds raised this week to families in Buffalo
"From the areas that the money comes in from, we try to put it right back out there to those areas," Flutie said.
Thurman Thomas, Lorenzo Alexander, Jerry Hughes, Mitch Morse, Josh Allen, Levi Wallace, and GM Brandon Beane are just some of the former or current Bills personnel who've jumped in to help the cause.
It's impressive and it's heart-warming. And it's clear the connection between the Bills and their fans in Buffalo goes way beyond Sundays in New Era Field.
2. FREE AGENCY WITHOUT A HITCH
One of the most important business matters in the league is free agency, which began in mid-March, right about the time the virus and the quarantine took hold.
Yet the Bills and the rest of the league made it work. The Bills loaded up with nine free agents, including Josh Norman, Vernon Butler, and Mario Addison. Around the league, big name quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Philip Rivers moved like nothing had changed.
The bulk of free agent signings is behind us, and the league got through it with minimal disruptions and interruptions.
Scroll through to view the latest updates on Buffalo's reported additions to the roster through free agency.
3. TECHNOLOGY RULES!
This weird offseason has forced the Bills and most of the league to work out of home offices for the last five weeks. And they're ready to conduct the three-day NFL Draft from home, with general managers, scouts, and coaches all working apart but connected by technology.
Bills general manager Brandon Beane has set up a draft room in his basement office at home. But he had help
"Brian Burd and his staff at Stadium Operations, and Dan Evans and his staff in Information Technology, all of their staff, I know they've even helped you guys (One Bills Live)," Beane told us. "All of our coaches and all of our staff, people all over our building — they've allowed us to be as efficient as we can. I've told Dan (Evans), he'll be the MVP of this draft as long as I don't screw it up."
The draft next week will be a test of technology and communication for the Bills and the rest of the league. Beane will test his complicated communications setup in the next few days.
4. FROM VEGAS TO GOODELL'S BASEMENT
The NFL had a grand spectacle planned to host this week's draft in Las Vegas. Those plans were shelved a month ago, and now a bare-bones, technology-based "virtual" draft will start on schedule this Thursday.
How did the NFL make this transition? Our One Bills Live crew talked with the league's Vice President of Event Strategy and Integration about the job. Matt Shapiro says the challenge was to set up a new draft in the last four weeks.
"The pace of change here has been remarkable," he says. "It was literally a month ago when we made the official announcement of no public events in Las Vegas. In that last month, we've been working through all the different contingencies, and even in that time frame a lot has changed."
Commissioner Roger Goodell will announce first round picks from his basement. Fifty-eight draft prospects have had video cameras and audio equipment sent to their homes so draft viewers can see their reaction throughout the weekend. GMs, like the Bills Brandon Beane, will be set up for "draft room" look-in shots. Not just draft picks, but draft day trades can also be executed by teams.
All that's left is to test the system.
"[This] week is really about fine tuning and checking," Shapiro says. "It's about all of these connections, how this incredibly complex, inter-woven, connectivity works. At the beginning of next week, we'll start to run some mock drafts. We'll be putting names in spots and making sure all the connectivity works to all the clubs, to ESPN and NFL Network. At this point it's really fine-tuning."
5. BILLS READY TO DRAFT
That fine-tuning will take place in Brandon Beane's basement draft room in the next few days. But the Bills GM is confident the technical setup will work fine.
He's more concerned about the meat of the draft. Buffalo's first pick is Friday night in the second round, the 54th overall pick. After that, the team has six additional picks. And Beane is determined to get it right – to add valuable pieces to a team that won 10 games last year and looks poised to contend for a deep playoff run.
"There's opportunities here. We've got to play this thing right," Beane told One Bills Live. "The first thing we have to do is finalize our board. We've got to dot our I's and cross our T's and get ready to roll. I truly listen to this draft board and follow it and believe in the process that our scouts and our coaches, everybody involve, and then let it talk to me about moving up, moving down, or staying put.
Scroll through to view the players at each position on Buffalo's defense that are currently on or reported to be on the roster prior to the NFL Draft.
6. VIRTUAL WORKOUTS FOR PLAYERS
Besides the draft, this week also marks the beginning of offseason workouts for the Bills and other NFL teams. Normally, players would voluntarily report to One Bills Drive to meet in position groups and begin conditioning work during phase one of the offseason work.
But that won't happen. In a plan worked out by the league and the NFLPA, the offseason workouts will begin on time, but players will meet and work out on their own, many at home.
QB Matt Barkley told One Bills Live he expects real work to be done, especially in the meeting rooms (on video).
"The majority of time is going to be in meetings," he said. "We'll be doing the installs and talking over the offense, talking through that. We do have an actual workout that we have to do, but it's not like we all log-in together. This time of the year we don't do any field work, anyway. So as of now, it's mainly meetings. We're going to get to more details on that Monday, in our team meeting. We'll find out more then."
It will be strange. It's likely to be different. But the Bills will continue to push on through this offseason, hoping to kick off the season in September.
Scroll through to view the players at each position on Buffalo's offense that are currently on or reported to be on the roster prior to the NFL Draft.