When Bills head coach Sean McDermott first uttered his mantra, 'Trust the Process,' after being hired in 2017 it was met with a varying degree of reactions in Buffalo. Having been through a carousel of head coaches that numbered seven since the turn of the century, some Bills fans understandably reacted in a skeptical fashion.
Three years later the Buffalo faithful are fully on board and now even national analysts of the NFL are developing a healthy respect for what McDermott and GM Brandon Beane have constructed at One Bills Drive.
"This is an organization that's turned over pretty much their entire roster from before they got there," said ESPN NFL analyst Bill Barnwell. "And how many of their decisions have gone right? You can count on one hand the ones that have gone wrong. They've gotten so many things right over the past couple of years."
“I think they have a really strong sense of what kind of players they want to add. ... It’s given them a team full of players who know what they're doing and are deep and competitive." ESPN NFL writer Bill Barnwell
Aside from the club's astute drafting the past few years where they've added cornerstone players like Tre'Davious White, Dion Dawkins, Matt Milano, Josh Allen, Tremaine Edmunds and Ed Oliver, the Bills have also made calculated free agent signings that enhanced the roster without putting the team in salary cap jail.
From their first foray into free agency in 2017 with signings like Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer and Stephen Hauschka, to this past offseason's overhaul with additions like Cole Beasley, John Brown and Mitch Morse, Buffalo has fortified every corner of their roster.
"I think they have a really strong sense of what kind of players they want to add," said Barnwell. "They really targeted that sort of middle tier of free agency. They really haven't gone for those top-level guys. The Star Lotulelei deal was pretty expensive for a defensive tackle but otherwise it's been a lot of those guys in the middle range where I think they've kind of figured it's better to have a team of useful, productive, versatile players, as opposed to having a bunch of stars and a bunch of undrafted free agents. scrubs. It's given them a team full of players who know what they're doing and are deep and competitive."
"When you build a team, you've got to build it the right way," said McDermott. "It's about adding pieces and if we add one piece, what does that mean to the overall group that's already in the locker room? And so we're very particular about who we add because we're very guarded with our locker room and in the core players that we have in there."
Their acumen in building a roster along with establishing a daily expectation of competing at the highest level while operating like a family has created an environment that should lead to sustained success.
"You look at Buffalo this past year, they won a lot of close games," said ESPN NFL analyst Mike Tannenbaum. "The way they're going to play with Coach McDermott, you think about Sean and the toughness of those Carolina defenses and Philadelphia that has carried over. It's really hard to play that Bills defense. I know you can bang your head and especially when you go up there to play those guys. That is a hard place to play and they're starting to get an identity. Coach McDermott is a great leader. Brandon Beane has done a really good job as well."
Part of what has worked so well is Buffalo's propensity to sign free agents to one-year 'prove it' type deals. Whether it's a player who feels he's been grossly undervalued on the open market and wants a one-year contract to prove he's worth more (see: Jordan Phillips) or a player whose injury history has compromised their market value (see: Kevin Johnson), Buffalo has proven to be a place where players can maximize their value for the future.
"We've got a tremendous culture and locker room and really it's a transformational culture, not a transactional one," McDermott said. "You come to Buffalo you'll become the best version of you that you've ever been before, on the field and off the field. Whether it's college players coming from the draft or free agency with pro players, that's what we've done and what the players have done and it's a credit to every person in our building."
Now that they've also got a 10-win season under their belt Buffalo should be an even more attractive destination for prospective free agents.
"They've earned the benefit of the doubt with their bridge signings up and down the roster," said Barnwell. "So if you're a player who might not have considered Buffalo a few years ago, well now you're looking at this roster and saying, 'Hey I can get the most out of my talent. I can play for a competitive football team. You know the Patriots are not the same as they were maybe a few years ago, especially if they lose Tom Brady so this could be a really exciting organization to come play for.'"
The Bills may not be at the top of the NFL mountain yet, but with healthy cap room and nine draft choices, the right moves could catapult them into the top tier conversation.
"They're going to be in a lot of games because of their defense," said Tannenbaum. "And adversity every team's going to deal with it, and I think it goes back to the leadership like coach McDermott. He's a guy that when they've had bumps in the road he's been the guy to steer the ship and get them to try again.
"That's why I think they're going to get over the hump and be one of those handful of sustainable teams. To be that it always comes back to fundamentals. I think there's a great identity there with that defense, home field advantage and a young, emerging quarterback."