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Combine Coverage

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What we learned about the Bills roster, salary cap + draft preparation at the start of the 2024 NFL Combine


Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane addressed the media at the Combine Tuesday as the NFL world descends upon Indianapolis to evaluate the top prospects ahead of the NFL Draft.

With the official salary cap figure for 2024 announced this week, Beane addressed reporters on subjects regarding how the Bills will approach free agency and the draft as they continue their quest for Buffalo's first Super Bowl.

1. Response to the cap increase

The NFL announced Monday that the 2024 salary cap would increase by over $30 million, welcome news for Beane – who said he was preparing to restructure existing contracts in order to be cap compliant and create space to sign draft picks and free agents.

Beane and his staff are already making moves to do just that, restructuring left guard Connor McGovern's contract to free up $3.74 million in cap space according to recent media reports.

"Every dollar you can get helps you," Beane said. "Whether it's extensions, whether it's modifying their contract, whether it's, in this case, restructuring – which is really just moving some money down. … We were conservatively planning for a number in the 40's so to get to $255 (million), I was smiling."

With quarterback Josh Allen's cap hit currently projected to increase by well over double, the Bills will have to get creative with building the rest of their roster around their franchise player.

"We may have to roll out some young players earlier than we have before and that's on me to find players who can handle that kind of responsibility early," Beane said.

As quarterbacks around the league continue to sign record-breaking contracts, Beane said that it is more important than ever to have your franchise player locked down, noting that many, if not all, of the teams that made it to the Divisional and Conference Championship rounds sport some of the best signal callers in the game.

"The quarterback (salary) numbers have jumped more drastically than the cap has, which really makes it hard because you're trying to balance," Beane said. "We feel fortunate to have Josh but that's how you're building you're whole team around that contract and you're trying to massage it so that'll continue to be something we have to look at."

2. On re-signing 2024 free agents

Because of the Bills' current cap situation and the large number of expired contracts of players from last season, it is likely that there will be turnover in the offseason as players seek new deals in free agency.

Micah Hyde, Gabe Davis, A.J. Epenesa and DaQuan Jones are just a few of the key contributors to the 2023 team that now have the opportunity to sign new contracts, either with the Bills or with any of the other 31 teams in the league.

Beane spoke on the impact that each player has had on the team and organization, starting with the longtime NFL veteran safety Hyde – who has played alongside safety Jordan Poyer since the duo signed with Buffalo in free agency in 2017.

"You never want to move on from good players … I've been in the league 26, 27 years and I've never seen a safety duo for seven seasons play together," Beane said. "We've been spoiled and so whether you have to replace it all at once or whether you keep one or keep both, those are all decisions we're still working through on our end. We don't control fully if Micah plays or not but ultimately we're going to try to make the best decision we can knowing that if you don't have them both, it's going to be hard to match the pair that we've had the last seven seasons."

Davis and Epenesa are coming off their fourth seasons in the NFL. Davis has been the Bills' No. 2 wide receiver the past two seasons and Epenesa is coming off a career season in which he totaled 6.5 sacks and two interceptions – one of which he returned for a touchdown.

"We're still working through now that we know the cap, we're working through getting under and then how much can we create without totally piling up a huge mess in '25 or '26," Beane said. "But yes, we'll have conversations with those guys like we will all the free agents and there's not a free agent that I can think of that I'm going, 'man, I don't want that guy back."

Jones worked hard to recover from a torn pectoral muscle acquired in London, coming back late in the season and adding nine tackles in four games as the defensive tackle effectively worked in the run game.

"With DaQuan, yes, we'll have conversations and if we can get it worked out — a value that works for us and a value that works for him — yes, we'd love to have him back," Beane said.

3. Kaiir Elam could take on bigger role

The Bills will likely rely on some of their young talent to take over as the roster turns over in the offseason.

One player who could play a key role is cornerback Kaiir Elam, who the Bills took with their first round pick in the 2022 draft.

Elam was active for three games in 2023, racking up 19 total tackles and an interception in the Bills' 31-17 playoff win over Pittsburgh.

Beane said he was hopeful for the growth Elam could display in his third season as a pro.

"We left it with Kaiir like this in his end of season meeting, even before any coaching changes: Come in ready to go, start fresh," Beane said. "And some guys take a little longer to take off. A.J. Epenesa is an example. Spencer Brown. So we're looking forward to what he'll bring when he returns."

The Bills hired Jahmile Addae as the cornerbacks coach in early February, and Beane expressed his belief in the young player with a renewed coaching staff.

"Kaiir is a guy that we have a lot of belief in, and sometimes a fresh start for anyone is good," Beane said.

4. Injury updates

Beane also gave updates regarding some of the notable names that acquired or worked through injuries this season, including cornerback Tre'Davious White, linebacker Matt Milano and edge rusher Von Miller.

White, who was drafted by the Bills in 2017, tore his right Achilles in Week 4 against Miami. Milano fractured his leg a week later in London against the Jaguars.

Beane said that both were working through their injuries and that he was unsure when they would be ready to return to full participation in offseason training.

"They're still working through it," Beane said. "Both of them are in Buffalo rehabbing doing everything they can. Tre'Davious has attacked it just like he did his ACL stuff two years ago … Matt's was a freak deal, kind of a non-traditional type of football injury. So we haven't had a guys since I've been here with that type of injury but he's seeing the docs, he's rehabbing and we'll ultimately see when he's ready, whether it's OTAs or whether we have to wait all the way to July."

Miller tore his ACL in November 2022 and took a step back in his production last season as he returned to form. Miller did not record a sack and had just five tackles, but Beane said that he could see his progression late in the season.

"We're hoping that he'll look more like he did the first (year) when we got him," Beane said. "I would say that Miami, Pittsburgh and Kansas City, you saw the flashes of it. I think now it's just more of it and getting him in a rhythm."

5. Evaluating prospects at the Combine

As NFL scouts, media and prospects flock to Lucas Oil Stadium, the Bills hope that they will find promise in the young players as they work through interviews and combine drills.

Beane spoke of the importance of getting to spend time with a group of prospects. At the Combine, teams are allowed 30 one-on-one interviews with players that last 18 to 20 minutes.

"What I get most out of it is meeting these guys and interviewing them. We start that process in Mobile (during the Senior Bowl), knocking out a select number of players there and so this just adds to that catalog of players," Beane said. "Even though it's a small window, you really feel like it's a nice snapshot and sometimes it fully answers the question for you, sometimes you're going, 'hey, we're gonna need some more follow up at the Pro Day, a private workout or whatever we can get done between now and April.'"

With seven picks on the third day of the draft, Beane gave his thoughts on evaluating some of the talent that will be left over after the first three rounds.

"There's still guys on the back end, I don't think it's going to be a complete wash. I think you're just finding that it's more fifth-year, sixth-year with the Covid year, there's more guys like that because a lot of guys are being … enticed to go back for NIL money," Beane said.

Beane said that, through the Bills' extensive evaluation process, they can determine whether a player has an advanced knowledge of the game, whether they played three years in college or twice that.

With the safety position, which the Bills might target in the draft due to Hyde's expiring contract or other factors, Beane again emphasized the importance of having that football mind.

"This week it's more about smarts and intelligence. And if they're not walking in with a lot is that just because they couldn't do it or is that just not what the school is asking him to do?" Beane said. "We want to know how quickly they can process because back there, the game is moving fast and they have to be able to process what is going on."

Ultimately, this draft will have major implications on the Bills' prospects of reaching the Super Bowl, a topic head coach Sean McDermott said is "not a matter of if. It's just a matter of when."

Beane respected McDermott's confidence, saying that it was necessary in the football business.

"If you're not (confident), you shouldn't be in one of these jobs," Beane said. "This is season eight for us and we're frustrated as ever to win and we're gonna do everything we can

"We know the challenge ahead, that when you win the division four times in a row, it's getting harder. It's not going to get easier but experience helps and we know some of the landmines that we have to navigate and we're confident that at the right time, we'll get it done."