Since Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane arrived at One Bills Drive, the constant mantra in player acquisition has been to be sure said player has the “Bills DNA.” A tough, smart football player who can make plays and has an unrelenting passion for the game.
Sticking to that mantra has helped Buffalo’s front office revamp the roster in that image over the first three offseasons under the current regime.
Free agency had not been the way to accumulate most of that talent until this past offseason when Buffalo had money to spend and areas to upgrade.
The Bills pro personnel department acted swiftly and effectively in not only addressing a number of positions on the team that needed additional talent and depth but did so largely in a fiscally responsible fashion.
The national media lauded the Bills for their decisive maneuvers to improve the quality of their roster in the free agent market while not mortgaging the future or their now healthy cap situation.
So how did it all come together?
Through extensive and exhaustive planning.
From scouting to contract offers, the Bills put in the time to make it all look seamless.
Buffalobills.com sat down with GM Brandon Beane to get a better handle on the planning and execution process detailed in Episode 1 of Buffalo Bills: Embedded: Agents of Change.
When the regular season was over, Buffalo’s pro personnel department reviewed all of the work they had compiled on the prospective 2019 free agent class. Meeting as a department players were targeted, but not in the same way prospects are in the NFL draft.
“Unlike the draft where you’re looking to take the best player available all the time, in free agency you’re not,” said Beane. “We focus on what are our areas of greatest need. What do we want to come out of free agency with at the very minimum?”
That was the approach Beane and his pro personnel department had to take in the 2018 offseason when their cap situation was not conducive to significant spending in the free agent market.
“If our cap dollars are short we set a priority for coming out of it with a minimum of some good talent at these three positions as an example,” he said. “Then we’ll save some funds.”
This past offseason was a much different story.
Beane and his staff set their priority list of targets and when the negotiating period opened on March 11th at noon they hit the phones.
Buffalo’s GM has members of his pro personnel department canvas the free agent landscape as a team.
“Once the bell rings, you start establishing contact with agents,” Beane said. “We do this by pooling our resources. (Assistant GM) Joe Schoen and (Director of Player Personnel) Dan Morgan have relationships with certain people, (Director of Football Administration) Kevin Meganck and (Senior VP of Football Administration) Jim Overdorf have some. (Director of Pro Personnel) Malik Boyd and myself have contacts. So we decide who has the best relationship with this agent. And that agent has these three free agents that we like, this safety, this tackle and this tight end. So you hit him on these three guys in one call.”
The front office staff will get the Bills name in the running for the player and get a sense as to what that free agent is thinking in terms of a destination. After a price range is discussed and both parties are not far off, there is a very honest and straightforward question that follows.
“Do we have a shot or not? Some guys already have plans to re-sign with their club, and the agent may tell you not to spend time on his guy because he wants to play for this coach or feels this defense is a better fit,” Beane said. “You try and investigate to avoid spending a lot of time on a player that’s not interested.”
And although there are stories of agents playing one team against another to get the best contract, on the whole, agents are forthright when it comes to their players’ interests.
“Their job is to know their client. The best thing for them is to be honest with us. Most of the time they’re in, but you don’t want to let three other guys off the hook because you thought you were in on a guy that is a better player,” Beane said. “It’s best to just shoot people straight on where you’re at. Not every guy is going to come play in this defense or play in Buffalo or leave where they are. That’s any team in any city.
“So we try to get an understanding of all of our targets in terms of who we have a legit shot at, then we determine where the money range is going to be. Then we follow up and start putting offers together.”
When it comes to offers, the Bills have done their homework there as well with a lot of research on existing contracts at that position as well as production. That is then cross referenced against their own roster and where long-term contract offers might be made in the near future to keep current players.
“We’ve got (salary) ranges,” Beane said. “This is probably where we see his value starting and this is the point where we walk away.”
The most hectic signings this offseason were those of John Brown and Cole Beasley because they were being negotiated simultaneously by Jim Overdorf and Kevin Meganck.
The risk in trying to sign two free agents at the same position is one might get cold feet if they feel the other is getting preferential treatment or if the agent feels his client’s production numbers for incentives in a contract, for example, could be compromised if another top free agent receiver is being signed too.
Fortunately for the Bills, both Brown and Beasley agreed to terms.
Of course for a general manager, it’s difficult to relax until there’s a signature on the contract and they clear the medical exam.
“Honestly until they get here and pass the physical you’re agonizing over it,” said Beane. “Until they’re here and have passed their physical, you never totally relax.”
To watch and learn more about how free agency unfolded for the Bills watch Episode 1 of Buffalo Bills: Embedded: Agents of Change here.