After the Bills finished 24th in total offense and hearing both general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott say the offense needs to score more points going forward, the popular contention among Buffalo fans was that a playmaking wide receiver must be added to the roster.
Whether that addition comes via free agency or the draft, NFL pundits, already enamored with the deepest receiver draft class in years, have largely projected top receiver prospects to the Bills in their mock drafts.
But if one really listened to Beane and McDermott at the NFL combine last week, there is a dedicated focus to where their offseason priorities might lie, and it's not just at wideout.
McDermott and Beane were asked a countless number of questions about the kind of receiver they might be looking to add either in free agency or the draft.
One particular question asked if the team put a premium on adding a playmaking receiver.
"Whether you're adding a wide receiver or protecting your quarterback I think it's important that we continue to add pieces on the offensive side of the board and adding playmakers is important," said McDermott, who essentially indicated adding linemen will be just as critical as adding at receiver. "If you have playmakers and no one to protect the quarterback that doesn't work either. We've all seen that so going about it in a responsible way trying to do both would be ideal."
Equating offensive line help with that of receiver might be somewhat unexpected, but one need only revisit the troubles Buffalo's line experienced in 2018, when winning at the line of scrimmage proved to be an uphill battle every week. McDermott witnessed those struggles first-hand that entire season and knows all too well that the functionality of your offense hinges on competent, and preferably dominant, line play.
Buffalo's head coach stated he was generally pleased with the progress the line had made from 2018 to 2019 after Beane and his pro personnel department successfully targeted and signed six free agent linemen with Mitch Morse as the linchpin in the pivot.
But it's evident McDermott and Beane want to move Buffalo's line into the dominant category this offseason.
"I was encouraged by the progress and improvement I saw this past season with runway in front of us though," said McDermott. "I think the best part about it is those guys know that, and they'd be the first to tell you that. I thought it was just a good step in the right direction. Does that mean we're there yet? No, but we're definitely trending in the right direction."
When Beane and McDermott reviewed the season, including Buffalo's playoff loss at Houston, they took a hard look at all areas of their offensive play. It would be hard not to notice some of the protection breakdowns late in the Houston game specifically that forced Josh Allen to play street ball at times in an effort to make a play.
That's what made Beane's comment about making the offense more productive an interesting one.
"There's so many reasons why we didn't score more points," he said. "You've got to protect better. You've got to run the ball better. You've got to throw the ball better. We've got to catch it better. We have a lot of work to do it starts with me. Making sure I'm bringing the right personnel."
Protection again was where it started in the minds of the Bills brass. And with starting left guard Quinton Spain a free agent as well as LaAdrian Waddle, whose 2019 season ended in training camp as he wound up on injured reserve, the decision will need to be made on whether to add in free agency, the draft or both.
Knowing veterans Jon Feliciano and Ty Nsekhe as well as Dion Dawkins are all entering the final year of their respective contracts in 2020 only prompts further planning to keep the line on its current ascent.
The free agent pool offers options as it always does every offseason, but are there linemen that fit what Buffalo wants both in terms of talent and value?
The draft apparently offers even better talent than the year before when the Bills traded up to land Cody Ford in round two.
"You've got a better crop of offensive linemen than we've had in recent years," said NFL Network draft analyst Charles Davis. "Particularly at the tackle position, which is the glamour spot that we talk about."
"I think the primary emphasis should be improving the offense this year," said ESPN NFL analyst Field Yates. "And it's not just the wide receivers that make that impact. I think (Brandon Beane) values a couple of things. We saw a lot of investment for the offensive line last year, some of them were one year or short-term deals so you've got to figure out which guys are keepers and which guys, specifically someone like Dion Dawkins… at what point you start to budget for the long term there for him?"
Rest assured Beane is as competitive a personnel man as there is in the league. He and his staff have been through the free agent list and the draft pool with a fine-tooth comb several times over. They've assigned proper value to those players they believe can help the Bills the most and have likely finalized their offseason plans for player acquisition.
Then it's a matter of closing deals or making the right picks to strengthen an offense that doesn't need an overhaul, but still needs an influx of quality talent up front just as much as outside to take another step.
Beane and McDermott believe there is a trickle-down effect on offense that begins with quality line play. Their common refrain is, 'it starts up front.'
The Bills brass won't ignore the need for skilled playmakers on offense. They just know from experience that plays won't be made without having a line to allow their playmakers and Josh Allen the time and space to perform.