It's a common truth for NFL teams that have gone through the experience. When you don't have a franchise quarterback everything you do as an organization focuses on finding one.
Fortunately, the Bills are a team that no longer needs to concern themselves with filling that all-important role. Josh Allen's breakout season in 2020 cemented that position for the next decade.
So although free agency is about to mark the new league year, as it does every year in mid-March, Buffalo's approach figures to look a bit different than it has for the better part of the last two decades.
But how is it different from a front office perspective and a player perspective?
Buffalo GM Brandon Beane and his personnel department already have a built-in challenge of a reduced cap, which will be about $30 million less ($182.5M) than where it had been widely projected for 2021 ($210M). But with a franchise quarterback already on the roster, the Bills can direct their focus elsewhere.
"Now it's about what are Josh Allen's strengths and how do we build our offense around what he does really well," said NFL Network analyst and former league personnel executive Marc Ross. "The type of players that he'll thrive with ... For example, in Pittsburgh they know they have the 3-4 defense. These are the types of guys we know we need to get for our system. Its' the same for the Bills on offense. These are the types of players who will help Josh the most and fit into our system and help him thrive and grow even more."
Beane mentioned in his late January press conference that they were interested in taking a look at tight end after what he termed "an up and down year" at the position. Offensive line is also a positional need on offense to be addressed with five of their linemen on expiring contracts.
Having a franchise signal caller also affords the Bills the opportunity to examine ways to re-tool their defense and special teams knowing the offense is in good hands and productive with Allen. The question is with Allen only entering his fourth season, do you load up and go for it now with more veteran signings or do you play the long game to be a perennial contender?
"You have a QB in place for 10 years so the window of opportunity is much wider as opposed to a shorter window where you're prompted to go for it and see what you can do," said Ross of the Bills. "Tampa Bay went for it because they had Brady on a short contract and it worked. Other teams have done that in the past and it didn't work.
"The theory of building for the future and maximizing the present is tough and tricky. Will you take one Super Bowl over seven years of playoff wins and no Super Bowl? That's always the big issue that you have because you can't have both. There's only one Tom Brady. There's only one situation that New England pulled off. Everyone else is going to have to find their own way."
So what might be the best way for Buffalo this offseason?
"I think you're always trying to be as strong as possible, but the situation Buffalo is in, they're not just going to chase high-priced free agents," said Ross. "They're going to build for the future and find younger guys and get as many good pieces around (Josh Allen) as opposed to one big splash."
Buffalo is now a destination
Helping the Bills free agent pursuits is the fact that the successful efforts of Beane and head coach Sean McDermott has turned the Buffalo franchise into a winner.
And if you think having a franchise quarterback on a winning team doesn't have a gravitational pull on prospective free agents, just ask a player who played the bulk of his career on team that didn't have one. Former NFL defensive end, Chris Long, toiled with the Rams in St. Louis for eight seasons before hitting free agency.
"I was 31-years old before I hit the free agent market because St. Louis signed me after my 13-sack year," said Long in a recent appearance on 'One Bills Live.' "When I was done in St. Louis I just sold out to win. For me it came down to Atlanta and New England and those two teams would go on to play in the Super Bowl that year.
"I just felt like the thing that pushed me over the edge was Tom Brady. Nothing against Matt Ryan and nothing against Dan Quinn, but the combination of Tom and Bill (Belichick) sold me."
Long was rewarded with a Super Bowl ring at the close of his 10th season.
"You cannot win without one," said Long of the importance of having a franchise quarterback.
As for Buffalo being a destination now, Long had an affinity for the atmosphere in Orchard Park during his playing career, but now he believes the appeal is even greater with Josh Allen and a winning team, even for his brother, Kyle Long, who announced he's coming out of retirement.
"Who wouldn't want to play in Buffalo? There's something about it," Long said. "You walk in there and it feels like a college atmosphere. Even (my brother) should consider Buffalo."
And if anyone needs more convincing Buffalo's veteran safety is only happy to share the pluses of signing with the Bills, Josh Allen notwithstanding.
"It's one of the best places to play," said safety Micah Hyde, who just signed a two-year extension last week. "The fans are amazing. We live in Orchard Park where it's like a family. We love our neighbors. Our neighbors take care of us. It's just that type of atmosphere there.
"If they if they want to give me a call or slide into my D-Ms and ask me questions about Buffalo I'm all for it because we want to win Super Bowls. And if the guys want to be a part of it here we'd love for them to. So yeah I'm taking phone calls and they know what type of direction Buffalo's headed."