Believe it or not, some NFL executives believe the Buffalo Bills had a fine offseason retooling, restructuring, and rebuilding their roster.
ESPN Senior Writer Mike Sando polled “15 NFL executives, coaches and evaluators” to provide reports cards for every team.
Here’s his write up for the Bills (Insider subscription required):
“The Bills finally have a head coach (Sean McDermott) and general manager (Brandon Beane) who appear aligned philosophically. That greatly improves their chances for long-term success, a leading reason Buffalo gets a high grade here. The Bills also recommitted to quarterback Tyrod Taylor for at least another season after the team's previous leadership wavered on him. Why get worse at the most important position?
"The best decision they made was bringing back Tyrod," an exec said. "Losing [Mike] Gillislee does hurt a little bit. LeSean McCoy had a great year, but it would have been nice to give him more of a breather once in a while, and that becomes harder. Their draft was solid. [Tre'Davious] White, [Zay] Jones and [Dion] Dawkins, everyone agrees they will be pretty good players. Getting [Nathan] Peterman in the fifth was pretty good value. That made sense to me."
The Bills spent heavily for Micah Hyde heading into a draft that was packed with talent at the safety position. McDermott, a former defensive backs coach, must have really wanted a sure bet in the secondary after letting Gilmore walk out the door.”
The Patriots and Buccaneers each received an A-, the top grade in the NFL. The Bills and Packers were next in line with their B+ grade.
In all honesty, this grade for Buffalo surprises me, especially considering the holes in the depth portion of Buffalo’s safety, tight end, and edge-rusher spots. However, it’s refreshing to see a nuanced take from league executives.
I’ve found that depending on the team, the NFL offseason is a “damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t” proposition. For a team like the Bills that’s struggled for years, a “splashy” offseason is typically viewed as frivolous, unnecessarily aggressive, and simply not the proper way to build a team. But if that type of team doesn’t spend big in free agency, it’s viewed as being complacent with mediocrity.
The opposite is true in the analysis of recently successful teams.
Buffalo did have a strong draft, with three starters picked in the first three rounds, and a pro-ready quarterback grabbed in Round 5.
Also, the assessment of what the Bills did regarding Tyrod Taylor is another reminder that the NFL at large views him much more favorably than a large faction of fans in Buffalo.
I didn’t have an issue with the Bills letting Gilmore walk. He’s a quality cornerback who occasionally teetered between “quality” and “elite” status but typically faltered when Buffalo needed him most. The other (notable) secondary subtractions — Nickell Robey-Coleman, Aaron Williams, and Corey Graham — were logical. Robert Woods found himself in the proverbial “someone else will probably pay me more than you’d pay me” gray area, and that’s fine. He was a usually reliable No. 2 wideout but never emerged as a go-to secondary option and never commanded No. 1 receiver-like attention or produced at that level.
Buffalo handled the Mike Gillislee situation incorrectly, as another $900k for a second-round tender would have almost assured he’d have been on the roster this season. I do think they made the right decision not to match the Patriots offer though. Zach Brown was another polarizing loss for the Bills, but having graded almost all of the 2016 campaign, I can tell you the linebacker was a vastly different player in September/October than he was in November/December.
The Bills made an assortment of shrewd free-agent additions, but I think they could have spent a little more to add more second- and- third-string reinforcements. #MaclinWatch is the icing on the cake — going into a second with nearly $12 million in cap room is kind of useless for a team on the cusp of the playoffs, but the Maclin may get $6M - $8M of that.
To me, this new Bills regime realizes the team is close to being — to steal one of McDermott’s slogans — “playoff caliber” — but neither McDermott nor Brandon Beane and his newly formulated front office want to damage the long-term future in any way simply to go “all in” in 2017. Having a head coach and GM totally aligned philosophically is so important.
It wasn’t a splashy offseason for the Bills, they didn’t “overpay” for any questionable free-agents, and they had a prudent draft. They’re still woefully short of safety help, they could use another receiver and edge-rusher (and running back?) and have some question marks at corner.
But, overall this offseason, they were judicious in the vast majority of their decisions on their way to building a stable, consistent winner.