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How Brandon Beane rebuilt the Buffalo Bills

It’s all coming into focus.

Cincinnati Bengals v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

As general manager Brandon Beane approaches the third anniversary of being hired by the Buffalo Bills, fans of the team have enough data on his maneuvers and tendencies to ably paint a clear picture of him as a general manager. He’s shown the fan base what’s in his DNA and what core and foundational priorities and principles inform his decision making.

Using this information, an outline can be drawn as to what his initial plan laid out for the Pegulas may have sounded like. If who he is now is who he was in 2017 when he was hired, then taking a moment to examine the footprints he’s left behind in the Bills’ franchise history books should yield some interesting findings.

Let’s hop in our time machine and travel back to Thursday May 4th, 2017 to speculate on what Beane may have outlined for owners Terry and Kim Pegula.

Step one: Bring in top front office talent

The most underappreciated members of a sport organization are those in the front office who don’t stand in front of the media regularly. People like Joe Schoen, Lake Dawson and Brian Gaine are rising stars in this profession. The job of a GM is not only about selecting talented players; it’s about selecting talented decision makers and putting ego aside to make sure the brightest minds can collaborate on decisions that are best for the franchise.

Step two: Evaluate current roster

Being on the same page with the head coach and their staff is incredibly important to prevent gaps in player evaluation and assumptions that can lead to misused talent and wasted opportunities. The first step will be to get McDermott’s feedback on the current status of the locker room, strengths and weaknesses, flaws in leadership and/or area of concern. This is also where McDermott’s opinion on the state of the quarterback position can be obtained. The NFL is a passing league and the best way to give your team a chance to compete for a Super Bowl year in and year out is to have a franchise quarterback. This is an important first step and will help build the necessary foundation for all football decisions moving forward.

Step three: Remove process-inhibiting players, system misfits; accumulate assets and take cap medicine

If, as it’s suspected, the Bills’ franchise quarterback is not currently on the roster, assets will need to be accumulated in an attempt to make sure the acquisition of said quarterback isn’t based only on the fate of your team’s win/loss record. In an attempt to kill two birds with one stone, players who the head coach and GM are unsure will be able to carry the team message to the locker room and players who might not fit the team’s systems can be traded. Players like Sammy Watkins, Marcell Dareus, and Ronald Darby would be able to fetch reasonable draft capital and even tackle Cordy Glenn might be a trade piece down the line.

This is where tough decisions need to be made. Some of the players jettisoned might leave the team with notable amounts of dead money, limiting the ability to spend as much the first year as would be preferred.

This is where an important caveat comes into play: being able to obtain players who can help the team win as a part of these deals is very important for the team culture, even if it means a slightly worse draft-pick package coming from the other organization. The players who are in the locker room play hard every week with the idea that the franchise is trying to win, and any view from them that the team is “tanking” can greatly damage the cultural foundation put into practice at One Bills Drive.

Step four: Remain open to audibles in the plan based on team performance and cognizance of the current Buffalo playoff drought

Things aren’t always going to go according to plan. In this first year, the team could go 5-11 or they could go 9-7. It’s important to be flexible as a general manager and not be so stuck on a plan that you can’t make audibles to take advantage of opportunities. If the team has a better-than-expected record at the trade deadline and someone like Kelvin Benjamin were to become available, it would behoove the person in charge to remain open to that possibility, especially if the receiving corps is lackluster and the offense needs a spark. The current playoff drought weighs on the Buffalo fan base and the organization like a malaise and the opportunity to get that monkey off their backs would easily be worth, say, a third- and seventh-round pick.

Step five: Inject message carrier players at positions of need

After the first year, the head coach and the front office will have a pretty good feel for the team, both on paper and in the locker room. Finding players who can fill needs on the depth chart as well as carry the message given by leadership down through the locker room will be important. Overpaying may be necessary to bring a player in from a general manager’s previous stop in Carolina because as a top free-agent signing, he’ll be able to come in at a position of need, play meaningful snaps, and show the rest of the locker room what types of players will get paid in this organization moving forward.

Step six: Identify and acquire franchise quarterback and defensive cornerstone

Sean McDermott’s previous organization had their most success with teams built around a franchise quarterback in Cam Newton and a franchise middle linebacker in Luke Kuechly. Any general manager coming in should obviously work with him and the offensive and defensive staff to identify players at those positions who can lead the team in the next decade of Bills football and hopefully to a Super Bowl. At this stage, assets will have been accumulated (some by the maneuvers previously mentioned and some by Sean McDermott’s trade down with the Kansas City Chiefs before this interview) to be able to target and pursue the players the organization wants instead of hoping the board falls in a fortuitous way.

Step seven: Build offense around franchise quarterback strengths with non-developmental players

Isolating the variable is important in science experiments, and building a team shares notable similarities with tinkering in a lab. If a young quarterback is acquired in the draft, having him develop alongside players who are not also themselves developing helps to isolate the progress the quarterback is or is not making. By this time in the plan, any deficiencies in the offense around the quarterback should be well-established and with the cap recovered from the decisions earlier in this outline, money can be freely spent on established players along the offensive line and at wide receiver to enhance the positive traits in said quarterback. If, for example, the quarterback has a rocket arm and tends to hold the ball longer, obtaining a receiver who can separate in the short area and visually present himself to the quarterback might be a good investment.

Step eight: Acquire talent to polish roster and ascertain status of franchise quarterback while preparing for potential QB contract decision

You don’t draft a quarterback with the intention of not signing him to a second contract, and in the National Football League, quarterback contracts are albatross payouts that need to be carefully planned. While any general manager who gets to this spot in the plan wants to polish the roster and get it primed for a Super Bowl run, they must remain aware that the potential for that contract is coming. Signing that third wave of free agents to shorter contracts or deals that can be moved without significant dead money will be important because while the team wants the talent to help ascertain whether the quarterback they drafted (who is now in his third year) is indeed the franchise quarterback worthy of a long-term second deal, they also want the flexibility to be able to make the deal without hurting their roster flexibility more than is necessary. If the team is able to trade for a big offensive talent on a reasonable contract, that would be ideal at this step. If these players we acquire aren’t able to be retained at the end of their deals, the compensatory picks the team receives in their place will go a long way toward making sure lower-cost players can be brought in alongside our newly-paid franchise quarterback. Even if we inquire about an All-Pro receiver and a national insider reports we’re “closing in” on a deal, we should still keep pursuing top-flight talent to help our young quarterback hit the next level.

Things might not always go swimmingly. The organization might lose an offensive line stalwart to an unexpected career-ending injury or fall out of favor with an offensive player who would really help solidify the protection for our quarterback, but the foundational principles of this plan are solid and can be followed despite any setbacks.

This is how an organization rebuilds. This is how a moribund franchise goes from basement dwellers and laughing stocks to playoff caliber and Super Bowl hopeful.

It’s all part of the plan.

...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan for Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter @BruceExclusive and look for episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” every week on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!