The Buffalo Bills under general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott have systematically and fundamentally shifted the culture of the team. This is obvious to anyone who was even a casual observer of the team during the Rex Ryan era, and the Doug Marrone era, and the Chan Gailey era, and the Dick Jauron era, and... well, you understand the point.
With this emphasis on character and culture, often dubbed “The Process,” some fans and pundits have taken to thinking that the Bills prioritize men of high character over all others when shaping the football roster. While that is certainly part of the equation, Beane took exception to that assertion in last week’s conference call with select members of the media.
Beane was asked about Buffalo’s newest wide receiver, veteran Stefon Diggs, who was openly dissatisfied with quarterback Kirk Cousins while with the Minnesota Vikings. On a team that seems to prioritize character as much as the Bills do, Diggs seems like a player who wouldn’t fit the culture, given his willingness to share his negative thoughts about his former club openly.
Rather than referring to Diggs as a “diva,” a notion that Beane rejected, he focused instead on setting the record straight about the kinds of players Buffalo wants on the roster.
“You know, I think one of the misnomers out there is that we’re looking for all choir boys and that’s not accurate,” Beane said. “We’re looking for professionals. I would say this about him; he’s a very competitive guy.... This guy’s a super competitive guy and brings an edge to that position. I know diva gets put into that position a lot, I would not call this guy a diva. I would call him more of I think what he was referring to Josh Allen is, as a dog.”
While plenty of Bills players are upstanding, charitable players, there are quite a few who are both upstanding people and fiery competitors. I’d be willing to wager that, as professional athletes, all of Buffalo’s players fit in the “fiery competitor” column, but I digress.
That particular quote led us to think about who the fieriest competitors on Buffalo’s current roster are. We narrowed it down to the following players.
“Gary” has always played on the borderline between fiery and reckless, as his numerous “major penalties” (unnecessary roughness, personal fouls, roughing the passer, and unsportsmanlike conduct) would indicate. Since joining the Bills in 2014, Hughes has had 11 such penalties accepted against him. He also went after a game official in 2018 after Roy Ellison, the official, called Hughes a “bitch” during Buffalo’s 21-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Hughes chased Ellison in the tunnel after the game, telling the official “I’ll catch you.” Hughes is the prime example of a Bills’ player who not only fits the team’s culture, but who plays with a definitive edge on Sundays.
The rookie right tackle’s most common descriptor coming out of college? Nasty. The big fella was one of two offensive linemen who always seemed to play to the whistle—and then through it—and then give a little extra when warranted. If there was a scrum on the field, chances are good that number 70 was in the middle of it. Ford showed promise in an up-and-down rookie year, but the area where he stood out most was that nasty streak draft pundits noted before Buffalo selected him No. 38 overall.
The other offensive lineman who was always looking for some extra was Feliciano. This should have been obvious, as chances are good that anyone whose nickname is “Mongo” is going to love hitting people. Every time a defensive player looked to take an extra shot at quarterback Josh Allen, Feliciano was the first guy over to shut things down. He’s another guy who played all the way through the whistle last year.
While his fire has yet to be seen in a Bills uniform, the “dog” mentality that Beane mentions is exactly what Diggs showed during his time with the Minnesota Vikings. Fighting his way up from a fifth-round draft choice to one of the two top targets (along with Adam Thielen) in Minnesota’s prolific passing attack was no fluke. Diggs is a prime example of the old adage: it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. Diggs has plenty of fight in him.
Speaking of fights, Norman is perhaps most remembered for his literal fisticuffs with All-Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. while playing with the Carolina Panthers. He also got into it during practice with Cam Newton, a story Beane mentioned during his press conference. Never one to shy away from controversy, Norman is a veteran who doesn’t quite fit the traditional “leadership” mold of the veterans Buffalo has sought previously. As the elder statesman in the defensive back room, he will serve as a de facto leader given his veteran status. Another former fifth-round draft pick, Norman’s chip on his shoulder has fueled him throughout his career.
Allen plays the part of humble farm boy quite well, but when you watch him on the field, particularly when he’s lowering his shoulder to forge ahead for extra yards, that’s when you see the dog come out. There have been multiple occasions over his young career where Allen has shown that fire—the Jalen Ramsey-inspired celebration when scoring the go-ahead touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018 and his reaction after picking up an impossible fourth down against the Dallas Cowboys last Thanksgiving chief among them. Allen’s leadership style may best embody what McDermott and Beane’s culture truly is. He’s cool, calm, and professional while with the media, but when the game begins, he is ready to run through a brick wall to make sure the team wins.
I almost left him off the list, but I just can’t. Oliver plays with a motor that runs as hot as an Arizona summer, and while he may not find trouble as a result like Hughes does, that doesn’t mean that he isn’t feisty. Even when Oliver speaks, he does so with the unbridled enthusiasm of someone who’s just ready to give his entire effort into whatever he’s talking about. Oliver’s fire led to some trouble when he was in college—the video of him going after Houston coach Major Applewhite over a jacket on the sidelines had people talking about Oliver’s character and Applewhite’s coaching ability—but that was an isolated incident that was blown out of proportion. Oliver is a perfect fit, both defensively and culturally, in Buffalo.