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Opinion: Bills GM Beane subscribes to “if at first you don’t succeed” method with defensive line

The Bills will have a good defensive line, by gosh.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” It’s a phrase said to children by their parents the first time they skin their knee riding a bike. It’s repeated when they don’t make the cut for the school basketball team and again when they don't win the spelling bee.

Bob and Cindy Beane must have said it to their son Brandon a time or two, because he believes in it when it comes to the Buffalo Bills’ defensive line.

When he arrived after the draft in 2017, general manager Brandon Beane looked at a Buffalo defensive line made up of Shaq Lawson, Kyle Williams, Adolphus Washington, Jerry Hughes, Eddie Yarbrough, Cap Capi, Ryan Davis, Rickey Hatley, and Beane’s only defensive line addition of 2017: Cedric Thorton.

Fast forward to 2018. The biggest signing of Beane’s free agency was defensive tackle Star Lotulelei to the tune of five years and $50 million. Trent Murphy was a big-ticket signing in hopes he could reclaim his previous form as a pass rusher following an injury. Edge rusher Owa Odighizuwa came over from the New York Giants. Defensive tackle Tenny Palepoi signed a one-year deal. In terms of dollars spent, defensive line far outweighed any other position group in spending for the Bills at Beane’s first crack at free agency. The starters that year on the defensive line were Murphy, Kyle Williams, Lotulelei, and Jerry Hughes with Mike Love, Shaq Lawson, Jordan Phillips, draft pick Harrison Phillips, and holdover Eddie Yarbrough. From 2017-2018, 56% of the Bills’ defensive line was turned over.

In 2019, the turnover on the defensive line continued, even though the free-agency focus was on the offensive side of the ball. Ed Oliver was the team’s ninth overall pick out of Houston, Darryl Johnson was the toolsy, long-limbed developmental rusher from North Carolina A&T in the seventh round, and the defensive line room turned over yet again, though not as significantly as the previous year. Corey Liuget and Vincent Taylor were the only other additions to the room, meaning the defensive line room had 3% turnover.

In 2020, after an offseason highlighted by the trade for former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs, Beane spent his first draft pick yet again on a defensive lineman, selecting Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa at pick 54 overall. But even before that pick, defensive tackles Quinton Jefferson, Vernon Butler and Justin Zimmer were added. Defensive end Mario Addison was brought in from Carolina. When the dust settled, 50% of the defensive line room had been turned over.

In 2021, there was a continued focus on both investment and turnover. The first two Bills draft picks were edge rushers (Gregory Rousseau and Boogie Basham). Efe Obada was added in free agency. Overall, the Bills experienced 30% turnover in the defensive line room.

The final rosters for 2022 are not yet set, of course. The draft picks have yet to be announced. But we shouldn’t be surprised that the largest Beane UFA signing is a defensive lineman in former Los Angeles Rams pass rusher Von Miller. The previous largest contract given by Beane to an unrestricted free agent was an offensive lineman (Mitch Morse). The one in third place? Another defensive lineman (Star Lotulelei). But fourth? Also a defensive lineman (Mario Addison). How about the contract in fifth place? A wide receiver (John Brown). And in sixth place, another defensive lineman (Trent Murphy).

There is a running theme since Brandon Beane took over: investment and turnover at the defensive line. High picks and big signings keep happening, because if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.