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Bills invest NFL Draft picks for long-term, not short-term impact

GM Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott have lived it

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills are way more interested in the long-term impact of an NFL Draft prospect than the short-term gains, even with first-round picks. General manager Brandon Beane said it on Tuesday, he said it in 2021, and the team has lived it on the field with the majority of their players since head coach Sean McDermott joined the team.

“No, not really. You’re just looking for good players,” Beane said Tuesday morning on WGR 550 when asked if their Super Bowl window meant that they needed to add a player who could contribute immediately. “Free agency is probably where you can say, ‘Hey, we’ll spend a little more here and we’ll fill this here.’ The draft is more of a long-term approach. You’re drafting a guy in the first round that you would hope you’re at least picking up their fifth-year option and you’ve got him for five years. So you’re not looking for a short-term fix.”

Head coach Sean McDermott has backed up that philosophy in the years they have shared in Buffalo. Looking at Beane’s picks as GM, the only exception to the rule has been linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who was in the starting linebacker spot to open training camp in 2018. The rest have had to play their way into the lineup as rookies. Greg Rousseau played 50% of the snaps as a rookie, rotating in with Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison. Their first-round pick in 2020 was traded for Stefon Diggs, but second-rounder A.J. Epenesa played just 27% of the snaps in his rookie season. Ed Oliver played the same number of snaps as veteran 3-tech Jordan Phillips in 2019 in an even rotation. Josh Allen didn’t start the 2018 season, but quickly took over for a floundering Nathan Peterman.

The comments aren’t new from Beane. He said the same thing a year ago.

“We’ll think long term more than short term,” Beane said in April 2021. “I think there’s some other guys we have on the board, where we’re going: ‘This guy’s one heck of a player, but he’s not going to start Day 1, but we will count on him and maybe in a year he’s going to be the starter.’ We’ll have a player that’s on the last year of their deal, and he’ll kind of back up that player, learn from him, compete with him, but we don’t necessarily expect him to start.”

Another hallmark of Beane’s long-term plan in the Draft is the selection of younger first-round picks. None of his first-round picks had hit age 22 when they were picked.

One of the ways Beane has been able to continue to restock for the future is by adding cheap, low-cost veterans for the present, plugging in players on one-year deals to satisfy the need and drafting a player to develop to take over. It’s one reason the Bills don’t have a super-obvious need on their roster right now—they’ve added veterans at all of their positions of need.

With multiple position groups in need of 2023 reinforcements, it makes it harder to nail down the picks for the Bills in 2022. Safety, running back, cornerback, defensive tackle, guard, tight end, slot receiver, and punter/holder all could fit the mold.