The Buffalo Bills ended their offseason program on June 15. Here’s a look at how they fared:
Offseason goals/grade: When the Bills fired former coach Rex Ryan on Dec. 27, owner Terry Pegula sought a new coach who would, in many ways, be the opposite of Ryan: meticulous, humble and able to instill discipline in his players. The Bills believe they have that leader in Sean McDermott, formerly the Carolina Panthers' defensive coordinator. In the front office, Pegula retained former general manager Doug Whaley until the conclusion of April's draft before replacing him with Brandon Beane, formerly the Panthers' assistant general manager. The result of McDermott and Beane's hirings has been extensive change. Only one coach (special teams coordinator Danny Crossman) and five scouts remain in 2017 from the Bills' 2016 staffs. Pegula's message in his first three years as owner was to maintain continuity within his organization, but the Bills instead opted for dramatic turnover this offseason. If that was their goal, they accomplished it. Grade: A-minus
Move I liked: I think most teams in the NFL would have accepted the Kansas City Chiefs' offer during the first round of the draft to add a 2018 first-round selection by moving down from No. 10 to No. 27. However, the Bills' decision still marks a departure from how the team had done business in previous years. Whaley notably traded his 2015 first-round selection to move up from No. 9 to No. 4 in the 2014 draft to take wide receiver Sammy Watkins, whose career has been marred by injury and steadier production by receivers (particularly Odell Beckham Jr.) drafted after him. Under Whaley and the once-stronger influence of team president Russ Brandon, the Bills seemed more focused on the quick fix than having a long-term plan. While Whaley was technically in his final days of his Bills tenure when Buffalo made the trade with Kansas City in April, you can bet McDermott had a heavy hand in the move with his former boss, Andy Reid. That 2018 first-round pick could now be a valuable trade chip for McDermott and Beane to find their franchise quarterback, if Tyrod Taylor is not it.
Move I didn’t like: When he was hired in May, Beane told reporters that he would like to build his team through the draft, which is largely what the Panthers did to make their Super Bowl run in 2015. The Bills are on track to do that, but I believe they might have been overzealous in their free-agent approach this past March. Deals for safeties Micah Hyde ($6.1 million per season with $14 million guaranteed) and Jordan Poyer ($3.25 million per season with $6 million guaranteed) might be questioned down the road if either player does not excel in their projected roles as full-time starters. The Bills might have also cost themselves a chance at 2018 third- and fourth-round compensatory draft picks for losing cornerback Stephon Gilmore and wide receiver Robert Woods in free agency because they signed too many unrestricted free agents this offseason. For a team that is focused on long-term roster building, the Bills' free-agent approach might have been a notch too aggressive.
Biggest question still to be answered in training camp: Does this team have the depth to withstand injuries to starters? An annual Bills tradition by mid-August is to have several key starters sidelined by injuries in training camp, often tempering expectations leading into the regular season. Buffalo has talent at its skill positions -- running back LeSean McCoy, wide receiver Watkins and tight end Charles Clay -- but each of those players has been affected to varying extents by injuries over the past two seasons. The Bills' loss of Mike Gillislee in free agency leaves them without a proven No. 2 option behind McCoy, while depth at receiver and tight end should also be a concern. The issue is more glaring on defense, where is there is a considerable drop off behind starting defensive ends Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson, as well as safeties Hyde and Poyer. The Bills are far from the least-talented team in the NFL, yet at the moment, it seems fair to say they have one of the thinner and more fragile rosters in the league. Perhaps training camp will reveal something different.
Salary-cap space: $12,643,172 (source: Overthecap.com)
Undrafted rookie free agents signed: RB Jordan Johnson, G Greg Pyke, DT Nigel Williams, TE Keith Towbridge, G Zach Voytek, TE Jason Croom, P/K Austin Rehkow, S B.T. Sanders, WR Daikiel Shorts, DT Marquavius Lewis, CB Marcus Sayles, WR Brandon Reilly.
Restricted free agents signed: None.
Players acquired via trade: None.