BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Expectations for the 2022 Buffalo Bills are sky-high.
Looking ahead at which teams project to be best next season has already started, despite the new league year still a month away and the Super Bowl on the horizon.
Per Caesar's Sportsbook, the Bills have the second-best odds to win the Super Bowl next year, (+700) behind the Kansas City Chiefs (+650).
After losing in overtime to the Chiefs in the playoffs, the Bills will have a bad taste in their mouths for a long time, no matter how good they are coming into next season.
"It hurt watching the [AFC title] game and it's going to hurt watching the Super Bowl knowing what could have been," quarterback Josh Allen said at this week's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. "But again, we move on, we'll learn from it and we'll use it to our advantage."
Outside of learning from the loss, the Bills have some work to do to fill holes on the roster and improve in key areas. The roster largely carried over from 2020 to 2021, but there will likely be more change this offseason.
Here are three priorities the Bills need to address:
The Bills' depth at cornerback was tested when Tre'Davious White suffered a season-ending ACL tear Thanksgiving night. That left Levi Wallace and Dane Jackson as the only starting-caliber outside corners on the roster.
Wallace is scheduled to become a free agent and might end up getting more money elsewhere. While White is on schedule with his recovery, the team should be prepared for him to not be completely healthy when training camp comes around.
"Probably the biggest emphasis is Tre'Davious coming off an ACL, where will that be in August? Will he be able to practice some, will he be full, will he definitely be ready to go Game 1, you never know with those things," general manager Brandon Beane said. "He's on track, he's here every day, he's working hard, he's super competitive, we're very confident he will be, but still a long way to go, so it's definitely something I'll pay attention to in free agency.
"Levi's a free agent, he tested the waters last year, we were able to get him back. He's a guy we'll definitely talk to and would love to get him back if he wants to be back. ... Either way, we'll continue to look for depth at the corner position."
Beane didn't draft an outside cornerback early last year, as it didn't fit based on the team's draft board. This offseason, it makes sense for the Bills to address the spot during free agency and the draft.
If Wallace does sign elsewhere, they will need a player who can compete against Jackson for the other starting role in camp, in addition to finding depth.
The defensive line could see new talent added again this offseason, with tackle Harrison Phillips and end Jerry Hughes set to become free agents. And tackle Star Lotulelei could be released, saving the team more than $4 million in cap space in 2022 and $6.35 million in 2023 if cut after June 1, per Overthecap. He's one of the team's top run defenders but did not play as well this year after testing positive for COVID-19. Buffalo might also get creative in restructuring certain deals so it can spend some in free agency.
The Bills got younger at defensive end last offseason, drafting Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham with their first two picks of the 2021 draft. But it shouldn't come as a surprise if Beane invests in the line again this offseason.
While Buffalo finished the season with the No. 1 overall defense and the second-most quarterback hurries (93), it lacks a dominant pass-rusher who opposing teams need to worry about coming off the edge.
Rousseau is developing and could become someone who stacks sacks, and Beane challenged Basham to compete for a starting role next season, but the Bills need to add more players who can get to the quarterback.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said they were careful with the amount Hughes and the team's sack leader, Mario Addison (7), played early in the season to keep them fresh for the end of the year. Re-signing someone like Phillips and bringing in additional talent would make sense.
"That’s a position that tends to get banged up, very similar to the skilled positions, in a different way albeit," coach Sean McDermott said. "It was nice to have some of the depth, but what we really have to do is develop some of those young players so that we can continue to effect the quarterback. And that will be a goal of ours -- will continue to be a goal. ... The importance of how well you play up front on both sides of the ball is critical to your team's success."
Kansas City's quickness was an issue for the Bills in their playoff matchup.
During Beane's end of season news conference, he spoke multiple times about looking for players with speed and how the Chiefs have done a good job of finding that for their roster.
"We mentioned [Chiefs receiver] Tyreek Hill. I mean, you'd love to have a guy ... that you can get the ball to and he can turn a 5-yard pass into a 60-yard touchdown," Beane said. "You can never have enough of that."
The Bills finished last in yards after catch per reception in 2021 (4.3). Wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie added speed and another dimension, but he got involved in the offense too late in the year and is also set to hit free agency. Buffalo's wide receiver room might lose multiple pieces with Emmanuel Sanders and Jake Kumerow also not under contract for next year. Beane said he "anticipates" Cole Beasley, who will be 33 when the season starts, returning for his 11th NFL season.
Throughout the 2021 season, too much of the offense was put on Allen's shoulders. This offense could potentially take a step forward under new coordinator Ken Dorsey, especially if the receivers and running backs are able to pick up more yardage after the catch. Additional weapons who can stretch the field or pick up significant yards, as Beane described, would be a big boost.