With the Buffalo Bills bowing out in the NFL’s divisional round for the second straight season, the organization should probably be in a place where it takes a meaningful look in the mirror. When you have an exceptional quarterback like Josh Allen, not even qualifying for pro football’s final four in two consecutive winters would sound the alarm bells for most teams.
That doesn’t appear to be the case for Buffalo BM Brandon Beane, who might be a little delusional about where his franchise tried and failed to reach the top of the Super Bowl summit.
During the Bills’ season-ending press conference on Tuesday, Beane spoke to a gaggle of reporters as he reflected on what’s next for one of the NFL’s premier teams. When Beane was asked if he wanted to pursue the Cincinnati Bengals’ make-up in having two bona fide WR1s in Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins for the Bills — he seemingly did everything but see the forest for the trees:
here’s the question and answer for context. pic.twitter.com/eawRG9Wi0t
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) January 24, 2023
Oh. Man. That is brutal to hear from a football executive that some profess to be one of the best around these days. Let’s rewind this silly answer while remembering that Stefon Diggs had a paltry four catches for 35 yards (just one in the second half) as Cincinnati crushed the Bills’ Super Bowl hopes on Sunday:
“They [the Bengals], right now, are on the advantage of a rookie quarterback contract,” Beane said. “And, you know, they had some lean years. And without getting too much into their build, I don’t want to suck bad enough to have to get a Ja’Marr Chase. He’s a heck of a talent, and I’d love to have him, but you’ve gotta go through some lean years to do that. They were able to get Burrow one, and I don’t remember where Chase was drafted, and those guys [Chase and Higgins] were on rookie deals. We’re paying Stefon Diggs a pretty hefty number. We’re paying Josh Allen a pretty hefty number. So, there are the constraints of the [salary] cap. But they have a really good team and some really good young players.”
I don’t understand why Beane seemed to be avoidant by discussing financial and on-field excuses for leaving Allen with few legit pass targets outside of Diggs. Sure, the Bengals are indeed reaping the draft-pick benefits of a 2019-2020 regular-season stretch where they won a combined six games. Chase (a 2021 top-five pick), Higgins (the No. 33 overall pick in 2020, who Beane undoubtedly ignores mentioning because of that lower draft status), and Joe Burrow (the top pick in the 2020 draft) likely never call Cincinnati home if the Bengals didn’t previously lose so much.
But the Bills had a golden opportunity to maximize a poor situation regardless of how the Bengals “sucked badly” to qualify for two straight Championship Sundays.
After a six-win campaign in 2018, Buffalo could’ve added any number of receivers in the 2019 draft. First, they would instead select Ed Oliver as a defensive line anchor with the No. 9 selection — a player who had one whole tackle against several Bengals’ backup offensive linemen in a playoff battle. Then, with multiple Pro Bowl-level receivers on the board in A.J. Brown, Mecole Hardman, D.K. Metcalf, Diontae Johnson, and Terry McLaurin, the Bills opted for offensive tackle Cody Ford in the second round. Ford, a premium second-round selection, now plays guard for the Arizona Cardinals. (Not good!)
Even if the Bills were slightly better in 2018 by drafting any of those noted pass targets, that wouldn’t have necessarily taken them out of the running to still trade for Diggs in the ensuing offseason. Never mind that Allen and Diggs, whose contracts Beane specifically highlights as huge problems, were still on their rookie deals before this strange press conference. That, unfortunately, will change in 2023 when Allen’s cap hit jumps to roughly $39 million while Diggs ascends to $20.2 million. Neither of Allen or Diggs’ contracts was a valid comparison to Burrow, Chase, and Higgins’ individual situations in the least. If Beane thought it was hard to add more quality receivers before, it’d take a Yeoman’s effort now.
Plus, affordable and complimentary receivers hit the open free-agent market all the time. Unlike traditional foundational pieces like pass rushers or tackles, organizations are usually willing to let bona fide WR2s and otherwise test the waters. The Kansas City Chiefs were supposed to be in a “rebuilding” year after trading Tyreek Hill, and they added 78 catches and over 900 yards from JuJu Smith-Schuster for $3.7 million and barely missed a beat en route to their fifth consecutive AFC title game.
If Beane was so concerned with salary cap space in regards to adding solid receivers opposite Diggs — an issue that was valid even last spring — why did he sign Human Turnstile Rodger Saffold (who got beat like a drum by the Cincinnati DL) to a sizable contract last March? Why did he give mid-30s Von Miller $45 million guaranteed, who will now carry a minimum $20 million cap hit until he’s 38?
In this case, the game is actually played in a vacuum. Beane undoubtedly could’ve been more proactive in giving Allen legit weapons instead of eventually isolating him on a snowy island. What Beane’s word salad about the Bengals having better skill players than the Bills screams to me is a man rationalizing his shortcomings. Pretending otherwise won’t do him any favors.
Beane knows Gabriel Davis — a flashy but inconsistent burner — on a $610,000 deal wasn’t enough opposite Diggs. Beane knows they asked Allen to create magic out of thin air more than was sustainable. Beane knows the Bills’ fatal flaws are on his plate and are his fault.
You don’t need to be the worst team in the league to add promising talent where required. You just need to be honest about your flaws to address them properly down the line. In that respect, seeing how Beane blatantly deflected from an obvious playmaking issue: it might be a long offseason in Buffalo.