Behind the methodical strategy, the Bills have been poised to compete for years

ORCHARD PARK, NY – After Sean McDermott won his first game as an NFL head coach, a 20-12 victory over the New York Jets in the 2017 season opener, long defensive tackle Kyle Williams He threw a game ball to the Buffalo Bills’ most recent series of coaches. The series, in the midst of a 17-year drought — the longest in American professional sports history — has seen a lot of characters come and go.

“First win. In class. More,” said Williams.

Williams’ words proved true. McDermott has led the Bills to 64 wins since being let out of coach Ron Rivera’s defensive tackle with the Charlotte Panthers. He worked well with Brandon Bean, whom the Bills hired just prior to the 2017 season to be general manager after 19 seasons with Charlotte.

In the six seasons since then, the Bills have developed into a consistent contender.

“I hadn’t been to the playoffs before I was here,” said the safety Jordan Boyer, who joined the Bills as a free agent in 2017 after four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns. “And so, as I said, to be here, this is my sixth year here, and to go to the playoffs for five years, it’s very special.”

But before they make it to the postseason, the Bills face a crucial Monday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/ESPN2/ESPN+). The combined 23 wins between the two teams is the most tied going into a Monday night game. The score will go a long way towards determining the best seed ranking in the AFC. If the Bills win their last two games, they’ll be No. 1.

Buffalo has gone from its longest playoff drought to controlling its own destiny for the top seed in six seasons. How did this team come together and how long can it realistically deal with this core of players?

“Most guys have a chip on their shoulder, like we weren’t always the golden child,” the left tackle Deon Dawkins He said from the list of bills. “I was thinking, We don’t have Alabama guys, we don’t have any of that superpower… It’s like we’ve got a lot of underdogs. A lot of underdogs make a giant dog.”

Shaq Lawson spend The first four years of his career in Buffalo after being drafted in the first round in 2016. The defensive end left in 2020 to sign a three-year, $30 million deal with the Miami Dolphins.

Lawson’s time away from the Bills was short-lived, however. He re-signed with Buffalo this season thanks to an improved culture.

“to watch [the Bills] Last year, watching these guys play, it’s like, ‘Okay, I’m going to come back here. It’s something special.'” Lawson said…. Coach McDermott changed the culture very well, and it was nothing but winning. … So Seeing this grow from a rookie to going into my seventh year in the league, man, it’s just something you want to be a part of.”

When McDermott began coaching the Bills, he prioritized setting a benchmark and showing early prospects. This is what he saw when he coached under Andy Reid with the Philadelphia Eagles. In addition to knowing more now than he did when he started as head coach, McDermott said, the trust that was built between the players and the coaching staff allowed for more player involvement and adjustments in how things were done.

“Once [McDermott] He kind of planted his guys and they were able to, I wouldn’t say I take over a little bit, I think a little bit, and I let the lads step up,” Josh Allen He said. “He’s been so cool in that aspect and again, just the changes in how we meet and how we talk to each other, it all starts from him. But the trust he has in us, it’s infectious and guys really appreciate it.”

What the Bills have created under the Beane-McDermott System is a prime example of roster building for prolonged success. The team has been fully delivered since McDermott and Beane took over with a focus on drafting, developing and re-signing players. On the team’s roster, 49.1% (26 of 53) of players have been drafted by the Bills, the ninth most home runs in the league.

The team was quick to transition from the list of players on the 2016 roster; Four were on the 2019 team and one is today in Lawson.

Most of the Bills’ key players came through the draft, but they’ve also added slick free agents. In 2017, the Billings brought free agent security Micah Hyde (injured reserve) and Boyer, who became leaders in a defense that has undergone great changes, especially up front. noon corner Tre’Davious WhiteDawkins and full back Matt Milano They were all drafted that year and are now in their second deals with the team.

“Me, Milano, Trey, we’re energy guys, like, we’re characters,” Dawkins said. “We make so much of such a team. I know, personally, I take it with so much pride and respect that I was one of the first. But I think we weren’t smaller pieces, but we were the needed pieces.”

White, a 2019 All-Pro who returned to form after ACL surgery in 2021 on his left knee, and Milano, who is often overlooked as a top quarterback, have become defensive cornerstones. A 2021 Pro Bowler, Dawkins provided much-needed offensive stability at the left tackle position, a blindside protector for the quarterback. But in 2018, the Bills were still looking for that franchise quarterback.

They went all out to do it in the draft, first trading from No. 21 to No. 12 and then going draft night to No. 7 in a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. quarterback Baker Mayfield And the Sam Darnold She was already off the plate, leaving the Bills to choose between them Josh Rosenand allen f Lamar Jackson, among others. Bills Allen of Wyoming selected seventh.

Buffalo Allen took on despite concerns about his accuracy (he completed 56.2% of passes in college) and the level of competition he faced in the Mountain West Conference. But Bills thinks he was a decent fit, considering his physicality, competitiveness, intelligence and chip on his shoulder. The team put him in a stable environment, working with the same offensive coordinator (now New York Giants head coach Brian Dabul) for the first four years of his career.

“It was just a match made for work,” Allen said. “I’m in this great city here in Buffalo, and I kind of try to embody what the city is: blue-collar, hardworking, and don’t complain, like, minded mentality. My goal has always been to play this game for as long as possible.”

It was Beane’s most successful draft start, which also includes a linebacker Tremaine EdmondsNickel angle Taron Johnson And a special teams player/corner Siran Neil.

“Most of us were recruited to this team in class of 18,” Neal said. “We’re leaders who lead by example. There’s not much to talk about, we know we have to do, and you’ve got one hell of a ride in the middle, it’s that boy.”

With key players in some of the more difficult positions to fill — quarterback, left tackle and corner shutdown — the Bills looked to add players they could put them over the top.

In this offseason, they added Von Miller to a $120 million deal to be the difference maker in games that must be won. He made an impact early and mostly in 12 games before losing the season due to a right knee injury.

Perhaps the most impactful move was the addition of a No. 1 receiver for Allen in 2020 by trading a first-round pick and more for Stephen Diggs. is similar to Ja’Marr Chase for Joe BurrowDiggs has been a key component to Allen’s success since 2020, fourth in receiving yards (4,085) and sixth in receiving touchdowns (28) since then.

“All I can say is that what got us to this point was the work ethic and having that honest and real relationship,” Diggs said. “Not the one you see on TV. The one I’m saying, you really have someone to support you… Quarterback and receiver, that’s one of the best relationships you can have.”

Billing is not Copying the Los Angeles Rams’ heavy trade approach to winning a title. This is not a blanket position.

“I want to get to the Super Bowl every year,” Bean said before the season, “but we can win the Super Bowl this year and we’ll fight very hard to get back there next year.” “No move we’ve taken this year has been comprehensive, you’d better do it now. Like if we have a plan and we’ll still be competitive. That’s the plan… I don’t know a case where I’d say, ‘Let’s shove all our chips to the board and the table and let’s do everything now.'” And don’t worry about next year. “That’s not what we do. I promise.”

What does the future of this team look like?

During training camp in 2021, the Bills signed Allen to a six-year, $258 million extension with a $150 million guarantee. Allen’s deal came after he put together an MVP-caliber season in 2020, improving his completion percentage from 58.8% in 2019 to 69.2%.

After the deal was signed, Allen’s cap for 2021 was lowered to $16.4 million after he crossed the cap by $10 million in 2020. These smaller cap numbers allowed the Bills more flexibility in roster building.

But the effect of the deal will really start to feel in 2023, when Allen will account for nearly $40 million in Bills cap space. This number will increase in the next two years, as is also expected. But what Allen deserves will have an impact on the rest of the Bills roster.

The majority of the Bills’ major contributors are under contract for 2023, but there will be important decisions to be made, particularly on defence. Edmunds and Poyer are both slated to become free agents. While Edmonds is lacking some of the plays Bell had hoped for, he is instrumental in defense. Poyer asked for a contract extension this off-season, but there was no agreement. While he had his first Pro Bowl season this year, the 31-year-old has been plagued by a variety of injuries, missing four games this season.

When attacking, he started running backwards Devin Singletary He is set to become a free agent and the team will need to add depth at wide receiver, which has been missing this year, and on the inside offensive line.

According to ESPN roster management, the Bills have the 10 least available space next year. While the cap is expected to rise for all teams, the Bills will have many holes to fill and many players on expensive contracts to pay. Keeping the core together will become more difficult.

But for now, the goal remains as high as ever, and that continues in a big way in Cincinnati.

“We’re taking it one game at a time,” McDermott said when asked what the bill made of. “I appreciate what you say. I really do. Now is not the time for us indoors—and you have to be careful of that, relaxation syndrome. You have to keep it going, you have to stay prompt in your approach, put in the work necessary to win.”

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