The following is an article posted by our partners at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle after Leo Roth interviewed Bills general manager, Brandon Beane.
ORCHARD PARK — Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane warned everyone that his team hadn’t “arrived.’’
Making the playoffs last season in his and head coach Sean McDermott’s first season in charge was certainly historic and euphoric. It saw the Bills’ epic 17-year playoff drought come to a merciful end.
But what it was not was the start of something big.
Because of personnel decisions made before, during and after the 2017 season, coupled with a few unfortunate roster developments that hit Beane like a blindside pass rusher, the Bills entered a place that is to NFL teams what Attica is to criminals: salary cap jail.
Hamstrung by more than $50 million in “dead’’ cap money – that’s money the Bills must account for on their books for more than 40 players no longer with the team due to trades, cuts and retirements – improving the roster through free agency had its limits.
Beane spent on defense (it shows) and not so much on offense (it shows).
The young GM who cut his teeth helping build the Carolina Panthers into a perennial playoff team and Super Bowl contender, isn’t shirking his role in Buffalo’s 2-7 season.
Decisions to part ways with Marcell Dareus ($13.6 million of dead money), Cordy Glenn ($9.6 million), Tyrod Taylor ($7.7), Reggie Ragland ($1.2 million) and Ronald Darby ($400,000) among many others, were cases of moving on with different players who fit he and coach Sean McDermott’s vision. (Sammy Watkins’ $5.6-million dead money hit was swallowed last season).
In the process, draft pick capital was stockpiled, a good chunk of it spent by Beane on draft day maneuvers to select quarterback Josh Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, their cornerstones on offense and defense.
As for veteran star center and team leader Eric Wood ($10.4 million) developing a career-ending neck injury and retiring, that was out of Beane’s control.
So was cornerback Vontae Davis deciding to retire at halftime of a game and pouring $2.4 million onto the books that has impacted in-season moves.
According to Spotrac.com, Buffalo’s current $58.6 million in dead money is by the far the most in the NFL.
The silver lining?
Just like Monopoly, teams that suffer through seasons like this are given “Get Out of Jail’’ cards. Next season, the Bills are projected to be among the top three teams with most cap space, meaning free agency will be like Christmas shopping with a no-limit credit card (within reason of course).
Coupled with an abundance of draft picks and most likely a Top 5 overall pick, Beane will have positioned himself to improve Buffalo’s roster with a vengeance. A significant turnaround in 2019 — Year 3 of the McBeane Era — is the expectation, providing, of course, Allen lives up to his potential as a No. 7 pick.
One thing is for certain, Beane, 44, is determined to stay the course with his plan, no matter how painful this season becomes, no matter how loud critics become.
“I can’t control what people think,’’ Beane said. “You have to understand that we have a plan, we’re going to execute that plan, and to me the dumbest thing would be to abort a plan because your offense is struggling or that you’re 2-7.’’
The Democrat and Chronicle caught up with Beane this week. Here are some of his observations, edited for clarity and space.
Q: The perception is that the Bills bungled the quarterback position from the start by signing A.J. McCarron as the veteran mentor until Josh Allen was ready. Now there are four quarterbacks on the roster out of necessity. Why trade McCarron to begin with?
A: “It’s not an easy move. You’re trying to make the best decision for your team. A.J. came here to be the starter, and we were great with that, but you try to have the best competition you can through practice and preseason games. Unfortunately, in preseason you may only have four of the 11 starters on the field, they might be playing vanilla and not showing anything on defense. The lesson here to me is you don’t want to (ever) be in a spot where you have a three-quarterback battle.’’
Q: That makes sense because repetitions for each candidate are split three ways and time is limited. Looking back, why trade Tyrod Taylor? Keeping him would’ve prevented a three-way QB battle and been so much simpler.
A: “That decision was more than Tyrod the player, it was financial. We would’ve had very small free agent money if we paid him what his salary was. Once we made that decision, now we have more free agent dollars and we thought the wisest use was to bring A.J. in – to compete. Because of his limited experience we couldn’t just give him the job.’’
Q: Was he miffed that he was part of a three-way competition? He could not have seen Nathan Peterman as a threat, nobody did.
A: “A.J. was a pro. You've got to make a decision. We don’t know what would’ve happened had A.J. won the competition, we don’t know. All you can do is guess — good or bad — how it’s going to work out.’’
Q: The offensive line was really hurt by the departures of Eric Wood, Richie Incognito and Cordy Glenn. Did you do enough to fill those holes?
A: “Again, we have the cap. Eric Wood’s cap number is more by him not being here than him being here. It cost me over $10 million to not have a player, it would’ve been around $8 million to have him. You can’t help that. So now you try and find the next best thing. There were several centers we looked at, but you have to have a price. You can’t overpay guys, you still have to value guys. There were guys we did try to get that we couldn’t, either we lost out on or we couldn’t afford. And that means another piece we didn’t put somewhere else.’’
Q: Like on defense? Star Lotulelei (five years, $50 million) and Trent Murphy (three years, $22.5 million) were big-ticket items and defense has been a bright spot.
A: “The pieces we put together in free agency, most came on defense but it didn’t mean we didn’t target a lot on offense. Just think this: If we found certain players on offense to pay, now those are holes on defense we don’t fill and you guys will go, ‘I can’t believe they didn’t go get a run-stuffer. I don’t believe they didn’t do X or Y.’ When you have $50 million in dead money, you’re going to have holes in various spots and you fill them the best you can.’’
Q: You inherited some onerous contracts from Doug Whaley but the dire dead money situation was of your making. Why go this route, taking on so much at once?
A: “I wanted to get through it. We were going to have a lot, but my thing is, ‘If we’re going to have $35 million to $40 million, why not make it $45 to 50 million and be done with it so we can go forward?’ Yes, we could’ve gone crazy and not worried about the cap and done all these tricked-up things, but it would’ve been false. A short term, lets-go-see-if-we-can-win-now thing. You’re just kicking the can down the road. I don’t believe in building it that way. We’re going to a have money (next year) but it still takes time to do it. We can’t be careless with the money because we have to save some for our young players when they come due.’’
Q: I know you braced fans and media for perhaps taking a step back, but not two or three steps back. The offense has scored 96 points and is on pace for setting a franchise record for fewest points in a 16-game season. That’s why it’s a bit of jolt after a playoff season, to see this kind of product.
A: “Nobody’s happy on our offense, nobody is happy with our record on this team, but that happens. I’ve been on teams with plenty of talent. I was on a 15-1 team (Carolina). Not much changed on offense and you know how many games we won the next year? Six. We probably weren’t a 15-win team, but we definitely weren’t a six-win team. This league is about confidence and so many other things. I can’t predict how certain guys are going to play in a new system, receivers who didn’t get a lot of time with certain quarterbacks because of the way it unfolded. Again, the lesson is, you want to build it so that you don’t ever have that situation (a three-way QB battle). But I couldn’t go pay $18-20 million (for a free agent veteran), and who was out there that was worth some of the major bucks that were being thrown around?’’
Q: Because of many of your roster moves, only three players from drafts conducted by previous front office regimes are on the roster, Kyle Williams, John Miller and Shaq Lawson. This roster is 77 percent yours and coach McDermott’s in just two seasons. Just how drastic has this overall been?
A: “We’ve said it multiple times, this roster is in transition. You build through the draft. We don’t have a lot of people around here from past drafts. When you look at the good teams, look how many are draft picks. You have to build it through the draft but I can’t fast forward and have the 2019 draft tomorrow and six months later have the 2020 draft. To me, it’s like a get-rich scam. People say, ‘Go do this and this and you’ll make $10,000 a month.’ We all know most of that is B.S. Anything worthwhile that is built to last, it’s going to take time.’’
Q: Despite this roster being so young and in transition, aren’t you still somewhat surprised by the bottom falling out of the offense?
A: “What do you mean fell out? You’re playing with a rookie quarterback, and then playing, when Josh got injured, a second-year guy (Peterman). That’s part of the pain of doing that. It’s a quarterback league. I’ve said it 200 million times since I’ve been here, ‘If you’re quarterback play is like this, your team, specifically your offense, is going to be like this.’ Look at other rookies out there. Are their teams killing it?’’
Q: Was making the playoffs a blessing or curse last season, raising expectations and then the team having to caution everybody to calm down?
A: “We tried to send message that we haven’t arrived, that we’re not there, that this roster is in transition. We lost some good players, players with experience. Eric Wood, Richie Incognito, Tyrod. But we are going to improve, that’s the thing. Sometimes you have to let guys play and see what they can do and put them out there, and they’ll tell you the answer. That’s part of it. We’re playing a lot of young players and that will pay off in time. There’s no substitute for playing in games. Part of what you have to go through at times, is the pain of young guys playing. We’re playing with a quarterback on defense who is a rookie and a quarterback on offense who is a rookie. That’s not easy. And remember, you’re playing with roster that’s minus $50 million in cap.’’
Q: The NFL is filled with competitive men so when fans and media bring up the “T’’ word – tanking – does it make your blood boil?
A: “I guess what’s frustrating for me, is that I’ve said all along, it’s not going to be easy this season but we are going to compete our butts off. I will never tank. As long as I’m in charge, we’re never tanking. We’re bringing guys in for workouts on Tuesdays, we’re trying to find players who are better. ‘Is this guy better than who we got?’ If he is, we’ll swap him out. We’re trying but there’s no magic tree I can pull some Pro Bowl players off of and you can’t abort the plan because you’re not winning. You have to set a plan and stick with it.’’