ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Here are my five thoughts on the Buffalo Bills after they wrapped up offseason workouts earlier this week:
1. My biggest takeaway is the fact players aren’t running away from overwhelming expectation, not only among Bills fans but the entire nation, that their team is a lock to reach and likely win Super Bowl LVII.
They’re embracing it.
Consider what Von Miller told reporters: “This is a special team. They’re right on the edge and I just wanted to be that last drop to overflow these guys.”
After Josh Allen, Miller will easily be the second-most scrutinized member of the roster. The Bills paid him massive guaranteed money, and he’s as aware as anyone of the expectation he’ll be the final piece necessary to get them over the playoff (Kansas City Chiefs?) hump and into the big game.
True, it’s easy make strong declarations in June. There’s still next month’s training camp at St. John Fisher College, and August’s preseason schedule, and the 17-game regular-season slate to get through with enough healthy bodies and, especially, victories to pave that path to glory.
But I have no problem with the considerable confidence Miller and his teammates are displaying. They know what we all know: this team is loaded with talent.
Allen is an elite quarterback surrounded by plenty of game-breakers who will continue to thrive off of his ability to make plays with that golden arm and tremendous athleticism. There’s nothing that should prevent them from winning another AFC East title and, though the rest of the conference has seemingly gotten much better (especially with the infusion of high-end quarterback talent) the Bills should be more than equal to the challenge.
There comes a point when you define yourself, good or bad; when what you are is obvious. It’s obvious the Bills are a great team. Now, of course, they have to live up to that status.
And they’re owning the task, without a sense of being overly brash or cocky or so consumed by all of the hype that they’ve forgotten how much work it takes to actually achieve the ultimate goal of winning it all.
2. One clear example of the effort to stay grounded is Sean McDermott and Josh Allen telling reporters how much they’re looking forward to training camp.
This wasn’t lip service, despite camp existence traditionally ranking low on the list of popular activities for pretty much everyone connected with an NFL team. There’s the basic drudgery of practice, even though the volume and contact have been greatly reduced through the years, and daily/nightly meetings. There’s also trading the comforts of home for a dorm room.
“I don’t think anybody really loves sleeping in college dorms; at 48 years old, I can tell you I don’t,” McDermott said. “But I’m willing to do it.”
Still, the coach has always loved the idea of spending a couple of weeks of remote training so that players, coaches and others on the team can bond and carry that unity into the season. The Bills missed out on that the past two years at Fisher due to Covid.
Jim Kelly enjoyed every aspect of football, including the two-a-day-practice grind each summer at Fredonia State that existed when he and his teammates were building an AFC dynasty in the late ’80s and ’90s.
Allen is the same way.
“I love spending time in the dorm rooms with teammates and playing cards and video games and hanging out and spending really every waking second together with the guys,” Allen said. “I think that helps build camaraderie and a really good team chemistry that you can’t get otherwise. So it’ll be fun to get back.”
3. Jordan Poyer’s predictable participation in both days of this week’s mandatory minicamp should be seen as a good omen regarding his contract situation.
He stayed away from all voluntary sessions, a fairly standard approach by veteran players seeking pay increases. But the line is usually drawn at the mandatory session, where the absence carries a fine of about $90,000, assuming the team enforces it.
For Poyer, showing up for minicamp was about a lot more than $90,000. It was a sign of confidence that he and the Bills will find a way to satisfy his desire to be among the higher-paid safeties/defensive players on the league on the strength of his All-Pro season in 2021 and fact he is vital to the team’s Super Bowl aspirations.
“It’s important,” McDermott said of Poyer’s presence at minicamp. “He’s one of the leaders of the team.”
By all accounts, the Bills and Poyer are staying on the high road during what could easily be a contentious circumstance. Given the way the team handled Stefon Diggs’ contract extension, with the willingness to convert base salary into guaranteed money that requires a hefty cash payout to stay in line with the salary cap, it seems reasonable to expect a similar outcome for Poyer.
The $36 million guaranteed money the Pittsburgh Steelers reportedly have agreed to pay safety Minkah Fitzpatrick this year and next year figures to provide at least the framework of what the Bills could work out with Poyer.
4. Ed Oliver is another key element of the strides the Bills’ defense should make this season.
He showed significant progress last season, enough to convince the team to pick up the fifth-year option from the contract he signed after becoming a first-round draft pick in 2019.
Besides his own growth and development as a player, Oliver rightfully expects to benefit – along with other members of the defensive front – from the addition of Miller.
“I will play on the other side; you all go over there and block him, I will go on the other side,” Oliver told reporters. “It will be good not only for me but the defense as a whole. He is a big-time player, so (opponents) will key in on him and it will take attention off me. It will help me.”
5. Last, but certainly not least, I want to send heartfelt best wishes to Bills co-owner Kim Pegula for a full recovery from her recently disclosed ailment.
I know I have plenty of company in saying I’m thinking about and praying for her and her family.