Two days after an emphatic playoff exit at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals, the injury is still fresh in Buffalo.
Ask Brandon Beane.
The Buffalo Bills general manager spoke to reporters Tuesday during his season-ending press conference following Buffalo’s 27-10 loss. He was asked if Buffalo should “adapt” to Cincinnati’s roster building plan that allowed them to build a strong receiving corps. His response included a not-so-subtle shot at the franchise just beating his own:
“They have a good team,” Beane said. “They currently have the benefit of a rookie quarterback contract. They’ve had a tough few years, not having to worry too much about their build.
“I don’t want to be bad enough to have Ja’Marr Chase. He’s a hell of a talent. I would love to have him. But you have to go through tough years to do that.”
Beane’s point is clear even if expressed with a strong pinch of salt. The Bengals built their roster with the distinct advantage of playing Joe Burrow on his rookie contract which pays him $36.1 million over four years before inevitably exercising a fifth-year option for 2024 or signing him for a extension which will increase his salary.
The Bengals have found the NFL’s best winning formula
Hitting a rookie quarterback who excels early in his career is the NFL’s ultimate fast lane. Having a Pro Bowl-level quarterback with a cut in a salary-capped league allows spending elsewhere and opens up a prime window for success. The Seattle Seahawks won a Super Bowl with Russell Wilson on his rookie contract while using cap space to build a historically excellent defense. The Kansas City Chiefs also won a Super Bowl with Patrick Mahomes on his rookie deal before signing him to a 10-year, $450 million deal.
The Bills were in a similar position with Allen before he played on a $23.1 million option this season. He will enter the first year of a six-year, $258 million contract extension next season. The Bills’ window to build around Allen on the cheap is over. Beane apparently wants that clear as Buffalo’s roster construction comes under fire ahead of a limited season.
Invoices are in dire need
The Bills were outplayed on both sides of the line of scrimmage by the Bengals, and the limits of their receiving talent beyond All-Pro Stefon Diggs were on full display as the Bills failed to score a touchdown. in the air on Sunday. They could clearly use upgrades in the trenches and at skill posts, hence the question about Cincinnati’s top receiving corps that includes Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.
And yes, it’s true that the Bengals had to “suck” in order to secure the draft picks that secured Burrow first in the 2020 draft and Chase at No. 5 a year later. Now, those two players on rookie deals are fueling a franchise that’s one win away from its second straight Super Bowl.
Can Bills get better with cap restrictions, low draw picks?
The Bills, of course, had a similar window during Allen’s 2018-21 rookie deal. They found success, but not on the same level as the Bengals, who have now passed them in the league pecking order. ‘AFC earlier than expected. The Bills won’t be picking first or fifth overall anytime soon, which means they’ll have to get creative to procure needed roster upgrades.
Beane said so himself while projecting that Buffalo’s cap hit the currently constructed roster at around $240 million for 2023. The NFL’s salary cap for next season’s drafts will be lower than that number.
“There will be no Von Miller signing,” Beane said, according to the Buffalo News. “…We’re going to be creative. We’re going to try to win. It’s up to me to figure that out. We’ve got to find draft picks, we’ve got to find low-cost free agents who can find roles, whether it’s be a key replacement, a solid starter, whatever that is.
The Bills will therefore have to play their draft cards well. While having a top pick is helpful, the talent that makes the difference lies beyond the top 10 picks in the draft. The Minnesota Vikings found Justin Jefferson 22nd overall in the 2020 draft — a pick they got from the Bills in the trade that sent Stefon Diggs to Buffalo. The Bengals selected Tee Higgins with the first pick in the second round of the same draft.
The Bills will select No. 27 overall in April, a pick that will come under intense scrutiny. With the Bills’ window right now, they’ll be in a rush to find a player who can make an immediate impact, whether in the trenches or at receiver.
They will do so as they look to keep pace with the Chiefs and Bengals, who aren’t planning on sucking again anytime soon.