Two days after an emphatic early playoff exit by the Cincinnati Bengals, the wound is still fresh in Buffalo.
Just ask Brandon Beane.
The Buffalo Bills general manager spoke to reporters about Buffalo’s 27-10 loss at his season-ending press conference on Tuesday. He was asked if Buffalo should “align” with Cincinnati’s roster building plan, which allowed them to build a strong receiving corps. His response included a not-so-subtle shot at the franchise, which has just surpassed his:
“They have a good team,” Beane said. “They have the benefit of a rookie quarterback contract right now. They’ve had a few lean years without having to put too much effort into building them up.
“I don’t want to be so bad that I have to get Ja’Marr Chase. He’s a damn talent. I would love to have him.
Beane’s point is clear, even if it’s expressed with a heavy pinch of salt. The Bengals have built their roster with the distinct advantage of playing Joe Burrow with his rookie contract earning him $36.1 million over four years before inevitably exercising a fifth-year option for 2024 or him for commit to an extension that drives up his salary.
The Bengals have found the NFL’s best winning formula
Meeting a rookie quarterback who excels early in his career is the ultimate NFL fast track. Having a Pro Bowl-level quarterback at a discount in a league with salary caps allows for spending elsewhere and opens 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 great defense. The Kansas City Chiefs also won a Super Bowl with Patrick Mahomes on his rookie contract before signing him to a 10-year, $450 million contract.
Brandon Beane has a big challenge this offseason. (Mark Konezny/Portal)
The Bills were in a similar position to Allen before he played with a $23.1 million option this season. He will begin the first year of a six-year, $258 million contract extension next season. Bills’ window of opportunity to build cheaply around Allen is over. Beane apparently wants to make that clear, as Buffalo’s roster build has come under fire with tight caps a season ago.
The story goes on
Bills have glaring needs
The Bills were outplayed on both sides of the scrimmage line by the Bengals, and the limits of their receiving talent beyond All-Pro Stefon Diggs were shown when the Bills failed to score a through-air touchdown on Sunday. They could clearly use upgrades in the trenches and ability positions, hence the question about Cincinnati’s superior receiving corps with Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.
And yes, it’s true that the Bengals had to “suck” to source the draft picks that secured Burrow’s first overall pick in the 2020 draft and Chase’s 5th overall pick a year later. Now, these two players with rookie deals are powering a franchise one win away from its second straight Super Bowl.
With cap restrictions and low draft picks, can Bills improve?
The Bills, of course, had a similar window during Allen’s 2018-21 rookie contract. They have been successful but not on the same level as the Bengals who have now prematurely passed them in the AFC pecking order. The Bills won’t be picking first or fifth overall anytime soon, meaning they’ll have to get creative to source their needed roster upgrades.
Beane said so himself while forecasting Buffalo’s cap given the roster currently sits at about $240 million for 2023. The NFL salary cap for projects next season is said to be below that number.
“There will be no signing of Von Miller,” 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 it out. We’ve got to hit draft picks, we’ve got to find low-cost free agents who can find roles, whether it’s a major one Backup, a solid starter or whatever trades.”
So the Bills need to play their draft cards well. While it helps to have a top pick, talent that makes the difference can be found beyond the draft’s top 10 picks. The Minnesota Vikings found Justin Jefferson the 22nd pick in the 2020 draft – a pick they secured from the Bills in the trade that sent Stefon Diggs to Buffalo. The Bengals selected Tee Higgins with the second round first pick of the same draft.
The Bills will select No. 27 overall in April, a choice that will be closely scrutinized. With the Bills’ window right now, they’re being pressured to find a player who can make an immediate impact, whether it’s in the trenches or at the receiver.
They will do so as they try to keep up with the Chiefs and the Bengals, who have no plans to suckle again any time soon.