BUFFALO, N.Y. — It took just two days after the 2022 season came to a close for Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane to say a splashy free agent addition should not be expected.
After splurging on pass-rusher Von Miller with a $120 million deal last year, the Bills had to work to get under the cap this year. They also wanted to avoid turning over their roster to do it, like the Los Angeles Rams have done in getting rid of cornerback Jalen Ramsey and other foundational players. The result for the Bills was a relatively quiet start to free agency.
“Coming off the cap going down with COVID, we’re trying to work our way out so that we don’t have just a teardown, and you see that happen from a team here,” Beane said. “Just like, ‘Man, we can’t do anymore. We gotta get rid of some of these huge salaries,’ and the only way to do it is either try to kick it further down the road, making it harder, or start trading, releasing, and taking those hits. So, we’re trying not to do that.”
The Bills are hoping to add to a roster that’s won three straight division titles while the rest of the AFC East adds firepower around them. Where does that leave them now with the first wave of free agency over and what’s next?
What the Bills have done
During the first week of free agency, the Bills signed a likely starter in guard Connor McGovern, added speed to the receiver room with Deonte Harty, brought in backup quarterback Kyle Allen and re-signed safety Jordan Poyer on a team-friendly two-year, $12.5 million deal with a maximum value of $14.5 million.
Their moves don’t jump off the page in a widely considered down free agency year, but all addressed areas of need — especially bringing back Poyer on a short-term deal. Poyer’s age — he turns 32 next month — and variety of injuries in 2022 softened his free agent market. But having him back for another season to pair with safety Micah Hyde is a win for the Bills.
McGovern is the leading candidate to take Rodger Saffold’s spot at left guard. Signing quarterback Josh Allen’s close friend, Kyle Allen, shows the Bills’ confidence in Josh Allen’s development that they don’t feel the need to pair him with an experienced veteran.
“[Last year we said] we don’t feel it’s got to be a 30-some year-old [backup quarterback],” Beane said. “[Josh] knows what he knows, he sees it.”
Beane said the Bills will have about $9 million in cap space once everything is processed with some of that needing to be reserved for things like the practice squad (about $3.5 million last year), the team’s 2023 draft picks, and costs for potential injuries.
In other words, the Bills don’t have much to work with unless they restructure more contracts, like cornerback Tre’Davious White’s (2023 cap value of $16.2 million). It’s something Beane said he’s not against doing “but the more you do, then the bigger that avalanche gets years down the line.” So, what is the approach?
“We’re trying to be smart, find players that fit, and we’ll continue looking,” Beane said. “We’re not necessarily done. There’s still a lot of free agents out there, we’re having conversations and there could even be more cap casualties [on other teams] as guys are added.”
Where the Bills could add next
Wide receiver: Acquiring Harty does not solve the Bills’ problems at No. 2 wide receiver, but he can help fill the role vacated by wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, who was released Friday. While Beane has expressed confidence in Gabe Davis, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal, the reality is that Buffalo needs to add more at receiver for the long-term.
What about Odell Beckham Jr.? The Bills hosted him on a visit last year, sent senior personnel executive Matt Bazirgan to the wide receiver’s workout prior to the start of the league year and hired Adam Henry — who worked with Beckham at LSU, the Giants and the Browns — as the team’s new wide receivers coach.
“Thought [Beckham] did a good job [at the workout], showed, obviously you see his hands, if you’ve seen some of the video that he still can pluck that thing one-handed,” Beane said. “And I think he’s, like anything, he’s probably a little rusty. He hasn’t played football, so it’ll take him some time to work back in.”
While the cost would be a priority here, Beckham also wouldn’t solve the team’s long-term need to have reasonably priced wide receiver talent — 2024 will also be a tough cap year for the Bills — and there aren’t many great candidates at the position available in free agency. It would make sense to get help here early in the draft.
Running back: The only running backs under contract for the Bills are Nyheim Hines, James Cook and veteran Duke Johnson, who was on the practice squad last year. Devin Singletary remains a free agent and Buffalo has stayed in touch, but the team will likely add a bigger running back at some point. Both Hines and Cook are under 200-pounds and the Bills could use a player with more size to do the tough running and in the red zone.
Former Cowboys back Ezekiel Elliott would be an intriguing fit but is coming off one of the worst statistical seasons of his career (3.8 yards per attempt) and has dealt with injuries the past two years. Kareem Hunt (Browns) and Leonard Fournette (Buccaneers) could also fit what they are looking for.
Tight end: Adding a tight end to pair with Dawson Knox, as the team tried to do last year with O.J. Howard, remains something to keep an eye on, although the draft could also be the best avenue for the Bills to fill that hole. There are some big-name options still available in free agency, like former Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz, but the Bills won’t want to strike out again like they did with Howard, who didn’t make it to the regular season.
Middle linebacker: When asked about the future at middle linebacker after losing Tremaine Edmunds to the Bears, Beane said the answer could potentially be on the roster already, naming Tyrel Dodson and 2022 draft picks Terrel Bernard and Baylon Spector as candidates to compete. Signing a sure-fire starter may not happen this offseason as Beane said, “We’ll continue to look, whether that’s cap casualties, free agencies, if there’s a player in the draft, it’ll be competition.”