Two days after an emphatic early playoff loss at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals, the wound is still fresh in Buffalo.
Just ask Brandon Beane.
The Buffalo Bills’ general manager spoke to reporters on Tuesday at his end-of-season press conference on the heels of Buffalo’s 27-10 loss. He was asked if Buffalo should “adapt” to Cincinnati’s roster construction plan that allowed them to build a strong receiving corps. His response included a not-so-subtle shot at the franchise that just beat his:
“They have a good team,” Beane said. “They have the benefit of a rookie quarterback contract right now. They had some lean years without having to go too much into their build.
“I don’t want to suck bad enough to have to get Ja’Marr Chase. He’s a hell of a talent. I’d love to have him. But you’re going to have to go through some lean years to do that.”
Beane’s point is clear, even if it is expressed with a heavy pinch of salt. The Bengals have built their roster with the distinct advantage of playing Joe Burrow on his rookie contract that pays him $36.1 million over four years before inevitably exercising a fifth-year option for 2024 or signing him to an extension that will increase his pay.
The Bengals have found the NFL’s best winning formula
Hitting a rookie quarterback who excels early in his career is the ultimate NFL fast lane. Having a Pro Bowl-level quarterback at a discount in a salary-constrained league allows spending elsewhere and opens up a nice window for success. The Seattle Seahawks won a Super Bowl with Russell Wilson on his rookie contract while using cap space to construct a historically good defense. The Kansas City Chiefs also won a Super Bowl with Patrick Mahomes on his rookie contract before signing 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 to make that clear as Buffalo’s roster construction comes under fire ahead of a cap-heavy season.
Bills have acute needs
The Bills were outplayed on both sides of the line of scrimmage by the Bengals, and the limitations of their receiving talent beyond All-Pro Stefon Diggs were on full display when the Bills failed to score a touchdown through the air on Sunday. They could definitely use upgrades in the trenches and at the skill positions, hence the question of Cincinnati’s superior receiving corps that features Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.
And yes, it’s true that the Bengals had to “suck” to acquire the draft picks that landed Burrow first overall in the 2020 draft and Chase at No. 5 a year later. Now, both of those players on rookie deals are driving a franchise that is one win away from its second straight Super Bowl.
Can Bills improve with cap constraints, low draft picks?
The Bills, of course, had a similar window under Allen’s rookie contract from 2018-21. They found success, but not at the same level as the Bengals, who have now surpassed them in the AFC pecking order ahead of schedule. The Bills won’t be picking first or fifth overall anytime soon, which means they’ll have to get creative to get their needed roster upgrades.
Beane said so himself while projecting Buffalo’s cap hit, as the roster is currently built at around $240 million for 2023. Next season’s NFL salary cap figures to come in under that figure.
“There’s not going to be a 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 hit drafts, we’ve got to find cheap free agents who can find roles, regardless whether it’s a key backup, solid starter, whatever it is.”
So the Bills will have to play their draft cards well. While having a top pick helps, difference-making talent exists beyond the draft’s top 10 picks. The Minnesota Vikings took Justin Jefferson at No. 22 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 first pick in the second round of the same draft.
The Bills will pick No. 27 overall in April, a pick that will come under a lot of scrutiny. With the Bills’ window right now, they’ll be hard-pressed to find a player who can make an immediate impact, whether it’s in the trenches or at receiver.
They’ll do it while looking to keep pace with the Chiefs and Bengals, who don’t figure to suck again anytime soon.