The season for the Buffalo Bills is over with, and now that the players have vacated the premises, the offseason is officially upon us.
On Tuesday, as is the annual tradition for the Bills following their elimination from playoff contention, the head coach and the general manager of the team addressed the media in their season-ending press conference… and all of the big topics were hit.
My seven takeaways from Tuesday’s extended session with the media:
1) No answer on Dennison, but no vote of confidence, either
- Undoubtedly the biggest question that has to be answered first this offseason is what the Bills will do with offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. Based on the way that the Bills performed on offense all season, Dennison’s early unwillingness to formulate his offense to the skill set of Tyrod Taylor, and some rather off-putting in-game play-calling throughout the whole season, there is a compelling case to walk away from the offensive coach after only one season. And it’s really only amplified by the idea that the Bills are likely to add a young quarterback early in the draft in 2018, which means that coaching position will be the one charged with developing the quarterback — and in a term I’ve used multiple times with this discussion, the essential point man of the entire rookie quarterback operation. If there is any hesitation to have Dennison be the person with that responsibility, the Bills should move on. On Tuesday, both head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane were asked about it, and rather than coming to a decision, both deferred to a later time.
#Bills HC Sean McDermott on the job of Rick Dennison, says it's early in the process and won't get into speculation. Still evaluating.
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) January 9, 2018
It’s early in the process… but it also isn’t all at once. I asked a follow up to that, considering how quickly the good available coaches get scooped up this time of year, how long that “methodical” evaluation could afford to take. Even Brandon Beane admitted later on in the press conference that the evaluation would be a fast one, but it’s a pressing issue here. Now that Carolina just fired their offensive coordinator, there are now six openings for the offensive coordinator position around the league. If the Bills were to replace Dennison, taking too long to make the decision could come back to bite them if they were to miss out on someone like Mike McCoy or Rob Chudzinski — two names with obvious ties to the Bills in one way or another. The fact that McDermott didn’t outright say that Dennison was safe, put a bit of an ominous feel to the whole discussion. I would not be surprised in the least bit if the Bills announced within the next week or two that Dennison will no longer be with the franchise.
2) “We’re not satisfied with the whole offense…”
- The rest of that quote reads, “… and it wasn’t just about Tyrod.” Notice the use of the word ‘just,’ there which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for the starting quarterback for most of the season. Tyrod Taylor has certainly had to battle quite a bit in 2017: a brand new offensive scheme, an offensive coordinator who was slow to shape an offense around him, a front office that traded away his top target shortly before the season began, and a coaching staff that benched him at 5-4 for a completely unknown fifth-round rookie. With that written, he also didn’t do himself any favors when he was in the lineup. While there were flashes of brilliance, they were too far and few between. The good news for the Bills is that they don’t have to make any immediate decisions on Taylor, who isn’t due his $6 million roster bonus until the third day of the new league year in mid-March. However, the Bills need to plot a correct course, considering he has a cap number of $18 million next season, they will need to figure out if he’s worth keeping around as a bridge to the future. Smartly, they kept their options open on Taylor today, but based on the quote above, they want — and frankly need, a lot more out of the quarterback position in 2018.
3) Beane insinuates the Bills will have a clear free agency plan
- There are a few schools of thought in how to build a successful roster in the NFL, and the regime before the current one had a completely different idea as to how to approach free agency. Doug Whaley and company spared no expenses, going after big name free agents and signing players to contract that didn’t have a lot of thought as to what will happen to them with the salary cap in the future. That line of thinking put the Bills in close to cap jail, and they needed to shed a lot of salaries last offseason to get their heads above the water. Now that they do have some flexibility and freedom heading into the upcoming offseason, I wouldn’t expect them to going hard at a ton of free agents. Beane was a fan of the term ‘responsible spending’ and added that “the key is to spend wisely.” Now, that doesn’t necessarily take them out of the equation if a big name went on the market — but to Beane, as he explained Tuesday, it’s all about setting parameters for how much you’re comfortable with paying a player and their corresponding ability. There have been a lot of times in the NFL where teams get into a bidding war and end up spending more than they want to on that specific player, only to have it come back and bite them in the rear-end with the salary cap down the line. So while it doesn’t rule out making a run at someone like — just as an example, Kirk Cousins if they were so inclined. They’re just going to have a very emotionless and defined limit as to what they’re going to be willing to spend — which is the smart approach if they actually practice what they preach.
4) The door isn’t closed on Kyle Williams
- Throughout the final few weeks for the Bills, there was an air of finality in a lot of the words and actions by defensive tackle Kyle Williams. Now heading into the offseason without a contract for 2018, the longtime Bills defender will have another offseason to ponder if he will continue playing. As we well know, he contemplated retiring last offseason before deciding to come back and play for new head coach Sean McDermott. Since that time, Williams played in his first ever playoff game and after the fact didn’t rule out him coming back to play. As Brandon Beane said on Tuesday, “who doesn’t love Kyle Williams?” The Bills sure do, and if Williams wants to come back at a price that is reasonable given his decreased playing ability due to age, they’d probably jump at the chance to keep him in the locker room with young players, and as a rotational piece to sub in.
5) The draft possibilities are endless
- With the offseason coming back into view, the Bills are now tasked with building up a much deeper team, and to raise the average level of starters throughout the roster — and they certainly have the resources to do so. The Bills enter the 2018 offseason with eight draft picks in the first five rounds — including back-to-back picks in the first round ad 21st and 22nd overall. They have ample cap space, and after all the moves they made in 2017, the complete freedom to trade whoever and whatever they want. The Bills’ trade-happy GM didn’t rule out much of anything:
#Bills GM Brandon Beane: The good thing is, we've got a lot of draft capital. We can stay there, we can move up, move back. It's still early.
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) January 9, 2018
Now, it’s really all going to be about identifying the quarterback they want to build around and to find the means to move up and draft that player. They have the resources, and with all the underclass quarterback prospects that declared, there is a clear opportunity for them to find one that they covet. If the Bills don’t address the quarterback position in one way or another, this offseason should — and will — be considered a complete failure for this staff.
6) Admission that Benjamin wasn’t himself
- The Bills went out just moments before the trade deadline and decided to trade for wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. It was a move that was likely spurred on by an unexpected 5-2 record at the time, and a thought that they might be able to get to the playoffs. They ended up being right, but they had to do it almost entirely without Benjamin. The injury he suffered shortly into the game against the Los Angeles Chargers would go on to define the remainder of his season with the Bills. He suffered a torn meniscus, and now by the admission of Sean McDermott, clearly wasn’t the same guy — despite gutting it out and trying to play the rest of the season with the injury.
#Bills HC Sean McDermott on WR Kelvin Benjamin's health down the stretch: I'd be lying if I said Kelvin was himself. He wasn't.
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) January 9, 2018
Next season will be a crucial one for Benjamin. The fifth-year option on his contract was previously picked up by the Carolina Panthers, so the Bills inherit it. With all the needs that the Bills have, there is a chance that the Bills don’t substantially add to the wide receiver position — especially because they have both Benjamin and Zay Jones signed in 2018. If that ends up being the case, Benjamin will have an incredible opportunity to prove he can be a number one receiver in a contract year, and with a clean bill of health, too.
7) Bills still in “fact-finding” mode on Incognito incident
- In the hours after the Bills loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue accused Richie Incognito of saying racist things while on the field Sunday. Teammates have come out in defense of Incognito, but the NFL is still investigating the matter — likely looking for audio of the incident. Incognito, meanwhile, has stayed silent. He wasn’t available during the team’s locker room cleanout on Monday and hasn’t tweeted about it in any capacity. On Tuesday, the Bills and GM Brandon Beane addressed the matter, saying that there was clearly an exchange and that they’re still trying to find out the facts, but also said: “I think there’s a misunderstanding of what was said.” Either way, we’re likely to hear in the near future as to if Incognito was either innocent or guilty of the claims made by Ngakoue.