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Joe B: What the Antonio Brown non-deal says about the Buffalo Bills

Posted at 1:11 PM, Mar 08, 2019

(WKBW) — I'll be honest.

It took quite a bit of time to digest what had happened over a super-charged, rip-roaring eight hours overnight that had star wide receiver Antonio Brown on the cusp of becoming the best player on the Buffalo Bills roster. With a situation as complex as this one, at least for me, it calls for some time to think about each layer as opposed to just reacting off-the-cuff.

Some will say it's a terrible look for the organization, and others will blame Antonio Brown. But past all the initial 'what does this say about the city of Buffalo' thoughts out there aren't particularly pertinent to the discussion (not in my estimation, anyway), it boils down to one thing.

It's fair to re-evaluate your preconceived notions about the Bills and how they'll choose to build their roster around Josh Allen. And perhaps more importantly, as long as the GM of the team is Brandon Beane, it's now okay to think big -- as long as there is some value to be had in the discussion.

First, let's take the Brown situation for what it is. Regardless of what the exact timeline was, at some point this week the Bills and Steelers arrived at the advanced point in seeing if the wide receiver would be on board.

According to multiple reports, he wasn't. Rather than forcing the issue, the Bills moved on and did so by controlling their message with a statement from Beane, rather than allowing it to twist in the ever-changing winds of social media.

The interest, in itself, gives some pause about what we thought we knew about Beane's roster-building philosophy.

Beane has spoken, at length, about his love for draft picks, his belief of building through the draft, and, of course, re-signing their own. He is a firm believer of keeping a healthy cap situation year in and year out. Beane also publicly stated that they don't want to get themselves back into the same cap hell that required punting on an entire season to escape.

Both Beane and head coach Sean McDermott have discussed how important the culture of the organization is to what they're building, which to many has meant that they wouldn't want a headache in the locker room. It's led to the notion of ruling out the Bills from bringing in certain players over the last two years because they weren't processy enough.

On the surface, the notion of trading for Brown flips all of that on its head.

From a roster-building perspective, at face level, Brown would have cost them precious amounts of draft capital and cap space for a 31-year-old receiver.

And to the point of 'culture,' Brown has had one of the most volatile 12-month spans of anyone in the NFL, perhaps second only to his teammate Le'Veon Bell. Regardless of his tireless work ethic, the headache potential was there.

That doesn't read like the type of move that Beane would typically make, but when you dig past the surface, it clears up a little bit more.

Since the potential Bills trade fell through, the interest in Brown has dwindled -- so much so that the increasing conversation around him has all to do with if the Steelers can get him back on board. All the suitors that seemed to be lining up aren't as visible any longer.

And if there's one thing I know to be entirely accurate about Beane, it's that he will be aggressive when there is a value to be had, which is why the logical part of my brain believes there was a tremendous opportunity for the Bills in this now no-deal. Now, this is an educated guess, but through getting to know his style over the last year-plus, I don't think that Beane would have sacrificed the combination of a first-round pick or picks in unison with all the cap space that gets gobbled up by Brown's contract -- whether he's given a new deal or not. Especially not for a 31-year-old receiver, anyway.

That's just not him. That's not what he values. There had to be a hook for why this made sense for a developing team.

And the only thing I can land on is that the draft compensation for the NFL's current prince of malcontent wasn't all that it was initially cracked up to be, and Beane instead saw an opportunity to pounce for a future Hall of Fame receiver to help his developing quarterback for a manageable cost. The salary cap hits he could deal with, but the draft compensation had to be much less than what floated out there when Brown first hit the trade block.

As for the culture point, recall a line that Beane said once the Bills were into the offseason, that they weren't looking only for "choir boys." They merely wanted players that wanted to be there, that worked hard, and gave themselves to the team and bought into what they were attempting to accomplish.

When it became clear that Brown reportedly didn't want to try to make it work with Buffalo, the Bills walked. The unfortunate part about the NFL is that some GMs would have traded first and dealt with that aspect later, which is why Beane deserves some credit for walking away after an invested round of discussions and the elation of landing one of the top receivers in the game.

A decision of this magnitude wasn't exclusive only to Beane, either. McDermott had to be completely onboard with adding someone like Brown because he had to be the one to make it all work. No, this had to be an organizational choice, and a franchise decision to walk away, too.

But back to the roster building part of it, which is the most important lesson of the Friday morning craziness. If it didn't get through during the NFL Scouting Combine when Beane insinuated that his now famous usage of 'judicious' in related to cap spending didn't mean prohibitive, the Antonio Brown lesson is now screaming it at everyone.

The idea that the Bills aren't willing to spend their money now that they have a plethora of it is a complete misnomer. Beane is thinking big, and as a result, fans should be encouraged to as well.

Beane has a standard of roster-building principles that he adheres to just as he should, but the one atop the list is one that can shape all the others. Drafting a young quarterback and helping him flourish is, was, and will always be the highest priority to the Bills GM.

If the quarterback isn't right, doesn't develop the way that you need him to, or doesn't have the offensive firepower around him to grow into that guy, all the rest of the decisions with the roster are merely decorative. The foundation of the house is the quarterback.

That's why taking a chance on Antonio Brown was worth it to them. It's why, as a fan of the Bills, you shouldn't talk yourselves out of the idea of Odell Beckham, Jr. if the Giants are foolish enough and willing to deal him.

Beane is confident in Josh Allen, but he isn't and shouldn't be so confident to ignore that his young quarterback needs help from his teammates in his formative years.

Last year we found out that Brandon Beane will stop at nothing to get a potential franchise quarterback. This year, the Brown non-trade means that if there is a move to be made to facilitate the growth they need in that franchise quarterback, he's willing to explore just about anything.

Even though the Bills don't have anything to show for it, what Beane gets is the credibility for almost pulling off a move for one of the best receivers in the game. But now he doesn't have to give up anything for that credibility, along with not having to worry about the potential headache about whether or not Brown would show up.

As failed deals go, it's a win-win for Beane. But that's where it ends. There is still the issue of actually surrounding Allen with the talent he needs to succeed.

While it bought him some faith that he's willing to bring in the big name, it underscores the point that they can't strike out this offseason. It's only Allen's second year, but the clock is ticking to make it all work in the next two seasons.

You know it, I know it, and more importantly, Beane knows it. Ultimately, the success or failure of Allen will likely be how Beane and McDermott either keep or loses their jobs.

The time to do something about it begins next week with the start of free agency. And Beane can't afford to have only thought wins, and close deals, be what defines his 2018 offseason.

The Brown dealings helped instill big dreams in the fan base, and now it's paramount that he delivers.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia