ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WKBW) — Draft. Develop. Re-sign. That's been Bills general manger Brandon Beane's philosophy since he joined the Bills in 2017. Over the last week, though, the Bills' aggressiveness in free agency has supplemented Buffalo's core that's already developed. When Beane spoke with media members on Friday, he made it clear that plans can change.
"I don't ever plan to be a big spender," Beane said regarding his thoughts from the NFL combine. "But I'm never going to shy away from seeing if there's something there."
This off-season, Von Miller was there. The longtime Denver Bronco and reigning Super Bowl champion hit the market after being traded to the Los Angeles Rams during the 2021 season. Miller, the second overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, already opened up about why he wanted to come to Buffalo. On Friday, Beane explained why the interest was reciprocated, and why he invested in the All-Pro edge rusher for six seasons.
"You know how important pass rush is to me, and to Sean [McDermott] and how we do things," Beane said. "We all watched [Miller] down the stretch and he showed what he's still got. And I've seen pass rushers in the history of the NFL do well late into their career and into their thirties."
Over the last few seasons, that investment into the pass rush has been spent more on the draft than it was on free agency. But the interior defensive line got an overhaul, as well. The Bills have signed three defensive tackles since the start of free agency: DaQuan Jones, Tim Settle, and Jordan Phillips.
But when new faces come in, old faces have to be shown the door. It had already happened to Phillips. But the latter's return has seen a household name, and a hallmark example of the Buffalo-Carolina connection, be shown the door. The Bills released Star Lotulelei on Friday.
"Jordan [Phillips] got released [by the Arizona Cardinals]. And if he's not released, you know, maybe we're not here," Beane said. "[Star] really started and played really well for us coming off the opt-out year. It was just that after COVID he never totally got back to the guy he could be. And we just thought it was time for a fresh start."
Beane was equally candid about another veteran who was let go on the offensive side of the ball. After granting permission for wide receiver Cole Beasley to seek a trade, the Bills released him Thursday. The effort to find a suitor and get something in return didn't materialize enough for Buffalo to keep him.
Like he did with Lotulelei, Beane saw that Beasley needed a fresh start.
"I think the COVID thing, I mean, we all know he had a strong stance. I think it was tough on him. It was tough on his family. And you know, not everyone agreed with some of his comments or his viewpoints. And I'm not talking about in the building," Beane said. "We want people to want to be here, and didn't feel it was right to force him if he didn't feel that he and his family you know, thought it wouldn't be a great fit for him at this point."
While Lotulelei and Beasley are no longer with the Bills, those bridges haven't been burned. The same can't be said for the Washington Commanders front office, or the camp of running back J.D. McKissic. The normally stoic Beane, who had a deal lined up with McKissic, opened up about his sudden return to the Commanders.
"That was tough. Obviously, he was a guy we target. And you know, in this business, in general, when you have an agreement, it's good," Beane said. "There were some things that went down with the other organization, which is painful. But they chose to do what they did and I couldn't stop it."
The Bills still added an offensive weapon to the mix, though. Former Buccaneer O.J. Howard signed with the Bills for a one-year deal. Howard, a 2017 first-round pick out of Alabama, impressed Beane coming out of school. But Buffalo's state of limbo during the 2017 NFL draft kept anything from coming to fruition.
In his five years in the NFL, he's racked up 119 catches for 1,737 yards and 15 touchdowns. But since Tom Brady replaced Jameis Winston in Tampa, his yearly production has taken a hit. It's another chance for Beane to provide a player a fresh start. But this one lies in Orchard Park.
"He had the injury to the achilles a couple years ago in Tampa. And obviously they brought [Rob Gronkowski] down there," Beane said. "It's just a chance for, you know, a restart for him. There is a talent there, and you look at him, and that he and Dawson [Knox] would be a good pairing there in the passing game. [OJ] has improved in his blocking and I think that's something we'll continue to work on in the run game."
The gains have had to come with losses. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and cornerback Levi Wallace signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Defensive tackle Harrison Phillips signed with the Vikings. The business element of the NFL, and the salary cap, can make things challenging. But the splash that Bills Mafia was looking for is here. And Beane might have to work around it, but that doesn't mean he's done working.
"We're still looking. You try to fill as many needs as you can," Beane said. "You take a swing for Von [Miller], and you have to be thinner somewhere else to do that... the main thing is to get this roster set by training camp. And if it's not set by then, I'll keep looking."
Because now, Buffalo is a destination. Players want to play in a jam-packed Highmark Stadium. They want to be on the same sideline as star quarterback Josh Allen, not the opposite sideline. It's something that Beane has porven that he can leverage; and it's something for the Bills, and their fans, to be excited about.
"I think it's cool for our city, I think it's cool for the Pegulas, and you know, it's exciting for our community. And hopefully we'll continue to do things that they'll say "Hey, I want to be a part of that.""