You can see it happening already. After a whirlwind 2017 campaign where the Buffalo Bills edged into the playoff picture by the skin of their teeth, fans are already split on whether or not the team can realistically qualify again in 2018.
On one end of the spectrum, you have the pessimists who see a great defense, but a wildly underwhelming cast of characters on the offensive side of the ball. These fans realize that unless A.J. McCarron reveals himself as a sleeping dragon under center, or Josh Allen bursts onto the scene as a rookie, that this team will have trouble moving the ball.
On the opposing side, you have the eternal optimists, (or should we say, the lifeblood of our rabid fanbase), who are readying themselves for another season where the Bills come out as plucky underdogs who defy all odds. They’ll tell you how all of the national pundits had Buffalo at the bottom of the AFC East at the start of the season while emploring their fellow supporters to trust the process (still have no idea what that means).
So where do the Bills actually stand? Quite simply, somewhere in between. A lot of people aren’t going to want to hear this, but the drought wasn’t supposed to end last season. Leading up to the opener, the franchise dealt Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby in an obvious plan to accrue assets before what was sure to be a losing season (or so they thought).
Believe whatever you’d like, but a team who is gearing up to end a 17-year playoff drought doesn’t deal that type of talent right before the season. No, it wasn’t the magic of the process, the team simply over-achieved, which brings us to this point.
What you saw the team do this offseason clearly indicates that the rebuild is still in motion. Brandon Beane is doing his best to set the team up for long-term success, and he won’t let a taste of postseason action deviate him from the end goal.
So far, he’s managed to turn an opportunistic defense into a talented one by pouring money into the defensive line, and trading up to secure Trumaine Edmunds for good measure. He also added veteran corner, Vontae Davis to an already talented secondary. Now, on paper at least, that group looks like one of the top-10 units in the league, and even nationally, most people will agree.
Here’s where things get a little dicey, and pills become harder to swallow. The offense is a complete and utter tire fire. The line is quite obviously one of the bottom-three units in the league, the receiver room is thinner than Bill Belichick’s hairline, and the quarterback situation remains a complete unknown, but there’s a silver lining.
As it stands (and of course this will be subject to change), the Bills have a whopping $76 million in cap room to play with next spring. That’s enough money to fix the offense twice over, and Beane knows it. He’s willing to “regress” this season while his franchise quarterback (a debate that’s about as beaten as a dead horse can be) develops.
By next season at the latest, Allen will be the starter unless McCarron or Nate Peterman somehow put together a Pro-Bowl campaign (an unlikelihood to say the least). You can bet your bottom dollar that Beane won’t trot his shiny QB of the future out there with the same supporting cast that they have now. They’ll spend money shoring up the offensive line, add a high-end receiver to play opposite Kelvin Benjamin, and of course, acquire an eventual successor to Lesean McCoy.
So in short, what we’re witnessing here is part two of a three-phase plan. Step one failed in terms of execution, but the end result was the same. They got themselves in a position to draft their franchise QB in the top-10.
Phase two was a complete retooling and solidification of an over-achieving defense. Yeah, they could use another linebacker, but top-to-bottom- this group is talented and deep, especially in the trenches.
Phase three will be to throw most of their $76 million budget next year into the offense so that Josh Allen won’t be forced to overcompensate for a lackluster supporting cast, something that certainly hindered him at Wyoming.
To summarize, don’t be upset or surprised to see the team drop down in the standings. It doesn’t mean that they got worse, it just indicates a transition year with a stop-gap (or developing) quarterback situation, which was the plan all along.
That being said, if the Bills fail to improve after this season, then it might be time to worry, but for now, sit back, relax, and maybe hope that this team can defy the odds once again and put together another miraculous playoff run. The worst thing we can do right now as a fan base is to have a meltdown before a down is even played. The sooner that fans take last season for what it was (an amazing turn of events that took a 6-10 roster to a wild card birth), the sooner they will appreciate the long-term vision.
With that in mind, all of this hinges on Allen. Beane can build a powerhouse roster, but if the QB is bad, then the team will never go anywhere meaningful. He has the blueprint, but whether or not he has put his faith in the right foreman remains to be seen. Stay tuned.
Editor’s babble: File my name under the “eternal optimist” category. It would be a personal dream come true if a University of Wyoming QB busted the quarterback curse Bills fans have endured since Jim Kelly retired. Thanks to Anthony Sciandra for his contributions to our blog. You can follow Anthony on Twitter @SciandraSports.