Attracting free agents to Buffalo

Photo of C Matt Paradis from 1043thefan.com and Getty Images.

It’s almost that time of year again, NFL free agency begins in about a month. Also known as Christmas time for football fans, this is the time of year your team looks to bring in “gifts” or additions to help them improve in the following season and hopefully years beyond.

Unfortunately, Buffalo has always been looked at as a slight disadvantage when it comes to bringing in talent via free agency. Between the stigma of cold weather and “nothing to do” Buffalo doesn’t seem to be a top free agent destination. However, most players who end up signing in Buffalo fall in love with the city and the fans.

For the last two decades, the direction of the team has given potential free agents hesitation about signing with the Bills. Toward the top of a player’s free agent wish list is a team that has a chance to become a contender. In many years past, that wasn’t the case in Buffalo, a franchise that was constantly “middling”. Not bad enough to have premium draft picks to acquire top end talent and not good enough to make the playoffs.

Photo of GM Brandon Beane from buffalonews.com.

Finally, the Bills have a regime in place that are determined to do their best to change that opinion about the franchise. General manager Brandon Beane has a firm plan in place to bring long term stability to Buffalo. Head coach Sean McDermott has shown the ability to get the most out of his players. In the last two seasons, the Bills have exceeded most professional expectations.

In the 2017 season, not many expected the Bills to break their 17 year playoff drought when looking at the roster with a first year head coach. Although there was some help in doing so, just being able to pull it back together after a three game slide showed the character and resolve in the locker room.

In 2018, mostly a developmental season, the Bills were expected to be in the running for the worst team in the league. After several injuries at quarterback alone, they were able to have a strong finish to end up at 6-10. They were a few bad special teams breaks and a drop by Charles Clay from possibly being 8-8.

This is no doubt another critical off-season for the Bills. Last off-season was mostly about getting the franchise quarterback, now it’s time to build around him and take the next step. With significant salary cap space, the Bills will look to start building on the young core roster they have in order to reach that next level that has escaped them for so many years.

Aug 15, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Kansas City Chiefs center Mitch Morse (61) blocks for quarterback Alex Smith (11) against the Arizona Cardinals during a preseason NFL football game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Now comes the question, do free agents want to come to Buffalo? Will the Bills have to “overpay” in order to bring in talent? It’s not as cut and dry as “sign this guy”. Players have many things to consider when potentially signing with a new team. For most, money is at the top of the list as players have to maximize a career that on average spans roughly three to five years.

The size of the market they go to also weighs heavily in a lot of player’s decision. Climate is also a factor to some players, and as we know, Buffalo might as well considered to be the Antarctic to people who haven’t spent time there. Last, but certainly not least is the direction the franchise appears to be going. With the addition of the right talent, the Bills could be trending up quickly.

The Bills have the financial freedom to add such talent in free agency to help with that trend. That doesn’t mean they should spend frivolously. Smart moves need to be made and Brandon Beane has spoken about that subject numerous times. Throughout the life span of free agency, we have seen countless free agent signings that don’t live up to the “hype”. Free agency is not a cure all for what ails teams trying to improve.

Photo of Buffalo, N.Y. from us.pricetravel.com.

Buffalo is not a big market, it doesn’t offer the flash that cities such as New York, Dallas, Los Angeles would. Some players have come out and said “there’s nothing to do there” which just isn’t true. The nightlife scene isn’t the greatest by any means, but usually that leads to trouble anyways. There still is plenty of things to do, it just depends on someone’s preferences.

Buffalo is great for a family atmosphere if a player chooses to bring their families here. Buffalo has that small town appeal, being titled “the city of good neighbors”. We also have the most passionate fans that welcome in new players with open arms. From arts, to dining, to nature, there are several areas to explore in Western New York. A short drive across the border into Canada expands upon the “things to do” list which includes an expanded nightlife scene.

The NFL season is demanding and takes up a lot of time on a player’s schedule, but they aren’t robots and deserve some time to unwind. While there has been some players that have spoken out about the lack of appeal WNY brings, most players come to grow fond of the area, enough to call the area home or a frequent place to visit long after their NFL career is over.

Weather is another factor that weighs on people’s minds when Buffalo is mentioned. Despite the rumors, it doesn’t snow 364 days out of the year. Spring comes late sometimes, but when it does arrive it is a pleasant relief. Summer and fall are both beautiful in WNY.

For an NFL player, the majority of the time they would spend in the area from off-season workouts to the regular season is pretty comfortable. The months that may be of some concern for the warmer weather fans would be November, December, and hopefully January. As we have seen, stadium talks are starting to pick up steam. One of the options in play could be an enclosed stadium.

Photo from BuffaloRising.com.

Although fan opinion seems to be split, there are some that would be in favor of a dome, others would like to keep the weather element involved with an open air stadium. From a player standpoint, the majority seem to prefer playing in ideal weather conditions. In Buffalo there seems to be a large number of people who have the opinion the cold weather plays to the Bills advantage, and I believe that opinion is false.

Some players do embrace the cold or snow games, but most would rather play in more ideal conditions. A perfect example of whether or not any advantage exists for the Bills in the elements is during the 2017 season versus the Indianapolis Colts.

The Colts are an indoor team, they were missing their starting quarterback, Andrew Luck, and they were one of the worst teams in the league that season. The Bills did win 13-7, but it was a sloppy game by both teams.

The only time the weather helped the Bills during that game was when dependable Colts kicker, Adam Vinatieri missed a 33 yard field goal that could have sealed the game for the Colts. LeSean McCoy turned in a strong performance despite conditions, something he was previously known for when he played for the Philadelphia Eagles and ran for over 200 yards in a blizzard against the Detroit Lions.

The cost of a new stadium looks to be in the neighborhood of $2 billion. With that in mind, a dome makes sense to make in more accessible during the winter months. If that kind of money is being spent, it would also be ideal to maximize use and make a complex with an event center that could attract other events to the area. On a side note, Buffalo is also discussing a new convention center, combining both needs into a complex could be an option.

Photo of New Era Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. from stadiumsofprofootball.com.

New Era Field is loud on game days, imagine that crowd noise inside a dome frustrating an opposing offense trying to get play calls and make adjustments at the line of scrimmage. Crowd noise is the biggest factor when it comes to home field advantage, where as weather affects both teams equally.

There are many factors to consider when a player is going to sign with a new team. The Bills are finally in a financial position to be aggressive, if they so choose. There are several other teams with significant cap space to provide competition in signing players.

If the Bills can turn that corner and become a playoff contender, it could give them an edge in bringing in talent. With Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott entering their third seasons with the Bills, along with a strong locker room, it seems like the franchise finally has the stability to take that elusive next step and potentially become a free agent destination.

Editor’s babble: Thanks as always to Erik Smeal for his terrific contributions to our blog. You can find Erik on Twitter @Buffwagon819. Have a great day!

About Erik Smeal

Born and raised in Buffalo NY. Army Veteran. Die hard Bills and Sabres fan for 30 years.