Beane and McDermott reflect on first two years, discuss what lies ahead

The Bills head coach and general manager enter Year 3 together in Buffalo

Sal Capaccio
July 18, 2019 - 12:18 am

Photo: Brett Carlsen - Getty Images


To say the Buffalo Bills have gone through a high number of regime changes in recent years would be an understatement.

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Since Marv Levy retired in 1997, the Bills have had eight permanent head coaches, and two more interims. They’re also on their fifth general manager since John Butler left after the 2000 season. Over that time, no head coach/general manager combination has lasted more than three years together at One Bills Drive.  

That’s exactly where Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane are headed once training camp kicks off next week in Rochester. Year 3.

McDermott was hired in January, 2017. Four months later, Beane arrived. Together, they put together a plan on how to build the roster and draft and develop talent. That plan included a reset of the salary cap, clearing space and allowing them to have flexibility needed to acquire free agents.

Most thought the team would be pretty bad that first year, some even said they were tanking. But things went right, they started out hot, and eventually made the playoffs, breaking a league-long 17-year postseason drought. In Year 2, the step back that was expected a season earlier happened. They went 6-10 while breaking in a rookie quarterback who wasn’t even expected to play as early as he did.

With the cap space created over the previous two seasons, the team went out and signed a league-high 18 unrestricted free agents this offseason. They added pieces around quarterback Josh Allen to hopefully get him to take the next step, including what looks like will be four new offensive linemen in front of him. Those linemen, combined, have played over 300 NFL games, and started 196 total games. It was an indication that the team wasn’t just going with youth and still tearing down, but finally building back up and ready and willing to take a jump and compete for the postseason in 2019. 

In a joint interview last month, Beane and McDermott reflected on their first two years running the Bills, where they feel they are now, and what possibly lies ahead.

“I do prefer the draft part of it,” Beane said about building the roster with so many free agents this year versus year’s past. “Due to our cap situation and all the other parts of this rebuild, whatever you want to call it, I don’t think in the future you’ll see us sign as many free agents as we can continue to draft and develop the guys we have drafted the last three years. From sitting there, it seems like yesterday, with the Pegulas, you’ve got to have a franchise quarterback. The two most important hires in my mind that a [general manager] is responsible for is that you can’t miss on, you have to have a really good coach. Sean was obviously here - I believe in him or I wouldn’t have made this move up here - and secondly, a franchise quarterback. We feel like we made the moves necessary to get Josh and we hope that’s our guy moving forward. It’s year two, we like where he’s at, and then beyond that, just continue to draft and develop guys. And third is our salary cap in the right spot. I didn’t have a long look at this, I wasn’t expecting this job to come open so I didn’t have a long study of the Bills’ cap situation, but in the short time when I knew I was interviewing for this job and meeting with them, I told them specifically I think it’s going to take two to three years to fix this cap. Part of it is you have to get to know the players, those guys that have higher cap numbers, which ones you want to keep and renegotiate, and I think it took two years to get that, it didn’t go into a third.”

As far as those 18 unrestricted free agents signed, Beane says he never expected it to be that many when he was planning on opening up all the cap space, but circumstances dictated it. He also cautioned against anyone thinking that will be the norm every year. Ideally, they won’t need to if they’re building the team the way he and McDermott prefer.

“I didn't have a number [of free agents] two years ago,” Beane said. “I mean, there's guys [who left that] we didn't anticipate. You go back to Eric Wood's injury. Things like that happen along the way. But we knew the areas when we left this season. We had some very frank, honest discussions internally here of where we're at. We have to be honest with ourselves in what we have to get fixed if we’re going to put a winning product out there, and we had the cap space to do it. We tried to be smart and responsible with the contracts, the best you can in free agency. It's not easy. But that was the goal. Again, I prefer to not be signing that many free agents just from a continuity and growing-our-own type of scenario. So hopefully going forward we're not talking about signing that many guys when we sit here in June.”

McDermott, who will be the first Bills head coach to coach into his third season since Chan Gailey back in 2012, likes what they’ve done so far, not only from his first days back in 2017, but even from the end of last season.

“We are further along than where we were when we first got here,” he said, reflecting back to when he was hired. “And we talk a lot just in meetings with Terry [Pegula] and Kim [Pegula] both, whatever the topic is – in this case the state of our football team about where we are. What our concerns are for the upcoming season. And so we feel, I’ll say I in this case, I feel that we are a better football team today than the way we ended the season, with a lot of work to do. And so does that mean we’re gonna win one game or X number of games? That remains to be seen. But I feel like we are – this organization is – in a better place now than where it was three or four months ago.”


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