BUFFALO — Brandon Beane dismisses the growing buzz suggesting the Buffalo Bills are suddenly the AFC East favorites after Tom Brady left for Tampa Bay.
“The team to beat in the East is the Patriots,” the Bills general manager said, referring to a New England team that has essentially owned the division – including a 35-5 record against Buffalo – over the 20 seasons under coach Bill Belichick.
“I think it’s funny and comical that people are writing them off,” Beane said. “So, until we beat them, we’ve done nothing. And we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
There certainly is more work to do for a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since Dec. 30, 1995, and only recently ended a 17-year postseason drought by qualifying in both 2017 and last year.
To be fair, though, Beane has already done plenty of heavy lifting in putting the Bills in the conversation as realistic contenders after spending the past three years methodically rebuilding Buffalo’s roster from the ground up.
It’s to the point where Buffalo entered the three-day NFL draft with very few holes to fill. Beane has addressed many of the team’s immediate needs with veteran free-agent additions, and dealt a first-round pick (22nd overall) to land receiver Stefon Diggs in a trade with Minnesota.
The trade left Beane preparing to sit out the first round Thursday. Barring trades, Buffalo has seven selections, starting with a second-rounder (54th overall) on Friday night.
With essentially all 22 starting spots filled, Beane has the freedom of shoring up depth needs in targeting the best player available.
With LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire the only running back taken in the first round, Buffalo is in position to potentially select Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor or Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins to complement Devin Singletary, who took over the starting role as a rookie last year.
Another possibility is cornerback — Diggs’ younger brother, Trevon, is available — to develop a youngster to eventually play opposite starter Tre’Davious White.
And Buffalo can always use more pass-rushing help with returning starters Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy each going to be 30 or older before this year ends. Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa, Missouri’s Jordan Elliott and Notre Dame’s Julian Okwara are potential options.
Beane was noncommittal when asked if he places an emphasis on selecting a more established prospect over one who might need time to develop.
“It may be a tiebreaker, but I’m not going to pass up a good player. I’m still going to go best player available,” Beane said, before adding he might target positional depth needs in the later rounds. “Early on, second or third round, it will definitely be the best player, offense, defense, whatever.”
The decision to acquire Diggs and fill Buffalo’s primary offseason need paid off given how the first round of the draft unfolded. By trading his first-round selection, Beane took into account the possibility he wouldn’t be in a position to select any of the top receiving prospects before it came time for the No. 22 pick.
Beane proved correct, with Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb all gone by the 17th selection.
The Vikings used Buffalo’s pick to select LSU’s Justin Jefferson, who became the fifth receiver selected.
When it came time for the Vikings’ selection, the Bills posted a video on their Twitter account, and the message: “You already know.” The video began with the voice of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announcing the 22nd pick, followed by highlights of Diggs’ catches.
Buffalo entered the offseason also having the advantage of having continuity at many skill positions and with a Sean McDermott-led coaching staff that returns mostly intact for a third consecutive year. Many of the free agents the Bills added have ties to Beane and McDermott when the two were with the Carolina Panthers.
Beane placed an emphasis on familiarity by taking into account the likelihood of the coronavirus pandemic cutting into how much practice time teams will have before the season.
“I think it can help. It can’t hurt us,” Beane said of the added importance of having continuity entering this season.
He referred to the lockout-shortened 2011 offseason, when he was the Panthers director of football operations and Carolina was introducing a new coaching staff under Ron Rivera.
“We were signing free agents in August to go start training camp. It was something I’d never seen,” Beane said. “So, I like the continuity of where we’re at. But we still have a lot of work do to once we get back.”
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