After breaking playoff drought, Bills brass says there's no taking steps back

July 19, 2018
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If anyone thinks breaking the longest postseason drought in North American professional sports has allowed the two men running the Buffalo Bills to feel they’ve bought themselves a free year, so to speak, and are willing to take a step back, think again.

"That's not in our DNA,” general manager Brandon Beane said, sitting next to head coach Sean McDermott. “I don't even have to ask him (points to McDermott) if that's him. We're wired to win every day. You watch him out there, the practice, do you see any less? I mean, the tempo, everything, they've got to a T.”

Let’s face it. After the euphoria of last season’s playoff run, especially after heading into the year with such low expectations from those on the outside, no matter what happens in 2018, the two are a virtual lock to be back in 2019. But even knowing they’ve bought a lot of good will with the fanbase and ownership, as the two mean head into their second year together, Beane says not only are they not treating 2018 as a season to regroup, their own expectations are even loftier.

“If anything, we said, 'We've set the standard,’” Beane explained. “If we drop down, we're pointing it back on ourselves. If anything, we've got to try to make it an even harder standard....we're trying to win even harder now than we were a year ago sitting here."

While that thinking is great to hear for fans, and as truthful as Beane is while saying it, most pundits think the Bills are about to take a step back. Not because Beane and McDermott are hitting the reset button, but because of what many feel is an overall lack talent on a roster that lost several key parts from last year’s team.

Gone from just the offensive line alone are two pro bowlers, center Eric Wood and guard Richie Incognito, as well as Cordy Glenn, who was paid to be the team’s franchise left tackle just a couple years ago.

The wide receiver corps has more questions than answers heading into training camp. There’s a new offensive coordinator, a 20-year-old rookie taking over for the league’s leading tackler at middle linebacker, and, of course, a three-way quarterback competition between a rookie who most believe won’t be ready to play in 2018, and two quarterbacks who have a combined five regular season NFL starts.

With all of that turnover and so many questions, the most dead salary cap money in the NFL which all comes off the books next offseason giving them a ton of flexibility and opportunity a year from now, many wouldn’t blame the Beane/McDermott regime for taking a step back, chalking up 2018 to a rebuilding year, and focusing on 2019. And as they say they certainly aren’t doing that, those same people are wondering how they plan on winning.

It starts with building the right culture and trust within the entire organization, according to both. Two things McDermott began laying the groundwork for when he took over in January of last year, then Beane helped build upon when he arrived in May.

“When I got here, you know you hear a lot of things before you come into the building,” McDermott said. “And that's true of anyone taking any new job. You try to do your research. I had some people who had worked here before, so I knew there were some good people here. I learned from where I was that you don't just go in and have guns blazing. You listen. And I tried to do that. And in doing so, found out there were in fact, it's true, there were a number of good people here. And that's really where it starts, with people in terms of building the culture. And then when Brandon got here, we continued to add. Brandon's done a phenomenal job. I think this is where us being aligned on the DNA as he mentioned a few minutes ago, the types of people we want to bring in, not only players, but also at the staff level. That's been a huge part of it.

“I don't know what it was like before we got here, other than watching tape. And there's no sound on the tape of practice from the 2016 season. We did watch some of that to see some of the habits and what was going on. I'm not commenting on that, but moreso, we don't really know too much of what was going on or what it looked like before we got here. So this is what we know. And if we don't continue to manage it and do the things we said we would always do, there'll be weeds growing up all around us. And that's what happens with culture, if I'm not doing my job, and he's not doing his job. Culture's always changing. It's always growing, whether you like it or not. And if you don't manage it, it'll grow up in the form of weeds."

Soon after Beane arrived from Carolina where he was the Panthers’ assistant general manager, he began changing the entire dynamic of the locker room, making seven trades involving a total of 10 players. Some of the more talented Bills, like wide receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Ronald Darby, were shipped out before the season even began.

As the season went on, more deals were made. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was traded. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was brought in. And, of course, quarterback Tyrod Taylor was benched in favor of rookie Nathan Peterman, a decision that still divides fans eight months later. Beane knows every move they make is going to have critics. And not everyone at One Bills Drive, on his own staff, is even going to agree on everything. But, he explained, as long as there’s a mutual respect and understanding in the building, that’s where success begins.

“First of all, you got to get the right people on the bus,” Beane said. “We’re not talking about players, we’re talking about staff. To Sean’s point, there’s a lot of good people here. But a lot of good people, if they’re not all working in the right direction – and I can’t comment on [before], because I was not [here], but you got to get everybody in the right direction. And then you’ve got to be willing to set a plan….I think that’s probably where things get off [track]. Everybody sets a plan. I’m sure every regime, coach, GM has a plan. When it gets tough, are you going to stick to it? We’ve tried to hold each other accountable and, ‘These are the things we got to do.’ You’ve got to make tough decisions. Sometimes unpopular decisions. Whether that’s a quarterback benching, whether that’s trading a top pick, whatever it is, if it’s the right move at the right time, you’ve got to be also willing to make mistakes. I know you guys are in a way congratulating us a little bit. But we made plenty of mistakes and we’ll make plenty more. But at least if you’re honest about it with the people that matter, they will respect that.”

In his starting NFL debut, Peterman threw five first-half interceptions and was replaced by Taylor at halftime. The Bills lost the game 54-24 and fell to 5-5 after starting out 5-2. The wheels were falling off. To make matters worse, they were headed to Kansas City the next week to face a Chiefs team that had started the season 5-0, lost four of their next five, and was looking to get back on track against a reeling Bills squad. Taylor was re-inserted as the starter.

Beane and McDermott explained what was going on behind the scenes through all of that.
 
“Sean stood up there and he owned the Tyrod decision,” Beane said. “Now, he didn’t just do that decision, he didn’t just off on a whim do that. There was a lot of in-house conversations about positives, negatives, understanding this is the quarterback. This is not easy, and you’re putting in a rookie. But at the end of the day, he went in there and he owned it to the team. And what happens is, people respect that. Whether they agreed with it or not. I’m sure there were people with a lot of different [opinions]. I didn’t poll players and he didn’t either, but at the end of the day, I saw a team that said, ‘You know what? He came in there and said, ‘Hey, that didn’t work. We tried it and I’m trying to win every week, and unfortunately that decision didn’t work out for various reasons. Tyrod is our starter.’ And it was like, ‘Here we go.’”

The Bills beat the Chiefs 16-10 and were suddenly back in the playoff conversation.

“That team was a really good team,” Beane said of the Chiefs. “To win that game gave us a new confidence that we could finish strong.”
 
“Let me back up for a quick second because Brandon mentioned something that I think is highly important, and that’s the mistakes,” McDermott interjected. “We made some huge strides last year, but behind the scenes, even sometimes in plain view, you’ve seen the mistakes we’ve made and we’ve probably made twice as many that you haven’t seen. So we’re not perfect. We’ve got, as you’ve heard me say before, a lot of work to do. This wouldn’t have been without the people in this building. ‘Here we go again,’ or, ‘Oh crap,’ or whatever was going to be said, I’m sure some of it was being said, right? Maybe even in our own building. But at the end of the day, it won out. The right thing won out. Hopefully that will serve us well moving forward because I know for myself and for Brandon, as well, we’ve been through that experience before when, whether at Carolina for Brandon, Carolina for me, Philadelphia for me, you go through those moments, and I’ve been fortunate to around head coaches that have steered the ship and general managers that have steered the ship and come out on top. Look, we learned a lot going through it, I would say. I know Brandon agrees that we could use it as we go forward here.”

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