Beane knew offense was a need in free agency

March 21, 2019
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Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane has had one of the more active offseasons in the National Football League.

The Bills have added 11 new players via free agency, a number of those players on the offensive side of the ball, and was also in on trade talks with the Pittsburgh Steelers for All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown. Beane has also spoken with a number of other free agents available on the market, while also focusing in on the upcoming NFL Draft from Thursday, April 25 to Saturday, April 27 in Nashville, Tennessee.

One of the focuses this offseason was to add some more protection and weapons around second-year quarterback Josh Allen. Last year, the Bills offense struggled to start the season, but eventually started to turn things around after Allen returned from an elbow injury. Once Allen returned, the offense started to show some strong promise under the 2018 seventh overall pick, but Beane knew that the offense needed upgrades moving forward.

"We definitely knew we wanted to get better on the offensive side," said Beane on Thursday with Howard Simon and Sal Capaccio on WGR. "We looked at pretty much every position other than quarterback and we didn't say, 'Hey, we have to go to free agency and sign eight guys or 10 guys.' What we did is ranked our free agency board and we created targets that we wanted to get in different tiers. Some of the high-priced guys, some of the mid-range, and some of the lower, and we just tried to find value and add competition where we thought guys would fit what we do and fit our type of culture of what we knew about these guys, either from coaches here that had coached him or people that kind of knew who they were and how they would fit here."

Overall, the Bills added three new weapons at wide receiver (Cole Beasley, John Brown and Andre Roberts), one at running back (Frank Gore), one tight end (Tyler Kroft) and five new offensive linemen (Mitch Morse, Spencer Long, Jon Feliciano, Ty Nsekhe and LaAdrian Waddle) to protect Allen for the upcoming year. The lone defensive addition, to this point, has been cornerback Kevin Johnson.

Entering his third season as the general manager of the Bills, Beane has already learned a lot on the fly, and has put together a methodical approach to the offseason. Part of that approach has focused on how the team goes into the NFL Draft and what the best course of action is. Beane has mentioned in the past that free agency is all about addressing the needs of your team, while the NFL Draft is about adding the best player available when their pick comes up on the draft board. He made it clear on Thursday that the team intends to stick to that approach.

"Ideally in free agency, you can knock out as many 'needs' that you have, which makes it easier to draft best player available. I know that's always a big debate. Are teams really drafting best player available versus need and all that," Beane said. "If you go in and you have a major hole, you don't have a starting position somewhere, then you have to get that position somewhere fairly high in the draft. I feel that if we rolled the ball out now, we've got guys that can go in and play. Can we get better? Yes, and [just like in free agency] we hope to, in the draft, find some more talent to add competition to as many spots as we can."

While looking at the team on paper, the Bills have a number of positions that could use some more pieces before the start of the season.

One of those positions is at defensive tackle, especially after the retirement of 13-year veteran Kyle Williams this offseason. Last offseason, Beane added to the position when he signed free agent Star Lotulelei from the Carolina Panthers, then went on to draft Harrison Phillips in the third round. During the season, Buffalo was able to add Jordan Phillips after he was waived by the Miami Dolphins, and he became a big contributor to the success on defense. The Bills ended up giving Jordan a one-year contract extension this offseason to remain with the squad.

While Beane's philosophy has been to approach the draft with the mindset of taking the best player available, he knows that sometimes it happens to work out the best player available may also fill a need for the roster.

"We brought Jordan Phillips back, we also have [Lotulelei and Harrison Phillips] in there, plus Robert Thomas and Kyle Peko - some young guys that will come in and compete. If there is a guy there that we feel can jump in and take Kyle [Williams'] role as a young guy, we would definitely look at that option. Pass rushers are hard to come by, and Kyle was a good one for a long time. If there is a guy there, then we'll definitely take a look."

In addition to needing to add at defensive tackle, the Bills also have an issue coming up with a pair of pass rushers at defensive end.

Shaq Lawson is entering the fourth year of his rookie deal with the Bills, and the team's deadline to give him the fifth-year option on his contract is quickly approaching. In his first three seasons with the Bills, the 24-year-old has tallied up 76 combined tackles, 10.0 sacks, eight passes defended and four forced fumbles. Last season, Lawson had a strong campaign with 30 combined tackles, 4.0 sacks, and two forced fumbles.

Beane is not too worried at the moment to make any decision on Lawson, but he is looking forward to seeing him back in Buffalo for the 2019 season.

"We've still got time. Right now, our focus is on the draft," Beane said. "Shaq's out training, and we've checked in with him through a couple of people a couple of times just to see how he's doing, but I know he's looking forward to coming back. We'll probably wait and approach that a little bit closer to the deadline."

As for defensive end Jerry Hughes, the long-time Buffalo Bill is entering the final year of his contract before he becomes a free agent in March of 2020. The 30-year-old had a nice bounce back season in 2018, picking up 37 combined tackles, a team-leading seven sacks, and three forced fumbles.

Much like the situation with Lawson, Beane is not too concerned with Hughes and a potential new contract moving forward.

"Jerry is a guy that we like and respect," Beane said. "He's kind of a veteran now that Kyle is gone. He's probably the elder statesman of our [defensive line], so Jerry's a guy we like. That', more than likely, something that probably after the draft. Right now, our 100-percent focus is pretty much there."

Beane also touched base on a couple of key defensive pieces for the Bills that missed some time at the end of the season due to injuries.

Matt Milano was probably the most significant injury of the bunch after he broke his fibula during the Bills' Week 14 loss to the New York Jets. Taron Johnson became a pretty significant piece to the secondary in his rookie season, but his year was cut short after undergoing shoulder surgery.

It seems as though both guys will be ready to return to action once the team reconvenes for their offseason workout program starting in May.

"Those guys have been here since the season's end," Beane said. "Most of the guys get out of town, and we want them to and relax and get their minds and their bodies fixed, and then get back to working out with wherever they live. Taron and Matt, and a few of the other guys, a couple of the punters have been around. It's good to see them. They're doing well, they're in shape, and for the most part, they'll be active in our offseason program. They still may have some limitations, each of them, but for the most part, they'll be back on the field with the guys probably in May."

You can listen to the entire interview below: