Salute Magazine’s Exit Interview series examines the status of each NFL team heading into the offseason, along with their free agents, team needs and more. Click here for the rest of the exit interviews. Up next: the Buffalo Bills.
In a season where the Bills seemed to be doing everything in their power to undermine their chances at success, they ended the longest active playoff drought in professional sports. Only in Buffalo.
They traded away three of their best players in Ronald Darby, Marcell Dareus and Sammy Watkins at separate points this year. They bizarrely benched Tyrod Taylor in favor of Nathan Peterman at quarterback for one week. They went with an extremely basic offense all season. Yet they managed to get into the playoffs, partially because of a miracle/choke in the final regular season game.
And they’re still trying to mess things up.
It’s very clear that the team doesn’t think highly of Taylor as a QB. His skill set as a passer has been much debated in league circles. The general feeling is that while Taylor is limited in some areas, namely his arm strength, he’s very good at avoiding turnovers and keeping plays alive.
His numbers are indicative of that. Only 2,799 passing yards and 14 touchdowns, but just 4 interceptions and 427 rushing yards, the latter being third best among QBs. In a sport where dependable passers are hard to find, why not stick with Taylor and try to build around him?
It’s not like the Bills aren’t already on that path. LeSean McCoy remains one of the best running backs in the league. The offensive line has the potential to be functional. There’s elite young talent on defense. And that’s just the current state of the roster.
They’ve got five draft picks in the first three rounds this year, including back-to-back first-rounders. Head coach Sean McDermott did well in his first season. If general manager Brandon Beane continues to fill in the holes, this could be a very competitive team sooner rather than later.
But impatience is at play here. Ownership clearly wants an “elite” QB. Well, sometimes you go with the best option available. The Philadelphia Eagles won a Super Bowl with their backup this year, and it’s fair to say that Taylor and Nick Foles have an equal amount of talent.
Some teams just can’t help themselves. We’ll see how things shake out during the offseason with Taylor, but Bills fans might be in for another long wait for a repeat trip to playoffs.
Current number of draft picks: 9 (#21 and 22 in the first round)
Cap space: $28-29 million
Notable free agents
Kyle Williams, DT: Williams has spent his entire 12-year career with the Bills and was rewarded with his first playoff appearance this season. He wasn’t as effective as he’s been in the past, only notching 3 sacks and 41 total tackles. Still, his leadership has been invaluable for the team, and keeping him around for a few more years would be nice to see.
Jordan Matthews, WR: Matthews was the odd man out in the Eagles receiving corps to begin the year, so the Bills decided to take a shot on him, trading away Darby in the process. The latter did a great job in his new home. The same can’t be said for Matthews.
He only climbed to 25 catches and 282 yards, scoring just one touchdown. He never seemed to click with Taylor despite being ostensibly the best wideout on the roster. There could be a place for Matthews in the league, but it may not be in Buffalo.
E.J. Gaines, CB: Gaines was another player acquired in the flurry of early season trades for the Bills, though he panned out a lot better than Matthews. While he missed five games due to injury, he did break up 9 passes and got an interception. Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 86.6, 13th among all corners. Gaines will turn 26 in a couple of weeks, so bringing him back should be high on the list for management.
Preston Brown, MLB: Since getting taken by the Bills in the third-round of 2014’s draft, Brown has started all but two games at linebacker. He had his best season as a pro in 2017, tying for the league lead in total tackles with 144. At 25, he’s got plenty of room to grow as a defender.
Mike Tolbert, RB/FB: Tolbert has made much of his career as a fullback, but the Bills curiously used him as a running back this season. He didn’t do much, only rushing for 247 yards and a single touchdown. At 32, it’s likely that Tolbert will have to try and catch on as a fullback with another team.
QB: This all depends on what happens with Taylor. If he’s released or shipped off, the Bills will obviously have to find someone who can at least match his production at QB. Having two first-round draft picks could help them move up for a rookie signal caller if need be.
CB: Tre’Davious White was outstanding as a rookie in 2017, but the next three corners on the depth chart, Gaines, Leonard Johnson and Shareece Wright, are all free agents this offseason. The former should definitely be re-signed, and a slot corner should be looked at too.
WR: Maybe the Bills would have more confidence in Taylor if he had better receivers to throw to. Matthews is a free agent, as is Deonte Thompson, who actually was tops among the wideouts on the team in receiving. They can’t constantly rely on Shady to bail the offense out.
LB: Along with Brown, Ramon Humber, who split time with rookie Matt Milano as a starter, is a free agent. Milano is likely ready for a full-time role, but the Bills would have to scrape for a suitable substitute for Brown if he departs.
RB: The Bills offense was pretty mediocre whenever McCoy was off the field. The two backups who saw significant time in 2017, Tolbert and Travaris Cadet, are both free agents anyway, so why not look for a better #2 back?
Best player/building block
Tre’Davious White, CB: The Bills put a lot of pressure on White in his rookie year by trading Darby away, leaving him as the top corner on the roster. He responded with an amazing performance, leading the team with 18 pass breakups and coming in third in interceptions with 4. Both were second among all rookies as well. PFF gave him a grade of 92, second among all corners in the league. Can he keep it up next season?
Jordan Poyer, S: Micah Hyde got much of the acclaim at safety in his first season with the Bills, but Poyer, who was also a newcomer, was arguably a bit better. The two tied for the team lead in interceptions with 5 and were also tied for second in pass breakups with 13. However, Poyer was second on the team in total tackles with 95, more than Hyde’s 82. Regardless, the Bills can feel comfort in having such an effective duo at safety.
NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers