Two days after a highlight-reel early playoff exit at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals, the wound is still fresh in Buffalo.
Just ask Brandon Beane.
The Buffalo Bills general manager spoke to reporters Tuesday at his season-ending news conference following Buffalo’s 27-10 loss. He was asked if Buffalo should “accommodate” Cincinnati’s roster-building plan, which allows the Bengals to build a strong receiving corps.
His response included a not-so-subtle shot at the franchise that just beat him;
They have a good team,” Bean said. “They have an advantage right now in a rookie quarterback contract. They’ve had a few lean years without doing much to their physique.
“I don’t want to suck so bad I have to get Ja’Mar Chase. He is talented. I would love to have her. But you’ve got to go through some lean years to do that.”
Bean’s point is clear, even if couched with a thick grain of salt. The Bengals built their roster with the distinct advantage of playing Joe Burrow on a rookie contract that pays him $36.1 million over four years before they inevitably exercise a fifth-year option in 2024 or sign him to an extension that would increase his salary.
The Bengals have found the best winning formula in the NFL
Hitting a rookie quarterback who excels early in his career is the ultimate NFL rush. Having a Pro Bowl-level quarterback at a discount in a salary-laden league frees up spending elsewhere and opens a key window for success.
The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl with Russell Wilson on their rookie contract while using cap space to build a historically great defense. The Kansas City Chiefs also won a Super Bowl with Patrick Mahomes on his rookie contract before signing him to a 10-year, $450 million contract.
The Bills were in the same position with Allen while he was playing a $23.1 million option this season. Next season, he will enter the first year of a six-year, $258 million contract extension. The Bills’ window to build around Allen on the cheap is over, and Beane appears to want to make that clear as Buffalo’s roster construction comes under fire ahead of the cap season.
The Bills are in dire need
The Bills outplayed the Bengals on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and the limitations of their receiving talent beyond All-Pro Stefon Diggs were on full display as they failed to get a touchdown on the air Sunday. They could clearly use upgrades in the trenches and at the skill positions, so there’s the question of Cincinnati’s top receiving corps featuring Chase, Ty Higgins and Tyler Boyd.
And yes, it’s true, the Bengals had to “suck” to acquire the draft picks that landed Burrow first overall in the 2020 draft and Chase the No. 5 pick a year later. But now both of those players are on rookie deals, powering a franchise that is one win away from its second straight Super Bowl.
Can the Bills improve with cap restraints, lower draft picks?
The Bills, of course, had a similar window during Allen’s rookie contract from 2018 to ’21. They succeeded, but not to the same level as the Bengals, who surpassed them early in the AFC standings. And the Bills won’t be picking first or fifth overall anytime soon, which means they’ll have to get creative to get the upgrades they need on their roster.
Beane said himself that Buffalo’s cap hit took a hit because the roster is currently structured around $240 million for 2023. The NFL’s salary cap for next season’s drafts will be below that number.
“Von Miller’s contract is not going to happen,” Beane said, according to the Buffalo News. “… We will be creative. We will try and win. It’s up to me. We have a draft pick. We’ve got to find cheap free agents that can find roles, whether it’s a key backup, a tight end starter, whatever it is.”
The Bills need to play their cards right. While it helps to have a top pick, difference-making talent can be found outside of the draft’s top 10 picks. The Minnesota Vikings took Justin Jefferson with the No. 22 pick in the 2020 draft, a pick they secured from the Bills in the trade that sent Stefon Diggs to Buffalo. The Bengals selected Tee Higgins with the first pick of the second round in the same draft.
The Bills will pick No. 27 overall in April, a pick that will come under intense scrutiny. With their window right now, they’ll have to find a player who can make an immediate impact, whether it’s in the trenches or at receiver.
They’ll do it as they look to keep pace with the Chiefs and Bengals, who don’t plan to be squished again anytime soon.