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Are the Bills having a good offseason? Our beat reporters discuss.


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NFL free agency is officially one week old and while there hasn’t been a blockbuster move from the Buffalo Bills yet, they’ve been active. Has the team taken a step forward for 2023? It’s an appropriate time to check in with The Athletic’s Bills writers Tim Graham and Joe Buscaglia to discuss that and other various topics surrounding the team’s offseason activity.

Have the Bills had the kind of offseason you expected? Why or why not?

Graham: So far, yes. Not only did Brandon Beane warn us not to expect much, but the salary cap also prohibited much movement. Then again, Beane said the same thing after the 2021 season and then found a way to sign Von Miller. And as I type this, there’s smoke wafting around the possibility of a trade with Arizona for star receiver DeAndre Hopkins. I’m also a tad surprised Buffalo brought back Jordan Poyer. When I spoke with him at the Pro Bowl, he sounded resigned (no hyphen) to the notion of having played his final game for the Bills and not like someone who would be re-signed (hyphen). The market was discouraged by Poyer’s age and injury history, allowing the Bills to bring him back at a reasonable price.

Buscaglia: I think the answer is both yes and no. Yes, the Bills had an expected offseason because they didn’t overextend themselves in free agency and focused more on their long-term cap health. General manager Brandon Beane did more than hint that they’d have a relatively quiet free agency immediately after the season and at the NFL Combine. But the answer is no as well because of the unexpected return of Jordan Poyer. The Bills smartly kept the door open on a return, but no one likely saw the safety market hitting a wall quite like it did, leading the Bills to get Poyer on a two-year deal that averages out to $6.25 million per season.

Which Bills move or transaction stands out to you the most and why?

Graham: Damien Harris adds an element to Buffalo’s backfield that has been absent. Looking back at what New England’s assistant coaches had to say about him, there’s a recurring sentiment about how he runs: “angry” with “dirty yards after contact,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels once said. “We know if we get Damien to the second level he’s going to make some plays,” center David Andrews said. “He runs the ball hard. He’s a tough kid.” Bill Belichick lauded Harris as a leader who “has a ton of respect from every player and coach in this organization” because he “put in the blood, the sweat, and earned it.” Buffalo coach Sean McDermott covets all of the above. That’s not to say Devin Singletary didn’t provide energy and spark and inspiration to Buffalo’s offense. But at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, Harris was four inches taller and 13 pounds heavier and ran the 40-yard dash a tenth-of-a-second faster than Singletary. There is a drop-off with Harris when it comes to catching passes. The Patriots didn’t use him much in that regard (40 receptions over the past three seasons), leading to him playing only around 40 percent of their offensive snaps compared to Singletary at over 60 percent.

Buscaglia: The Matt Milano re-signing stands out because it is sneakily polarizing for what it could become down the line. They committed a lot of guaranteed funds on top of what they just paid him, and he’s locked in on the roster for at least the next three years. Without question, Milano has been a difference-maker on the field since he arrived in 2017. But he has also been a player with several short-term injuries over his career and will be in his age-30 season starting in 2024. With how the off ball linebacker market mostly fell flat outside of Tremaine Edmunds, the Bills investing another $27 million guaranteed in Milano for a deal extending into his 30s is a bit of a risk and could come back to bite them. It’s at least food for thought. But if Milano stays healthy, his speed remains and he doesn’t have a dip in production, they won’t be complaining about it one bit. 

Which Bills move or transaction would you consider underrated right now? 

Graham: On a club that features several high-profile players and with a GM who has made some splashy moves, it’s difficult to move the needle. So an offensive lineman with 29 starts over four NFL seasons might not seem like much, but the Bills targeted guard Connor McGovern as an early free-agent signing. McGovern has been an effective pass blocker, and while questions exist about his run-blocking skills, Bills offensive line coach Aaron Kromer might be able to get more out of McGovern than Joe Philbin, who the Cowboys fired two months ago.

Buscaglia: I’ll go with Deonte Harty. The Bills badly needed to add some speed and yards-after-catch potential at receiver because their top four last year were far too inconsistent in that area. Harty is a lightning bolt in the open field and gives them a lot more juice than what Isaiah McKenzie provided in 2022. Harty likely won’t be an every-down receiver, so there is still an opening to add another receiver to the room. But having him run into the huddle fresh on 20 to 35 percent of offensive snaps can cause a defense to recalibrate and maybe even lose intensified focus on Stefon Diggs for a few plays. I really liked the fit as a fourth receiver.

Which player would you have liked to see the Bills acquire (or still acquire)? 

Graham: How sweet would Austin Ekeler look in a Bills uniform? That trade wasn’t going to happen, not with how little teams spend on tailbacks anymore. The Chargers gave Ekeler permission to seek a trade to a team willing to give him a raise, but paying him in addition to parting with draft capital wasn’t as appealing as adding a free agent like Harris to a backfield that already had 2021 second-round pick James Cook and Nyheim Hines on a reworked deal. Sure-handed receiver Adam Theilen also would have been a fine acquisition for an offense that dropped a lot of passes, but the Panthers offered him a three-year deal, too long for a wideout who’s about to turn 33 and will be five seasons removed from his best.

Buscaglia: As much as I think the Harty signing went a little undervalued in general, the move I would have focused on this offseason was to trade for Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy. It all depends on the cost, of course, but if the price was a second-round pick plus, that’s something the Bills should have considered. Jeudy fits their cap profile for 2023 with only a $2.7 million cap hit, they’d have roster control with a fifth-year option on him for 2024 and he is a superior talent to anything they could find at receiver in the second round. They have a long-term need at receiver, and the still 23-year-old Jeudy would fit into that picture well. Jeudy is also a strong fit on the field, having the separation skills, run-after-catch ability they covet and the flexibility to play both at slot receiver and on the boundary.

Coming off an injury-filled 2022, what kind of season should Bills fans expect from Jordan Poyer?

Graham: You know he’ll be a warrior. The Bills just need to hope his body holds up. His most notable injuries last year were to his ribs, a situation that led to one of last season’s more amazing stories: Unable to fly because his collapsed lung still was healing and couldn’t handle the change in air pressure, he hit the highway for 30 hours roundtrip to Arrowhead Stadium, helping the Bills defeat the Chiefs. With the way Poyer lays his body on the line, the Bills should be nervous about his elbows and shoulders and knees and ankles. But how often does a player need to come back from a freaking lung deflation? Before last season, Poyer missed only two games since joining the Bills. In 12 games, he fell one interception and one pass breakup short of what he recorded in his 2021 All-Pro campaign. I see Poyer remaining at a Pro Bowl level and, with Micah Hyde back from neck surgery, being used more on blitzes like he used to be.

Buscaglia: I sensed a bit of a renewed and rejuvenated Jordan Poyer at the news conference following his re-signing with the Bills. Almost as though a year-long weight was lifted off his shoulders. He knows these could be the final years of his career, and I think that’s a motivating factor to maximize this window. Injuries are inevitable, especially for older players, but he had quite a bit of bad injury luck in 2022 as well. Surrounded by his longtime defensive backfield teammates Micah Hyde, Tre’Davious White and Taron Johnson, I will not be surprised at all if he has a season closer to the 2020 and 2021 campaigns. He knows that without Edmunds, more pressure falls on the secondary to be the difference makers, and the Poyer and Hyde combination might thrive with that considering how their last season collectively unfolded.

How can the Bills defense still be productive without Tremaine Edmunds in 2023

Graham: Unless the Bills make the Hopkins trade or another headline-grabbing move, the biggest upgrade for this season will be the secondary if everyone stays healthy. It’s almost like rebuilding the defensive backfield to welcome back safety Hyde, who played only two games last year, and the top cornerback in White, who played only the final six regular-season games and didn’t look truly comfortable on his reconstructed knee until the postseason. Hyde and Poyer are captains who can help move around the other nine defenders like chess pieces. They, along with White and Johnson, form a fabulous backstop for any inside linebacker tandem that also includes Milano. Edmunds’ replacement doesn’t need to be a world-beater with those dudes around him.

Buscaglia: The first step will be finding a replacement of some kind. It would be a two-player training camp battle between Terrel Bernard and Tyrel Dodson as it stands. Bernard did not show enough last year to warrant faith he could step into the starting role in 2023, and Dodson has shown in several defensive opportunities that he struggles in coverage. The position feels light, much like how cornerback felt light heading into the draft in 2022. From there, it will be a matter of the rest of the defense picking up the slack for the new starter. There was a notable difference in the Bills’ defense with and without Edmunds in 2022, suffering quite a bit in pass coverage without him. The pass rush will need to find its early-season form, and the secondary will have to return to pre-2022 levels for the defense to keep going along the same plane as the last few years.

Do you feel better, worse or the same about the Bills in 2023?

Graham: The same. How about that? Beane has done well to keep the band as together as possible while making nuanced improvements here and there before the draft. I understand how impatient Bills fans are about the lack of blockbuster maneuvers; they got used to them when Beane and McDermott were overhauling the roster and had salary-cap room before Josh Allen’s second contract kicked in. But this is the reality for a team built to be a perennial Super Bowl contender instead of loading up for a surge. The Bills are banking on young players developing, prime players thriving, veteran players staying healthy and an established culture to make the difference.

Buscaglia: It’s a bit of a to be continued until we see the Bills’ 2023 draft class because there are more opportunities than in the past several years for first-year players to step into major roles as a rookie. But as of now, I don’t think this team has that 13 or 14-win potential it showed last year. There are concerns about their pass-rushing consistency if Von Miller isn’t ready to begin the season. The starter next to Edmunds is a clear question mark, and we still need to find out what they have in second-year cornerback Kaiir Elam. On offense, the Bills’ passing attack has to prove they can find their early-season magic from 2022 again, and the offensive line has to allow Allen the necessary time in the pocket. The beginning of the season will be big for offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey because he’ll have had a full offseason after one season calling the plays, and the pressure will be on immediately.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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