The Bills, under the leadership of Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott, escaped the depths of mediocrity en route to the Super Bowl. Before both men were hired in 2017, Buffalo was unexceptional under Rex Ryan, posting seasons of 7-9, 8-8 and 9-7 – their first winning campaign since 2004. After failing to reach the playoffs, however, Terry Pegula, the team’s owner, made a change.
The new regime faced more dead caps than any team in the league at the time with minimal cap space, a parting gift from the old regime (sound familiar?). Beane and McDermott made tough decisions, like leaving Marcell Dareus freshman year, and rode on the back of provisional starter Tyrod Taylor, a slew of bargain free agents and a few hard-hitting draft picks en route to the playoffs. at 9-7 despite a negative point differential (sound familiar?).
Then they took a step back in 2018. The Bills asserted themselves in their quest for a franchise quarterback, trading until they landed Josh Allen with the seventh overall pick. Although they were slightly more aggressive in free agency, landing Trent Murphy, Vontae Davis and Star Lotulelei, Buffalo could only set a 6-10 record with a much worse point differential than in 2017 – expected with a rookie signal caller. However, since then the Bills have made the playoffs every year with one of the busiest rosters in the league led by one of the best quarterbacks.
They’ve made almost every decision – from hit trades (Stefon Diggs, moving up for Allen) and home draft picks (Tre’Davious White, Dion Dawkins, Matt Milano) to which players to pay (Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer ) and who not (John Brown, LeSean McCoy). Buffalo’s ability to find value in free will should not be underestimated either. This year’s haul of Jamison Crowder, OJ Howard, Rodger Saffold, DaQuan Jones and Duke Johnson would improve any team.
Every organization would be happy to go through a similar rebuild. And the new Falcons regime knows it precisely. At a press conference late last year, Arthur Smith said that he sees the Bills’ trajectory as “no different from what ‘Atlanta’ is trying to build.” It seems the Falcons leadership is on the same page.
“I see a lot of parallels with Buffalo,” said Terry Fontenot. “They took a step back to take a step forward as they worked through their ceiling issues.”
The Falcons definitely have ceiling issues. Atlanta bites the bullet from Matt Ryan’s record-breaking kill as well as what’s left of Julio Jones’ inflated contract. However, they’re “taking it on the chin now,” so the future looks brighter in the form of a projected salary cap of over $100 million in 2023.
“There may be short-term pain. But I see light at the end of the tunnel,” Fontenot said. “Even this year, we’re not mailing it. If we get the right guys made of the right material, we’re going to go out and beat some people.”
Photographer: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire