Since arriving in Buffalo, Brandon Beane has preached his desire to address needs in free agency to allow him the freedom to draft the best player available. Over his two offseasons in Buffalo, Beane has acquired 36 players between the conclusion of the regular season and the NFL Draft, and he’s drafted 16 players. Of these 16 players, only four of them were at a position that Beane did not address via free agency or a trade prior to the draft. Seventy-five percent of the drafted players are at a position that Beane had already acquired a player at earlier in the offseason.
Is this enough data to consider it a trend or is it merely a coincidence? With such a small sample size, it’s hard to know. I’ll dive into the 2018 and 2019 offseasons below.
At the end of the 2018 season going into the 2019 offseason, the biggest needs on the Bills’ roster were wide receiver and offensive line. Beane addressed both in free agency by bringing in in Duke Williams, Cole Beasley, John Brown, and Andre Roberts at wide receiver, along with Ty Nsehke, LaAdrian Waddle, Jeremiah Sirles, Jon Feliciano, Quinton Spain, Spencer Long, and Mitch Morse on the offensive line. Outside of these positions, Beane brought in three running backs (Frank Gore, TJ Yeldon, and Christian Wade), two tight ends (Tyler Kroft and Jake Fisher), two cornerbacks (Kevin Johnson and E.J. Gaines) and one linebacker in Maurice Alexander. Come draft time, Beane double-dipped at offensive tackle, running back, tight end, and linebacker while drafting Ed Oliver, Jaquan Johnson and Darryl Johnson at positions that had yet to be touched that offseason.
The positions in which he did double-dip share interesting characteristics. In the second round, Beane selected Cody Ford, a player that was labeled as a guard/tackle going to the next level. At these positions, Beane had already signed Nsehke, Waddle, Sirles, Feliciano, and Spain. While Feliciano and Spain have developed into quality starters over the past year, they were relative unknowns when first signing in Buffalo. Most of these players were “band-aid” style players, older players on shorter contracts that were capable of starting but not necessarily reliable. Between the five players, their contracts combined for just seven years in length. It seemed that Beane threw Ford into a room full of competition where he was going to allow the best players to emerge starters in training camp.
Beane then went on to draft Devin Singletary in the third round after adding Gore, Yeldon, and Wade earlier in the offseason. Again, these players are “band-aid” style players. None of them was signed long-term, combining for just four years in length. Gore was an older running back capable of being a steady player for a year or so, but he wasn’t someone that came in and demanded to be a starter. Yeldon was a low-risk running back that offered upside, but also not someone that would come in and demand starting time. Without Singletary (and LeSean McCoy), Gore and Yeldon would have likely been a capable backfield, though not a strong one.
After Singletary, Beane drafted Dawson Knox after trading up to acquire a second third-round pick. The trend of players added in free agency continues here, as Tyler Kroft would have been a worst case scenario starter. While the length of the contract doesn’t follow the one or two-year trend, the contract was very team-friendly and would allow Buffalo to move on after just one year if they needed to do so. Kroft ultimately got injured and wouldn’t play much in 2019, but had Knox not been drafted, Kroft seemed capable of being thrown into the fire with a 40-reception and seven-touchdown season under his belt.
Notice that no players were drafted to the big money positions. Mitch Morse had been signed on a four-year, double-digit contract at center, and no centers would be drafted. Between John Brown and Cole Beasley, Beane had invested seven years and over $50 million at the wide receiver position, and no rookies would be drafted there.
The 2018 offseason was a little different, as there was no true need heading into the off-season because the roster needed talent everywhere. Beane would sign 17 free agents that offseason. He signed three running backs (Chris Ivory, Travaris Cadet, and Taiwan Jones), two cornerbacks (Vontae Davis and Philip Gaines), two defensive ends (Trent Murphy and Terrence Fede), two defensive tackles (Star Lotulelei and Tenny Palepoi), two linebackers (Julian Stanford and Ramon Humber), two wide receivers (Jeremy Kerley and Kaelin Clay), one safety (Rafael Bush), one quarterback (A.J. McCarron), and one offensive tackle (Marshall Newhouse). Unlike 2019, this draft would feature only one player being drafted at a position that hadn’t been a focus in free agency. That was Wyatt Teller, and he was drafted late. This offseason would again not see Beane double-dipping at a position, with a big-money signing at defensive end in Trent Murphy. Murphy had a three-year contract and wouldn’t be easy to cut until 2020.
Josh Allen was the Buffalo Bills’ first pick of the 2018 draft. A.J. McCarron had previously been added earlier in the offseason. The McCarron signing follows the trends set above. While he wasn’t an ideal starting quarterback, he had started and won games earlier in his career and would’ve been a decent contingency plan if he were thrust into the starting role. McCarron was on a short, two-year contract that was easily terminable if the Bills addressed the position elsewhere.
The Tremaine Edmunds pick continued to follow the trend, as he was playing a position that Beane had signed Humber and Stanford to earlier in the offseason. While Stanford and Humber weren’t of the quality that some of the other free agents had been, Humber was coming off of an 89-tackle season with nine starts and was still a low-tier starter.
In the third round, Beane would draft Harrison Phillips at defensive tackle. While Phillips was drafted at a position that had been addressed earlier in free agency, it was addressed with a player that doesn’t follow the “band-aid” trend. Lotulelei was signed to a five-year, $50 million contract and didn’t have a clause-laden contract that would make it easy to move on from. However, I believe the previous players have provided a strong enough trend to consider this an outlier signing.
If Beane were to follow the trends he’s set, I think you can (unfortunately to some) cut out a wide receiver as an early pick in this draft. Beane just invested four picks, including a first rounder, and four-years and $47.5 million into Stefon Diggs. Beane has shown short-term patchwork signings at two other positions. At cornerback, Beane signed Josh Norman and E.J. Gaines this offseason. Both of these players are on one-year deals and are capable of starting games if they’re the best option. At right tackle, Beane signed Daryl Williams to a one-year contract. Williams is coming off of a tough, injury-filled year but has shown the ability to start on the right side of the line in the past.
At two more positions, Brandon Beane has made Tyler Kroft-like signings — three-year deals to a presumed starter, but deals that are easy to escape. At defensive end, Beane signed Mario Addison and Quinton Jefferson. While Addison isn’t a short-term deal, his age is a factor that may make him expendable in the future. His three-year deal is a contract that could be cut next offseason with just $2 million in dead cap in 2021 and 2022. At linebacker, Beane added A.J. Klein and Tyler Matakevich. Klein is again a patchwork-style starter whose three-year deal is more like two years with loose dead cap ramifications.
While defensive tackle fits Beane’s tendency because Vernon Butler is on a two-year deal and could be seen as a “band-aid” player in Jordan Phillips’s absence, it doesn’t make much sense because the roster already has Lotulelei, Oliver, and Harrison Phillips. Many fans will see running back as a need, but Beane didn’t quite add a player to ramp up the competition here. This is a trend, however, and not a rule.
After processing all of the information that’s been laid out above, it seems that Brandon Beane may be looking to address cornerback, right tackle, edge rusher, and/or linebacker in the draft. With the way that Beane has drafted in the past, I would say it’s highly unlikely to see a receiver drafted high, and the chances of a running back being drafted high aren’t favorable. However, it’s important to note that this is all speculation with no strict rule.