ESM looks back on the winning moves that propelled Beane to a multi-year extension with the Buffalo Bills.
The Buffalo Bills’ 2020 season, one that’s on pace to end with an AFC East title, carries on, but they’re already welcoming back crucial pieces for the journey moving forward. On Thursday, the Bills brought back the architect, signing general manager Brandon Beane to a multi-year extension. Beane took over shortly after the 2017 NFL Draft, replacing the departed Doug Whaley.
â€œBrandon is an outstanding leader, and he has brought a great level of stability throughout our organization. One of the things we appreciate and respect about Brandon is that he is very thorough in his decision-making process,â€ Bills owners Kim and Terry Pegula said in a statement on the team website penned byÂ Maddy Glab. â€œNo decision he makes comes without a great deal of study and research. We appreciate his strong communication skills, and he works extremely well with us, with Sean, and with all levels of the organization. We are happy to extend his contract and to have Brandon and Sean leading our football team for many years to come.â€
Under Beane’s tenure, the Bills have ended a franchise-long playoff drought, reaching two of the past three postseasons. Buffalo is also one of a dozen teams in the NFL with a winning record since 2017 at 34-26, good for sixth in the AFC.
How did it get to this point? ESM looks back on the finest moves of Beane’s era to date…
All-In on Allen
Sammy Watkins left behind a complicated legacy in Buffalo. Flashes of brilliance were apparent…it’d be silly to say otherwise after 2,029 yards and 15 touchdowns over his first two seasons…but Watkins had trouble staying healthy over the latter stages of his third season and later expressed dissatisfaction with his role with the team, leading to Buffalo declining his fifth-year options. Watkins has since earned redemption as a postseason hero in Kansas City, primarily through a 38-yard reception that changed the direction of Super Bowl LIV.
Either way, Watkins’ time in Buffalo had run its course by the time Beane arrived. In the midst of preparation for the 2017 season, Watkins and a sixth-round pick were dealt to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a second-round choice. Buffalo held onto that pick, eventually shown to be 56th overall, all the way through draft day, when they send it off again, this one going to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The swap involved exchanging first-round choices, moving the Bills up from 12th to 7th, and Buffalo sending both of their second-rounders over (Buffalo also obtained a seventh-round choice, the penultimate pick of the draft).
With that first-round choice, Beane opted to take Josh Allen, the third quarterback chosen in a highly-publicized throwers’ class. In the vein of Allen fan Rainn Wilson/Dwight Schrute going from a thumbtack to a telescope through “the art of the swap” on The Office, Beane was able to turn a disgruntled wide receiver into a franchise quarterback.
Perhaps the one downside to Allen’s emergence is the fact that his 2018 drafting has somewhat blurred the success of linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who went nine picks after the quarterback. More draft day dealing from Beane, this one through collaboration with Baltimore, allowed them to move up six spots to the 16th overall pick, where they chose Edmunds.
The linebacker has been one of the most consistent contributors in not only the Bills lineup but in the NFL today. Last season, quarterbacks had a 76.3 passer rating when throwing in Edmunds’ area in a year that also saw Edmunds earn 10 tackles for a loss and a safety. He was rewarded with a Pro Bowl nomination at the end of the campaign, shortly after he earned 12 tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery during Buffalo’s playoff cameo in Houston.
In addition to the Thursday acquisitions of Allen and Edmunds, Beane managed to find a strong contributor after Mr. Irrelevant had heard his name called.
Wallace was a big part of Alabama’s 2017-18 national title trek, but his name wasn’t called during the selection meeting due to criticisms about his size and speed. Buffalo took him as an undrafted free agent and he has since gone on to become one of the team’s biggest defensive stars. While this season has been marred by both injuries and time spent on the COVID-19/reserve list, Wallace went to become Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded first-year cornerback during his freshman campaign. Notably, Wallace earned a crucial interception during the Bills’ playoff-clinching victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers last December.
In addition, the Bills also obtained serviceable reserve receiver Robert Foster in their post-draft scouring of the free agents’ list.
A Minneapolis (Transactional) Miracle
With the Bills’ offensive line relatively solidified, Beane’s next move was to find Allen more suitable weapons for the trek ahead. Opportunity knocked in the form of the trading block, as the Minnesota Vikings sought to move playoff legend Stefon Diggs. The Bills came calling, though it came at a hefty price. Even before the Vikings used one of those choices to take first-year sensation Justin Jefferson, Diggs had a lot to live up to, as the Bill sent over their first, fifth, and sixth-round choices from the spring, as well as a fourth-rounder for next year.
So far, Diggs has risen to the challenge and then some, leading all NFL receivers with 90 receptions entering Week 14 action. Set to be dealt over $45 million over the next four seasons, Diggs is proving to be well worth the investment in the early going and figures to be a lasting part of Buffalo’s ongoing endeavors.
Knight in Golden Armor
It had been a long time since the Bills had given their fans a reason to tune into day three of the draft. Beane has slowly made Saturday an intriguing event, however, as day three has netted hidden gems like Taron Johnson, Siran Neal, Tyler Bass, and Dane Jackson.
Beane’s biggest find to date has likely been Gabriel Davis, the all-time leader in touchdown grabs at UCF. The former Knight was chided for his lack of separation, but the Bills opted to take him in the early stages of the fourth round last spring. Davis has become one of Allen’s more reliable in blue and red, particularly in scoring situations. His five touchdowns are tied for third amongst rookie receivers and his 64.1 percent catch rate is sixth amongst first-year catchers with at least 30 targets.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags