Bills’ biggest issues to get back into Super Bowl contention

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There’s good news for Bills fans: Buffalo will be a playoff team in 2023.

That’s what Josh Allen brings to the table. Also, the Bills would have to screw up their next offseason and I don’t see them doing that given how solid coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane have been. No, the accounts are up and running for the foreseeable future.

But a Super Bowl team? Well, that remains to be seen. Because even though the Bills were training camp favorites this season, they failed to make it past the divisional round for the second year in a row. Buffalo just hasn’t performed as well as it should in the playoffs. And so it’s fair to wonder how on earth the Bills can build their team in a more solid way to improve their chances of a championship appearance next year.

The Bills are heading into an offseason in which they will have a harder time assembling an elite roster. There will be no shortage of cuts. So let’s dive into what they’ll be focusing on this offseason to build a more complete roster.

Buffalo is already about $8.5 million over the cap

The Bills can’t do anything until they’re under the cap. Fear not, Buffalo fans. Actually, it’s not so bad to be in red. The New Orleans Saints are roughly $60 million over the cap for 2023. So it could be a lot worse for Buffalo.

But to free up spending, the Bills will have to move money. They can start by restructuring the contracts of Allen, Stefon Diggs, Von Miller and Tre’Davious White. Buffalo may have to cut or trade some players as well. But there’s no reason to believe the Bills can’t go far enough to retain some of their free agents and make an addition or two in the offseason.

The offensive coaching staff has not elevated the talent

Despite the Bills’ cap issues, almost everyone projects they will add another receiver. After all, their receivers not named Stefon Diggs have struggled to perform at a high level this season. Frankly, everyone on offense seemed to regress in 2022 without the oversight of former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who left last season to become the Giants’ head coach.

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Stefon Diggs: "Do you want me to be okay with losing?"

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First year OC Ken Dorsey was not the continuity picture the Bills hoped he would be when they promoted him. Dorsey ran a fairly simple offense and never found a way to get running back James Cook, tight end Dawson Knox or receiver Gabe Davis fully involved in the offense. And we haven’t even gotten to the offensive line, which also underperformed, especially in the second half of the season and the postseason.

So it may be time for the Bills to consider whether Dorsey showed enough progress as a coordinator to warrant keeping him around through 2023.

Buffalo needs its 2022 class to surpass its average draft streak

Beane drafted Josh Allen, which makes him a safe GM for quite some time. And I’m not saying Beane should be on the hot seat. But he’s had a handful of drafts that were… well.

Buffalo’s 2022 class could end up being one of Beane’s best. That class featured Cook, cornerbacks Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford and wide receiver Khalil Shakir. They need to step up, because Beane has missed some crucial picks in recent drafts. Most notably, the Bills aren’t getting enough from edges Boogie Basham (second round) and AJ Epenesa (second round). Third-rounder Zack Moss and second-rounder Cody Ford have also moved up.

Looking back on the last five years? Tackle Spencer Brown (third round), safety Damar Hamlin (sixth), receiver Gabe Davis (fourth), kicker Tyler Bass (sixth), cornerback Dane Jackson (seventh), tight end Knox (third) and cornerback Taron Johnson (fourth) are Bean’s best finds. It’s a solid group, but not amazing.

Bean’s first draft run with Buffalo helped lay the groundwork for this championship window. He joined the team in 2017 and got White, Matt Milano and Dion Dawkins before adding Allen, Tremaine Edmunds, Harrison Phillips and Taron Johnson in 2018. And then Beane acquired Diggs in a big trade in 2020.

But the GM has become a little cooler. And a big return from the 2022 class could help the Bills with their financial situation, where they don’t spend too much to cover gaps due to inconsistent drafts.

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They are likely to lose a handful of defensive starters in free agency

As mentioned, accounts are limited in space. So let’s take a look at the big defensive players slated to enter free agency:

  • Safety Jordan Poyer
  • LB Tremaine Edmunds
  • EDGE Shaq Lawson
  • CB Dane Jackson

Poyer could be at the end of his career, given his age (32) and the injuries he’s suffered this season. Buffalo is likely to let Lawson and Jackson walk. An extension would make a lot of sense for Edmunds if the Bills had the money for it. And as mentioned, they can free up headroom. But they will have to do it by borrowing from the coming years. So how much money do they want to steal from future teams to improve the 2023 roster? How much do they want to sacrifice in 2024?

Because while Edmunds is a fantastic and prolific player, the Bills need to shore up some positions on the offensive side of the ball. In a perfect world, Buffalo extends Edmunds and adds a true WR2. It’s just a matter of whether Beane is willing to use the team’s future to maximize the current roster.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as an AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.

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