Though exhausted after completing the second day of the NFL draft, Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane had enough playfulness in him to compliment coach Sean McDermott on his natty, plum-colored, pinstriped suit.
“There’s a sheen to it,” Beane said with a laugh.
McDermott responded with a roll of his eyes and shake of his head in knowing he’s more comfortable wearing his customary workout clothes.
Be it sweats or a shiny suit, the coach and GM are being credited for bringing a glimmer of luster to a franchise that spent much of the millennium having lost its way before their arrival two years ago.
With McDermott emphasizing a one-team culture that unraveled under predecessor Rex Ryan, and Beane overturning a roster of over-priced and under-producing players, the two took an unflinching approach in rebuilding the Bills from the ground up.
While they insist the process is far from done, the culmination of their work became more evident this offseason.
It began with Buffalo restocking its young and patchwork lineup with 18 veteran free agents. It continued this past weekend with the Bills addressing longer-term needs by drafting Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver and Oklahoma offensive tackle Cody Ford — both potential starters — with their first two picks in the draft.
“Where we are now, versus where we were then, I’d like to believe we’ve taken significant steps ahead,” McDermott told The Associated Press. “But we will only know once we start playing.”
It’s been an up-then-down process.
The Bills had enough experienced talent left over in 2017 to finish 9-7 and sneak into the playoffs to end a 17-year postseason drought.
A further purge of the roster coupled with the decision to start two rookies — quarterback Josh Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds — led to Buffalo taking an expected step back with a 6-10 finish last year.
McDermott now envisions the Bills trajectory to start pointing up.
“Listen, last year was hard,” he said. “Nobody wants to go through that whether it was the first year or second year. But we are building this in a responsible way.”
McDermott was referring to a commitment of not taking shortcuts in what was a two-fold objective to build through youth and rid the team of a bloated salary structure.
Though it wasn’t easy, Beane stuck to his vision.
“People hit some bumps in the road and they start to go, ‘Oooh, I don’t know if I like my plan anymore.’ I don’t believe in that,” Beane said. “We didn’t want to build it to make one playoff every few years. We’re trying to build something so that we’re contending every year.”
The payoff was evident this offseason, when Buffalo opened the signing period with more than $70 million of space under the salary cap. Beane was busy but judicious in using that money to plug numerous holes by signing six offensive linemen, and adding experienced depth to a young, unproven group of receivers by signing John Brown and Cole Beasley.
The overhaul leaves Buffalo with five players who were on the roster in 2016.
With the additions also come raised expectations, which McDermott accepts.
“My biggest challenge, and it’s probably one of the bigger challenges around the league, is how do you bring a team together when you’ve added 17 (actually 18) free agents and now draft picks,” McDermott said. “You have to embrace it, evolve. If you don’t evolve, you’re not around very long.”
WHO THEY GOT
Buffalo filled depth needs with its final four picks Saturday, a day after dealing two fourth-rounders and a fifth-round pick to trade up and select Ford and Mississippi tight end Dawson Knox.
Buffalo drafted Florida linebacker Vosean Joseph in the fifth round. Miami safety Jaquan Johnson was chosen in the sixth round and Buffalo used is first of two seventh-round picks to choose North Carolina A&T defensive end Darryl Johnson.
Buffalo closed by selecting Boston College tight end Tommy Sweeney at No. 225.
A run on tight ends in the third round led to Buffalo trading both fourth-round picks to Washington and select Knox at No. 96. Beane said he doubted Dawson would still be available when the Bills’ next selection came up at 112.
HOW THEY DID
Though failing to draft a receiver, Buffalo focused on improving its front lines with Oliver and Ford. Oliver addresses an immediate need with Kyle Williams deciding to retire after 13 seasons in Buffalo. Ford will be given the chance to compete for the starting job at right tackle. Singletary will get an opportunity to develop behind LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore.
Despite addressing its most immediate needs in free agency and the draft, Buffalo still has plenty of salary cap space left to add a proven veteran should one become a surprise cut in the coming months. Expect the Bills to add depth at receiver and secondary in filling out its 90-player roster.