It may seem unfamiliar to Bills fans, but this is what a rebuild looks like

Tony Hunter celebrates a touchdown pass vs. the New England Patriots at Rich Stadium. Sept. 2, 1984. Buffalo News file photo.

In 2017, the Buffalo Bills caught lightning in a bottle and made the playoffs for the first time in 17 years under first year Head Coach Sean McDermott and first year GM Brandon Beane. For the fans, it may have changed their expectations going forward, but for the organization it did not. The Bills have not changed their approach to building a long term contender.

It started last year with the acquisition of draft picks via trades, setting them up for the 2018 NFL Draft. That’s when the Bills would move up and select their future at quarterback in Josh Allen. They would also move up to select their future at middle linebacker, Tremaine Edmunds. In the third round, they would pick the future on their defensive line, Harrison Phillips. The Bills followed up those picks with selections of young defensive backs Taron Johnson, and Siran Neal.

In a more defense friendly draft, the Bills wanted to solidify that side of the ball going forward. They also chose to secure the most important positional need on offense with the pick of Josh Allen. The Bills may not admit it, but the 2018-9 season is about the development of these young players.

Photo of DT Marcell Dareus from

In another important part of a rebuild, General Manager Brandon Beane took big steps forward in financial well being by clearing out bad contracts. Choosing to take a bitter one-year pill with the highest dead cap figure in the league ($50 million), it seems ugly right now but it sets them up for the future. They will hit the 2019 free agent market with roughly $90 million in salary cap room and ten picks in the 2019 draft.

With the defense mostly in place, the Bills should look to heavily invest in the offense next off-season. They will need to surround their young quarterback with talent and protection. As much as 2018 should be about development, 2019 should be about growth.

With the assets the Bills have in place, it’s time to bring in some real talent. Beane and McDermott have stressed the fact about bringing in “their type” of character players, but talent is also needed if they want to take that next step as a contender. It’s important that they are trying to build a strong locker room, but they will need to find the proper balance of culture and talent going forward.

The best part about the Bills finally making the playoffs is they can finally clear the slate and get down to building a long term contender. The worst part about it is it may have given fans false hope for 2018. Make no mistake about it, the Bills have a long way to go to become a contender.

The first four games of the 2018 season have likely reassured fans, but it has also shown glimpses of what it could be when the Bills went on the road and shocked the Minnesota Vikings. This season will feature it’s share of ups and downs, probably heavier on the downs. Getting development out of the young players is the key.

Photo of QB Josh Allen from

Some people have questioned whether or not it is good for the development of Josh Allen to be thrown into a sub-par supporting cast on offense. While there are risks involved such as injury or mental fatigue, the most important part of development for a young quarterback is reps.

So far, Allen has shown the mental toughness to get through the lows. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by the harsh criticism he’s faced from pre-draft to his third NFL start. During the post game press conference, Allen put the blame on himself. That was a very mature move for a young quarterback who had little to no help from his offensive supporting cast.

He made no excuses and expressed his desire to win, along with his hatred for losing. While there are still many questions about how Allen will fare as a starting NFL quarterback, one thing is for sure, he has the right mindset and heart it takes to succeed in the NFL.

If you talk to a Bills fan, they will tell you how they have been going through a rebuild since 2000. In reality, a majority of Bills fans aren’t old enough to remember the last time they went through an actual rebuild. The pressure of the playoff drought had the franchise operating with that as their number one priority with stop gap free agent signings and a revolving door of coaches and front office staff.

Photo from

Now, with that dark cloud gone, it’s time to get it right. If you listen carefully to the press conferences, Beane and McDermott have given the signs of a true rebuild. Phrases like “trust the process” have become cliche and even jokes, but at One Bills Drive, they are taking it very seriously. They are finally trying to get it right this time.

Bills fans know all about the “glory days” of the 90’s, but how many are familiar with the painful 80’s? The back to back 2-14 seasons, the 4-12 season in Jim Kelly’s rookie year. That was the last time they went through an actual rebuild. While there’s no guarantee the current suffering of the 2018 season will lead to a future contender, this staff should be given the proper time it takes to see how things play out.

Editor’s babble: I remember those painful rebuild years of the mid-80s like it was yesterday. There was much less optimism at the time because after two decades of middling and dismal performances, few expected owner Ralph Wilson would ever spend enough money to obtain quality coaches who actually knew how to build a successful team. In all honesty, Mr. Wilson lucked out when he hired Marv Levy, who was not an “upper tier” hire at the time. The Pegulas have arguably been somewhat reckless with their spending early in their ownership tenure, but it was for all the right reasons. Now that they have cleared out the front office from past regimes, they are beginning to build what will hopefully become a successful franchise in the future. Thanks to Erik Smeal for his contributions to our blog. You can find Erik on Twitter @Buffwagon819. 

About Erik Smeal

Born and raised in Buffalo NY. Army Veteran. Die hard Bills and Sabres fan for 30 years.

5 Replies to “It may seem unfamiliar to Bills fans, but this is what a rebuild looks like”

  1. Well done, thank you. We finally have some adults running the organization, we need to be patience.

    • Sorry but this is familiar to bills fans…. incompetence This isn’t the 80’s we have a Coach/GM that missed on a top 10 QB in 2017. Reached for a QB in 2018 and gutted the roster with poor replacements

  2. they have been rebuilding since the year 2000. they’ve just gone about it half assed all the way.

  3. Now this is a GREAT write up! Thank you Erik for writing what us older Bills fans know to be the truth for this year. Josh Allen is a tough kid who can take hits (and will take many more this year) as well as Jim Kelly did in his first year in 1986.

    Our first round pick NEEDS to be a center and we should be starting Wyatt Teller sooner than later……keep this youth movement going!

    Good stuff Erik!