As the 2018 season is winding down, it’s been a tough year for the Bills sitting at 5-9. In typical Buffalo sports fashion, questions are still being asked about whether or not “The Process” is working out.
Over the years, there have been plenty of cliches and catch phrases thrown around. Everything from “We are football guys” to “Get ready, because we’re going to the playoffs”. Those phrases, sounded good at the time but eventually they led to repeated disappointment.
When Sean McDermott was hired as head coach, he had a different approach. From his opening press conference, he stated he wasn’t here to make promises, and a new catch phrase was born, “trust the process”. Like the several coaches before him, McDermott inherited the weight of a 17-year playoff drought. He also inherited a front office staff on the way out.
Right away, McDermott got to work building his vision of the future. Being a defensive coach, he focused more on that side of the ball, bringing in much needed help in the defensive backfield by signing Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer.
When the draft came along, McDermott stuck with a more defensive approach to rebuild a unit that was dismantled by Rex Ryan. In a move that triggered some questions and criticism, McDermott chose to trade out of the 10th pick of the 2017 draft. Trading down resulted in gaining an extra first round pick for 2018 and a young sensational cornerback in Tre’Davious White.
The Bills picked up a few more core players to build around in the 2017 draft; Zay Jones, Dion Dawkins, and Matt Milano. There were rumors circling the Bills were looking to replace Doug Whaley and the front office staff. With that in mind, it looked like McDermott was the decision maker for most of the 2017 off-season.
While changes were sweeping through the organization, McDermott and the Bills chose to keep one piece in place, quarterback Tyrod Taylor. It was another move that was met with questions, but Taylor met the requirements of the philosophy of a revamped defense, strong running game, and a mobile quarterback who doesn’t often turn the ball over.
That philosophy led to the Bills shocking fans and analysts with a 5-2 start in 2017, a year the Bills were rumored to be “tanking” after newly hired Brandon Beane pulled off some shocking trades just before the start of the regular season. Beane traded Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby for less talented versions along with second and third round draft picks.
Nevertheless, due to a strong start, the Bills found themselves in a playoff race. They stumbled along the way but regained their balance and remained strong in the locker room, and players credited McDermott’s philosophy as the reason why it happened. That approach paid off. The Bills earned their first playoff birth in 18 calendar years.
Despite making the playoffs last season, the Bills plan remained the same. Compete now, while building a long term sustainable future or success. Moving forward with that plan in 2018, the Bills chose to focus their limited cap space on shoring up the defense, with additions of Star Lotulelei and Trent Murphy being the most notable signings.
The Bills also chose to get rid of several sizable contracts by trading away players such as Marcell Dareus, Cordy Glenn, and Tyrod Taylor. Using the picks acquired in those trades, the Bills moved up to the seventh overall pick to draft their future franchise quarterback, Josh Allen. They also moved up again to draft a promising and talented young linebacker, Tremaine Edmunds. Additionally, they drafted defensive tackle Harrison Phillips and defensive back Taron Johnson.
All those players have made an impact in their rookie seasons, but these additions weren’t without questions. Why did the Bills seemingly neglect offense? Why did they trade away newly acquired quarterback AJ McCarron? That left the Bills with only rookie in Josh Allen and an embattled second year quarterback Nathan Peterman.
Peterman had a strong camp and pre-season, but in his first start, that decision quickly backfired. That left the Bills with no choice to put a rookie quarterback on the field, who many thought shouldn’t even see the field this year. Allen came in and showed the typical rookie quarterback struggles, but he also showed glimpses of promise. He was instrumental in a shocking week three win at Minnesota.
The hope of finally developing a franchise quarterback came to a halt when Allen injured his right elbow in at Houston during the sixth game of the season. After a scare of potential season-ending surgery, the Bills got some good news that Allen would be week to week with some rest and management. While Allen was out, the quarterback position turned into a revolving door disaster that led to more questions and criticism.
Are Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott the right people for the job of turning a disappointing franchise into a contender? How could they mismanage the quarterback situation so bad? Why did they neglect the offense in general?
After making the playoffs for the first time in almost two decades, the Bills were able to navigate the off-season without a huge black cloud looming overhead. The Bills were finally able to execute a legitimate rebuild.
Beane and McDermott could move ahead with their long term plan. Faced with cleaning up the salary cap and losing two all pro offensive linemen (Eric Wood and Richie Incognito due to injury and retirement), their plan shifted more towards the long term approach.
The 2018 season turned into a disaster, there were even questions of whether or not this regime would survive long enough to see their plan through. The team still competed through it all and kept that strong bond in place.
The offensive struggles were just too much to overcome until the Bills finally got some solid quarterback play by newly added Matt Barkley against the New York Jets. It was a much needed dominant team win to calm the storm.
The following week, Josh Allen returned to the field. After some time to heal and learn on the sidelines, Allen turned into the Bills main offensive weapon, leading to a win at home versus a tough Jacksonville Jaguars defense. The next two games would end in disappointing losses but Allen carried the offense.
Overall, this season has turned into a developmental year for their young core players. With the most important part of the offense and several young players making an impact on defense, the Bills long term plan remains intact. There is still much work to be done, but finally, it seems like there is a plan in place instead of just winging it.
Editor’s babble: It’s been a strange season, that’s for sure. The good news is Josh Allen now has experience he can use to grow from during the off season. Thanks to Erik Smeal for his contributions to our blog. You can find Erik on Twitter @Buffwagon819.