Exploring the Bills’ biggest offseason needs in 2023
The Buffalo Bills enter the offseason with successes and areas to improve upon from their 2022 campaign. The team’s front office will be tasked with looking at ways to improve from consecutive seasons that saw division-round playoff exits.
With free agency, the NFL Draft, limited cap space, and decisions on personnel on and off the field all on the table, this will be a crucial period of assessment and action for GM Brandon Beane and company.
As the new league year approaches, here is a look at the biggest offseason needs for the Bills in 2023:
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Some critical decisions need to be made on the defensive side of the ball for Buffalo as to whether to re-sign, franchise tag or move on entirely from some of their players.
Starters like LB Tremaine Edmunds and S Jordan Poyer headline the Bills’ own free agents in the defensive unit, one that has struggled with run defense and getting stops in recent years, and in the pass rush in 2022 after OLB Von Miller went down with a season-ending injury.
The same defense that failed to pressure and stop a Cincinnati Bengals offense with a vulnerable O-Line watched their AFC rival Kansas City Chiefs do just that in the AFC Championship game, punching their ticket to the Super Bowl in the process.
The team will continue to look at whether they have or need the right players and whether answers to those questions exist in-house or need to be brought in.
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The Bills offense seemed to be in transition in the change at offensive coordinator from Brian Daboll to Ken Dorsey.
While the change brought some positives like a more balanced offense with the run game, it also included some questionable play calling and a season in which both WR1 Stefan Diggs and trade-deadline addition RB Nyheim Hines were underutilized.
QB Josh Allen struggled with turnovers and with finding open receivers, passing on taking check downs while looking for big plays downfield.
The offensive line appears to be one of the areas of greatest need going into the offseason, and the team will need to make a decision on the line and on the run game, including RB Devin Singletary’s future as a Bill. At the receiver position, the team will need to determine whether to bring in another top wideout to help Stefon Diggs and company create more opportunities quicker for the passing game.
The team also still needs to find a TE2 that can contribute and create the type of two tight end sets they aspired to in their pursuit of Buffalo native Rob Gronkowski and the short-lived signing of TE O.J. Howard.
From the front office to the field, the Bills will need to look at how to elevate their offense to the next level and help them take the next step.
It is crucial to get this right as to maximize the prime years of Allen’s career and the most optimal window and years to compete for championships.
Free Agency and NFL Draft
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Buffalo has a number of decisions to make on both sides of the ball.
On offense, their receiving corps struggled amidst injuries including pending free agents like Jake Kumerow and Jamison Crowder, with others like Gabriel Davis and Isaiah McKenzie struggling to fill the void of previous players at their positions, John Brown and Cole Beasley. So much so the team brought both players back and could do so again in 2023.
The emergence of running back James Cook and the need for a strong run game could impact plans for free agent and the team’s RB1, Devin Singletary, should he be outside the Bills price range or long-term plans for the backfield.
During the 2022 season, GM Brandon Beane made trades to acquire RB Nyheim Hines and bring back S Dean Marlowe, which could impact the backfield as it cost their sixth and seventh-round 2023 Draft picks.
Beane has shown a willingness to make changes to the backfield if it improves the offense, and while they could re-sign Singletary if the price tag works on both sides, he could also draft a replacement or sign an effective place-holder (or use Hines in that role) to replace his production until a clear upgrade and long term fit for the team’s offense and culture is available by way of the draft or free agency.
On defense, the team faces similar free agency decisions on defensive play-caller LB Tremaine Edmunds and S Jordan Poyer, and players in other position group rotations.
They’ll also need to evaluate personnel in general amidst a pass rush and run defense that dissipated following OLB Von Miller’s injury, despite having a handful of players who were high-round draft picks at the defensive end and on the interior. Whether those answers exist in their developmental talent pipeline or still need to be added to their roster.
In the trenches, the Bills will continue to look for low-risk high potential reward signings and assess draft talent to improve their defensive front and, more pressingly, an offensive line that struggled to protect Josh Allen and open up lanes for the run game in recent seasons.
The club currently has its own picks in rounds one through four of the 2023 NFL Draft, and two fifth-round picks. Whether they choose to franchise tag a key player as a bridge to negotiate under next offseason’s cap, or choose to replace one or more in-house, in free agency, or in the draft whether it’s with a short or long-term replacement, some important maneuvering lies ahead.
The GM indicated in recent remarks the team will look to be creative with the cap space available to improve the roster.
With his past track record as an indicator, Beane could fill holes on short-term deals to improve the lines while filling in placeholders as bridges to long-term answers at other positions. But he could also package assets to move up in the draft for an impact player, or swing a big trade or unexpected signing, as he’s done so before.
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The same way that the performance of the talent the Bills put on the field will be under review, so will that of the staff responsible for coaching them.
Coaching personnel will be evaluated for their role in the successes and shortcomings of that on-field performance, and changes could be coming.
One of those decisions has already been made, in the dismissal of safeties coach Jim Salgado.
One of the distinct differences between the Bills and the top NFL teams in the NFL that advanced it to the later rounds of the playoffs, is that those teams have offensive head coaches while Buffalo has a defensive HC. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, considering the most successful coach in the past 20 years, Bill Belichick, is also a defensive coach.
Though as Bills and Patriots fans alike learned this past season, the transition from a successful offensive coordinator of an Erhardt-Perkins type of offensive system to a new one isn’t always a smooth one.
In the Bills case, former QB and QB coach Ken Dorsey took the reigns after former OC-turned-Giants-head-coach Brian Daboll continued his success with a new team. Former Panthers OC Joe Brady took over as Allen’s new quarterbacks’ coach.
It’s unclear if the quarterback-minded coordinator and coach are going to be the right fits long-term for the Bills’ offense. Despite neither coaches job being in immediate jeopardy, Brady could depart as an OC hire by another team. The supporting cast of QB assistants and backup QBs as part-coach-part-players could be filled differently this offseason as well.
Similarly, while no indication’s been given that defensive coordinator and assistant head coach Leslie Frazier’s position is in jeopardy, some more changes in the staff surrounding the offensive and defensive coordinators could be in order.
As Beane most recently illustrated during the 2022 free agency period, his front office has an eye for identifying talented players with high potential who are buried at the beach of depth charts at their positions on other teams. They then bring them in on low-cost and low-risk short-term deals to see if they can develop into impactful players for Buffalo.
With an important offseason facing the team, perhaps Beane and the front office will turn that eye toward identifying up-and-coming offensive and defensive minds to add in position coach and assistant roles.