'We all have to improve.' Disappointing ending points to offseason upgrades for Bills

ORCHARD PARK - If there was one thing that was expressed loud and clear by Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott during his season-ending press conference Monday, it was that he realizes there are several areas of the team that need to be upgraded this offseason if the Bills hope to have any chance of winning a Super Bowl.

“I’m a big believer in you are who you are in the last game of the season that you showed on the field. That’s what we have to address,” McDermott said.

If that’s the case, well, there’s plenty to address.

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One year ago when the Bills lost in the divisional round to the Kansas City Chiefs, much of the conversation - once the utter shock and despair of such a horrifying loss had simmered - was that this was a team on the rise, one that would use that debacle of 13 seconds to soar to new heights in 2022.

Twelve months later, in the aftermath of the Bills’ non-competitive 27-10 obvious step backward loss to the Bengals, the conversation is much different. This time, the Bills don’t look at all like a team on the rise but instead one that is headed in the wrong direction.

Unless they have a spectacular offseason which, given their lack of salary cap space seems unlikely, a point Brandon Beane made Tuesday, the expectations certainly won’t be the same heading into 2023 because it’s clear they aren’t the best team in the AFC, and maybe not the second- or even third-best team.

“We all have to improve in certain areas to move this organization forward,” McDermott said. “We’ve had success, obviously not the success that we all want, which is to win the Super Bowl.”

Here are some of the highlights from both McDermott and Beane’s end-of-season meetings with reporters:

Buffalo Bills weren’t in peak form at the end of the year

Beane acknowledged that last year in Kansas City, the Bills were on a great roll which was why it was so heartbreaking to lose the way they did. This year, that wasn’t the case as the Bills, even though they were riding an eight-game losing streak, really weren’t firing on all cylinders.

“I would say at the end of this season that we never put together a complete game,” Beane said. "We had stretches in games, but we never from kickoff to the final buzzer … we were finding a way (to win) and that’s where I give a lot of credit to this team. It wasn’t always the offense, it wasn’t always the defense, Nyheim Hines in the Patriot game. Unfortunately, we were not playing our best football at the end.”

That said, Beane also lauded the team for its ability to overcome all the adversity it faced in 2022.

“This is my 25th season in the league and I don’t remember a team coming close to what got thrown this team’s way and I thought Sean navigated that very well and did a great job,” Beane said.

Both lines had disappointing seasons for the Buffalo Bills

Losing edge rusher Von Miller in late November proved to be a major detriment to the defensive line.
Losing edge rusher Von Miller in late November proved to be a major detriment to the defensive line.

McDermott spoke volumes when he pointed to the way the Bills offensive and defensive lines were dominated by the Bengals. “It starts and ends at the line of scrimmage, and so we’ve got to look at that,” he said.

This was also the case last year, which is why Beane signed five free agent defensive linemen - edge rushers Von Miller and Shaq Lawson, and tackles DaQuan Jones, Tim Settle, and Jordan Phillips. And on offense, he matched the offer sheet in order to retain guard Ryan Bates, and signed veteran guard Rodger Saffold. However, the quality of play wasn’t any better.

With Miller healthy, the defensive line was getting pressure and sacks, but once he went down, the unit’s play took a nosedive. Phillips and Greg Rousseau were also hampered by injuries, but it was amazing how much the Miller injury changed everything and it shines a harsh light on the group, especially when you consider the resources the Bills have used up front.

In addition to the five free agents, the Bills have used valuable draft capital on 2019 first-rounder Ed Oliver, 2020 second-rounder A.J. Epenesa, and 2021 first-rounder Rousseau and 2021 second-rounder Boogie Basham. Still, a Bengals offensive line missing three starters crushed them.

“I thought each one of those guys had their games where they played well, just overall as a group I felt like we were a little bit too inconsistent,” McDermott said.

The offensive line wasn’t any better. Center Mitch Morse earned a Pro Bowl invite and probably deserved it, but his level of play wasn’t any better than it had been his first three years in Buffalo. Left tackle Dion Dawkins took a slight step back, Bates was merely average, Saffold was one of the worst guards in the NFL and right tackle Spencer Brown, a 2021 third-round, does not look like a starting caliber player.

Buffalo Bills coaching changes: Mum’s the word

Leslie Frazier's defenses have struggled badly in the Bills' last three postseason losses.
Leslie Frazier's defenses have struggled badly in the Bills' last three postseason losses.

McDermott would not get into the status of his assistants, but it’s certainly possible that there could be changes. QB coach Joe Brady was requested for an interview by the Jets for their vacant offensive coordinator position, and Ken Dorsey did a Zoom interview for the Panthers head coaching job, though he almost certainly won’t get that job.

Is it possible that Dorsey gets fired and Brady - if he doesn’t get the Jets gig - gets promoted to OC? Maybe, but unlikely. It seemed like McDermott and Beane are both willing to be patient with Dorsey and give him the chance to learn from his first season in that role.

“There’s a first year for everyone,” McDermott said. “I thought Dorsey really did some good things, and there’s some things that he can learn from as well. And I know this: When you’re committed to a cause, and you work hard at things, and you put the team first, that you learn from experiences. So like all of us, we have to learn from the experience.”

As for defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, if ever there was a time to move on, this might be it. Frazier has been McDermott’s only DC, and while the Bills have been a statistically sound defense almost that entire time, the failures in the postseason are glaring.

In the last three playoff losses - two to the Chiefs, one to the Bengals - the Bills have given up an average of 35.6 points and 467.6 yards per game. Perhaps the day has come for a new voice with some different perspective.

Tough choices on Tremaine Edmunds, Jordan Poyer

It seems almost a certainty that free agent Jordan Poyer has played his last game for the Bills.
It seems almost a certainty that free agent Jordan Poyer has played his last game for the Bills.

In a perfect, salary cap-free NFL, both are back for another season in Buffalo’s defense. But there’s little chance that can happen when you consider the financial gymnastics Beane will have to perform just to get the Bills underneath the projected cap figure, let alone re-signing those players to new deals.

“Two guys that are true Buffalo Bills,” Beane said. “I can’t say enough great things about them.”

If there’s a chance of keeping one, Edmunds has to be the choice. He’ll be 25 years old in May and plays a premium position. Poyer will be 32 in April and just finished an injury-plagued season.

“A lot of respect for how Jordan handled this (season) and he’s a great pro and did a lot of great things for us. We’d love to get him back, for sure,” Beane said.

Edmunds, who is coming off his best season, would cost more money which might make his return unlikely, but if there was a player the Bills should try to find a way to keep, it’s him. He’s polarizing, but the Bills would really miss him if he leaves.

“He’s a big part of our success as well coming in with Josh (Allen in 2018),” Beane said. “Like Poyer and many of these other guys, would love to keep them all and we’ll do our best. When we get some clarity on the cap and what we can do, we’ll know more there.”

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This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Buffalo Bills need to upgrade in several areas in 2023 offseason