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Who Will Be In/Out As the Buffalo Bills Build To The Future



In his Monday Musings columnist Steve Mathes analyzes who may be in and who may be out as the Buffalo Bills transition to their next phase in team-building.

Next off-season, we will see Brandon Beane assume a role we haven’t seen in Buffalo since Jerry Butler in the late 1990s: a General Manager tasked with making the tough decisions to keep a winning team intact over time. Since Butler’s departer and the twenty-year playoff drought that ensued, the goal for every Bills GM has always been “just make us good.” No one cared how long the success would last. Brandon Beane began that process last week with the contract extension of Left Tackle Dion Dawkins.

Dion Dawkins was a member of Sean McDermott’s first draft class. After a promising rookie season, a tumultuous second season, and a bounce-back year in 2019, the Bills awarded Dawkins a 4 year, $60 million dollar extension. The play of Dawkins and the contract Beane doled out will be highly scrutinized this season and in years to come if Dawkins does not continue to elevate his game to another level. All off-season the talk has been the expiring contracts of Dion Dawkins and Matt Milano. It appears for now that the Bills have prioritized one over the other. If they chose wrong, it may not bode well for the possibility of sustained success under Brandon Beane.

Speaking of Matt Milano…

I would argue that, in McDermott’s scheme, he is a cornerstone player, that it will be best to do what needs to get done to clear the space to resign him now before his value goes up anymore. Others will argue that Milano’s role as the WLB is not a premium position, and it’d be economical to find a guy in the first two days of next year’s draft to plug and play. The Bills also have two young prospects in Vosean Joseph and Tyrel Dodson who theoretically could develop into the role.

That is why one of the most interesting storylines to track this season will be the contract status of Matt Milano. If the Bills sign him before the season, it would confirm my thoughts on Milano’s importance to Sean McDermott and his system. If they hold off, it would possibly confirm that they do not see Milano’s role as something that is irreplaceable. Brandon Beane most definitely has a budget for each position group. With Tremaine Edmunds a few years from hitting the market himself, it’ll be interesting if that budget includes two high priced linebackers.

Josh Allen could quite possibly play a role in this as well. The Bills may be waiting to see how Allen performs in 2020 before pulling the trigger on Matt Milano. If Allen takes the next step, the Bills know they will have to give him a massive contract within the next three years. That may rule Milano out due to budgetary constraints. If Allen flounders in 2020, the Bills may decide to invest in Milano and continue to rely heavily on their defense to try and win them games as they reset or re-evaluate the quarterback position.

It was pretty easy to guestimate the Dion Dawkins contract numbers. He came in right around the same as a similar player who just recently re-signed: DJ Humphries. Humphries went for 3 years, $45 million, and Dawkins got the same average with an extra year tacked onto the end. The two linebackers to use when gauging Matt Milano’s next deal are Shaq Thompson and Jaylon Smith.

Shaq Thompson: 4 years, $54 million, $16 million signing bonus, $28 million guaranteed, $13.6 million average.

Jaylon Smith: 6 years, $68 million, $5 million signing bonus, $35 million guaranteed, $11.4 million average.

Thompson got a shorter deal for a higher average. Jaylon Smith got a longer deal, which meant more money, but a lesser average. In my opinion, the Smith deal is more appealing. I believe in this system that Milano can be effective into his 30s.

Spotrac estimates Matt Milano’s market value at 4 years, $52 million, $13 million dollar average.

Next Three Major Signings

After Milano and possibly Allen, the next three major contracts handed out by the Buffalo Bills will not be to free agents outside the organization. They will be to Tre White, Tremaine Edmunds, and Ed Oliver in that order. White will reset the cornerback market in 2022 and Edmunds the linebacker market in 2023. Oliver will likely be paid handsomely as well in 2024, but with Aaron Donald and some of the all world interior defensive lineman out there, he may not be a market setter.

Odd Men Out?

Dion Dawkins, Matt Milano, Tre White, Tremaine Edmunds, Ed Oliver, possibly Josh Allen. The Buffalo Bills have started to and will continue to throw big money around retaining these players they have successfully drafted. This is real life, this isn’t Madden. We cannot turn the salary cap off. Even though it continues to rise year after year, we know deep down we cannot retain everybody.

Beane’s next move as a franchise-builder will be to look towards the Baltimore Ravens model. Sign your cornerstone talent, bargain shop in free agency, collect compensatory picks for the guys you have to let walk, and draft well. That means some fan favorites may not be here through the entirety of what we as fans hope will be a decade or so of sustained success.

Taron Johnson
This goes for the entire secondary outside of Tre White. Hyde and Poyer appear safe into the near future, but any DB outside those three in Buffalo with an expiring contract will probably be allowed to explore the market. McDermott has always prided himself on his ability to make it work with less pedigree in his secondary than others. The Bills are constantly stockpiling the secondary with young talent through the draft year after year after year. If Johnson continues to play well but cannot stay healthy the Bills may decide he’s not worth a second contract.

John Brown
Gabe Davis was drafted for a reason. The physical receiver with down the field ability looms primed to be a natural successor to John Brown as WR2. You don’t pay Diggs the money they are to be your alpha and then pay a wide receiver on the wrong side of thirty another massive contract to play next to him. That is not something the Bills will have the luxury of affording. Cole Beasley on the other hand could return as his niche role and age should keep his market much lower. No need to fear though. Both men are still locked in for two more seasons.

Devin Singletary & Zack Moss
I don’t think it is a coincidence that Brandon Beane has spent more capital in two years at the RB position through the draft (Singletary and Moss) than he has fee agency (Yeldon and Gore). He clearly has a budget at that position, so he can afford luxuries elsewhere. I expect the Bills to use and abuse these two RBs through their rookie contracts, let them walk, collect the compensatory pick, and use them to draft their successors. It is a cold but calculated move.

Hit Me Up

Feel free to hit me up on Twitter (@JudgeMathes) to let me know what you think. You can also catch me live every Monday and Thursday night, 9pm eastern, as co-host of The Bills Guys multicast on the Buffalo Fanatics YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Sportscastr pages.