We should have known better.
Since arriving in Buffalo in May of 2017, Brandon Beane has done nothing but show the league just how talented he is. Beane had his hand in some successful trades, contracts, and drafts his first four years as Bills General Manager. However, no challenge was bigger than what he faced after the AFC Championship game. Beane was tasked with retaining as many players from a record-setting team as he could. He also had to add talent at needed positions, while dealing with an unprecedented $13 million reduction in the salary cap.
With his work in the past week, the reigning NFL Executive of the Year showed exactly why he is considered one of the best in the business. Let’s take a look at exactly how Beane was able to do the unthinkable: retain Matt Milano, John Feliciano, and Daryl Williams, while also dipping his toes in the free agency waters.
I, like many Bills fans, wrote off Matt Milano after reports surfaced that he wanted to test the open market. That is why we were in a mini-state of shock when news of his broke last week. With the Bills looking at nearly $25 million in cap space after the releases and restructures I outlined last week, Beane went to work. Milano signed a four-year, $41.5 million contract, which is much less than he would have gotten on the open market. The deal was structured in a way that the cap hit this year is just $8 million. At its highest in 2023 and 2024, it is nearly $12 million. Spotrac valued Milano at around $14-$15 million a year; needless to say, Beane got a premier linebacker at a bargain.
One day after the Bills shocked the league with the Milano signing, Brandon Beane did it again. Right Tackle Daryl Williams signed a prove-it deal with the Bills last year. Based on his performance in 2020, many thought he played himself out of Buffalo’s price range. It turns out, Williams demanded winning and culture more than he did money, as Brandon Beane was able to re-sign him to a three-year, $24 million contract. In 2021, Williams’ cap hit is just over $6 million. At its highest, he will make about $9 million in 2022 and 2023.
While this article is meant to praise Brandon Beane, the players should get a lot of credit for these deals too. Daryl Williams played the best football of his career this year and would have easily fetched $10 million on the open market. Instead, Williams decided that culture and winning (in Buffalo) was worth more than the additional money. That is tough for athletes to do, and not something we see too often.
After the Milano and Williams deals, fans assumed that Beane ran out of magic and money, making Feliciano the odd man out. Once again, fans were proven wrong, as Beane signed the starting Right Guard to a three-year, $17 million deal. While, on the surface, this is considerably less than Daryl Williams’ contract, I suspect the Bills loaded this with guaranteed money. The exact details of this deal have not been announced yet, but his 2020 cap hit will likely be under the $8 million estimated market value for him. Like Williams, Feliciano took less money to stay in Buffalo and chase a title.
Late Tuesday night, it was announced that the Bills will sign Emmanuel Sanders. This move is linked to the release of John Brown. While it was tough to see Brown go, given his role in Josh Allen’s development the past two seasons, it had to be done. Releasing Brown saved the Bills $8 million on the cap and Sanders signed a one-year deal for $6 million. So, Beane was able to replace Brown with a nearly identical player for $2 million less. Also, with Sanders replacing Brown, the Bills offense should retain its structure next season, while adding in some new twists that Sanders brings to the table.
The Bills have been wanting to move on from Punter Cory Bojorquez for some time now. Well, it finally happened. The Bills grabbed former Dolphin Matt Haack on a three-year, $5.5 million deal (worth up to $7 million with incentives). For the 2021 season, Haack’s cap hit is about $1.5 million. As of now, that is the 13th highest cap hit in the league for a punter. It is also about $750 thousand more than Bojorquez made last year.
If you still have any doubt about Brandon Beane’s abilities as a GM, let this be your tipping point. He traded a blocking tight end for a 2022 seventh-round pick. Lee Smith was hinting at retirement but wanted to stick around through the off-season. With a roster bonus coming due, Beane shipped Smith to the Atlanta Falcons. And, just like that, he created $2.5 million in cap space.
I know that none of Buffalo’s moves this year were flashy. They didn’t sign the top two Tight Ends on the market or break the bank for a pass rusher. The truth is, even if they wanted to, the cap situation prohibited them from doing it. The most important thing that the Bills did this off-season was retaining their players, and that is just as big as getting Jonnu Smith or Carl Lawson.
Bringing back your players from, arguably, one of the best teams in franchise history and allowing them to “run it back” was all Beane needed to have a successful off-season. He will continue to make his team stronger through the draft. But, as we sit here and listen to reports come in about bargain deals and wise decision making, are we surprised? We shouldn’t be. Brandon Beane knew what needed to be done this off-season and he did it.
We should have known better.