Bills Brandon Beane is a top NFL GM
By Evan Zinger (@evan_zinger)
During the month of August in 2017, if you were a Bills fan you would have woken up in the morning every couple of days and expected a new trade to happen that would be signaling one thing – the Bills are tanking. That month, the Bills shipped off wide receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Ronald Darby, two cornerstones of the team of the time, both on their rookie contracts. It was clear that recently hired general manager Brandon Beane was trying to offload large contracts like defensive tackle Marcell Dareus as well, so he traded him to the Jaguars. The first year of Beane’s Bills tenure was spent undoing all of the previous general manager Doug Whaley’s moves. The Bills were ready for a large tank and a proper rebuild.
Then they made the playoffs after Andy Dalton threw a historic touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd, and broke a drought that had lasted since 1999. This showed it was clear that the Bills had their coach in Sean McDermott, but overall the team was still average and had a clearly defined ceiling.
Brandon Beane moved a variety of picks and players in order to trade up and take the Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen in the 2018 draft. Since then, Allen has been a showcase of how a general manager should build around a young project quarterback, and it recently culminated in Beane winning the Sporting News Executive of the Year award for the 2020-21 season.
Brandon Beane was able to bring in receivers to help Allen progress in his development coming into the 2019-20 season: John Brown and Cole Beasley. Each had their own set of skills, with Brown mainly being a deep threat and Beasley being a slot receiver able to gain immense amounts of separation in the short and intermediate passing game. Both ended up being solid additions as Josh Allen saw improvements to his adjusted completion percentage (completion percentage removing drops, throwaways, and spikes), passer rating, and a touchdown to interception ratio. He saw a minor improvement in PFF passing grade from his rookie season, going from 58.0 to 61.4, but it still wasn’t good enough to be consistently successful, even though the Bills did make it back to the playoffs that season going 10-6; however, a solid argument could be made that was in spite of Allen, not because of him.
The short version of why Brandon Beane deserved the Executive of the Year award for the 2020-21 season is because he took bold risks, and they succeeded. Hence, why they locked him up a contract extension, per Buffalo Bills.
Stefon Diggs was a disgruntled Vikings receiver fed up with how he was being used in their offense, seeing a lack of targets and the offense shifting to more of a run-oriented one. Beane proceeded to trade the Bills 1st round pick among others for the receiver, and now the Bills had a true #1 to pair with one of the best slot separators and a solid deep threat.
Josh Allen proceeded to then have arguably the biggest improvement of any quarterback in his third year, going from comparisons to Mitchell Trubisky and Blake Bortles amongst some NFL viewers to being in the MVP conversation. He finished top 5 in passing yards, passer rating, passing touchdowns, and PFF grade, where he improved it by 26.7 points to 90.9, the largest increase in one season since 2006. Diggs was a large reason of that, as he proceeded to make First-Team AP All-Pro while leading the league in targets, receptions, and receiving yards.
Part of Brandon Beane’s genius this season was having faith in Josh Allen, as it would have been easy to give up on him; Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders noted that out of quarterbacks who were below replacement level their first two years (like Allen) since 2000, only Alex Smith has managed to do much for himself.
Beane also made some notable re-signings in left tackle Dion Dawkins and All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White, notably, he made the smart move in signing him just before the other larger names were paid like Jalen Ramsey and Marlon Humphrey, making him the highest paid corner for a couple days in order to make him essentially a bargain now. Late season acquisitions of receiver Kenny Stills and running back Devonta Freeman have also helped out with depth should any more injuries affect the Bills.
Running back Zack Moss and wide receiver Gabriel Davis have helped the offense in their own right, both being mid round picks that were good finds by Beane and his scout team. Davis, in particular, has become a solid downfield threat, tied for the league lead in touchdowns over 20 yards since Week 9 with Antonio Brown and Tyreek Hill. Fairly solid company.
The biggest diamond in the rough finding in arguably the entire league in the past offseason was right tackle Daryl Williams, formerly of the Panthers. He struggled with the team his last couple of seasons, missing one entirely due to an ACL tear and dealing with nagging injuries as well as position shifts in the other one. Williams started solely at right tackle all season, and his consistency returned, but being better than he ever was, even moreso than his 2015 breakout season. He finished with a career high PFF pass-blocking grade of 80.0, run-blocking grade of 76.9, and cut his pressures allowed down from 35 in 2019 to 21, while playing roughly 200 more snaps. Beane signed him to a one-year deal, so time will tell whether he will be able to re-sign Williams. The chance Beane took on Williams definitely made Williams some cash.
Brandon Beane played all three facets of player acquisition amazingly this past season, in free agency, through trades, and through the draft. All of this led to the breakout of his handpicked quarterback and his team winning their division for the first time in 25 years. He was properly recognized as Sporting News Executive of the Year, and he himself was rewarded mid-season with a five-year contract extension.