ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — With little money to spend and few impact players interested in signing with the Bills given the uncertainty at quarterback this past offseason, general manager Brandon Beane understood Buffalo’s offense was going to struggle.
Little did he realize how much.
“There’s nobody that goes into a season and looks for either side of the ball to have a down year and to be statistically where our offense is,” Beane told The Associated Press during a wide-ranging interview before Buffalo entered its bye week.
He then recalled something former coach John Fox once said when the two worked together in Carolina.
“There’s nobody going to rescue you in-season,” said Beane, in his second year in Buffalo. “You’ve got to dig out of it yourself. And all you can do is put your head down and keep working.”
Much of the heavy lifting will have to wait for the offseason when Buffalo is projected to be more than $90 million under the NFL’s salary cap, plus a current stockpile of 10 draft picks.
Otherwise, a year after ending a 17-year playoff drought, the Bills (3-7) are realistically out of this year’s postseason conversation because of a young, patchwork lineup dragged down by an anemic offense that’s had four starters at quarterback.
Whatever life that journeyman Matt Barkley breathed into the Bills during a 41-10 win at the New York Jets on Sunday, the 451-yard, five-touchdown outing that the Bills generated barely moved the needle on an offense that ranks 31st in total yards and points, and last in yards passing.
The struggles reflect a combination of issues including:
— Unexpected offseason personnel losses, such as center Eric Wood being diagnosed with a career-ending neck injury, and left guard Richie Incognito forcing his way off the team after being unhappy with taking a pay cut.
— Beane’s intent to shed high-priced contracts in trading quarterback Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland and left tackle Cordy Glenn to Cincinnati, and not re-signing linebacker Preston Brown and cornerback E.J. Gaines.
And there was one mistake the general manager owns up to making.
Beane misjudged the team’s lack of experienced depth at quarterback after trading AJ McCarron to Oakland a week before the start of the season, leaving Buffalo with second-year player Nathan Peterman as the starter, and Allen as the backup.
Once Allen was forced to take over after Peterman reverted to his turnover-prone ways midway through a 47-3 season-opening loss at Baltimore, Beane waited until Week 5 to lure Derek Anderson out of semiretirement.
“Yes. One hundred percent. That’s on me, and nobody else,” Beane said. “I should’ve known better. I tried to push it off a couple of weeks. It was a mistake that I regret.”
At least Anderson was on the roster in time to step in two weeks later after Allen sprained his right throwing elbow in a 20-13 loss at Houston. Even then, Anderson struggled in throwing four interceptions and losing two fumbles in his next two starts before being sidelined by a concussion.
Peterman was cut this week, while Allen has resumed practicing and is in line to reclaim the job once Buffalo returns to host Jacksonville on Nov. 25.
Though the Bills will likely endure more downs than ups with Allen over the final six weeks, Beane and McDermott stress the rookie’s development is critical to the team’s needs beyond this season.
McDermott raised eyebrows when explaining his long-term vision following a 22-0 loss at Green Bay, in which Buffalo managed 145 yards and Allen threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.
“There’s going to be some of these moments. As hard as it is, you’ve got to understand where we are in the build,” McDermott said. “We’re trying to develop a culture here. The culture, to me, trumps strategy.”
There’s no magic wand Beane can wave to speed up the process, which was evident this past offseason in failing to add talent on offense.
It’s not as if he didn’t try.
“We were in on guys on offense. But it got to the point where they were either higher than we thought they were valued,” Beane said. “Or there were cases where we lost out. A guy wanted to go where there was an established quarterback.”
Though Beane didn’t name which free agents the Bills expressed interest in landing, one is receiver John Brown, who signed a one-year, $5 million contract with Baltimore.
The Bills were also interested in receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, who signed with Chicago. In 2017, the Bills were interested in re-signing Robert Woods, before realizing they weren’t in a position to get into a bidding war for a player who eventually signed a five-year, $34 million contract with the Los Angeles Rams.
Instead, Buffalo committed its limited resources on defense in signing defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, pass-rusher Trent Murphy and cornerback Vontae Davis, who abruptly quit the team at halftime during a 31-20 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2.
Difficult as it’s been, Beane isn’t veering from his plan, and confident the Bills will improve.
Rookies, such as Allen, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, cornerback Taron Johnson and guard Wyatt Teller, are gaining valuable on-field experience. The cap situation is being resolved, though Beane stressed he’s going to be “judicious” in spending, while continuing to focus on building through the draft.
“You can’t just all of a sudden abort the mission because you’re 2-7 and start doing this or just trading away assets to bring in a guy,” he said, before the win at New York.
“It will hurt you in the future, and you’re going to regret it,” Beane added. “We are frustrated. But I am wired that when you put a plan in place, you see the plan out.”
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