A Bills offseason to remember sets stage for NFL Draft

General manager Brandon Beane likely isn't done tweaking the roster yet with veterans, but he did so much with so little in just one month.
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Watching Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane maneuver through a minefield of a 2021 offseason and come out the other end of the initial flurry of free agency with his team in better shape than it went in has boggled the mind.

He had less money than most teams to spend under the NFL's reduced salary cap, was staring down the barrel of losing key starters like linebacker Mattt Milano and right tackle Daryl Williams in the open market and was trying to figure out how to get a long-term contract extension done with quarterback Josh Allen following an incredible break-out season.

That last part still still hasn't been worked out. But after being named the Pro Football Writers of America's Executive of the Year for 2020, he's already almost a lock to repeat.

The plan, which included the unsuccessful pursuit of free-agent defensive end JJ Watt, still worked to near-perfection -- perhaps because they stayed disciplined and didn't panic into an overpayment of one player in a year when they had to think about dozens of others and the integrity of the 90-man roster.

Before free-agency even began, Beane stunned the Bills Mafia by re-signing Milano and Williams with team-friendly contracts, preventing them from hitting the market, where they know they would have made more but didn't dare venture. After all, life in Buffalo is just too sweet these days. Safety Micah Hyde also signed on for two more years with a key extension

In the meantime, Beane cleared space by releasing wide receiver John Brown and defensive end Quinton Jefferson and convincing center Mitch Morse, defensive end Mario Addison and defensive tackle Vernon Butler to take pay cuts or risk starting over somewhere else. They too had no interest in leaving a team they know is so special and still on the rise after making it to the AFC Championship Game in January.

Everything fell into place.

Giant-sized defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who was rumored to be leaning toward retirement after opting out of the 2020 season, said he's all-in for 2021 at age 31.

They upgraded their backup quarterback by replacing the outgoing Matt Barkley with 26-year-old Mitchell Trubisky, who despite being four years younger is considerably more experienced and accomplished than Barkley with a 29-21 record and two playoff starts under his best. What's more, they got him for the rock-bottom rate of $2.5 million for one season.

Lots of people around the league still believe Trubisky is no good after losing his starting job with the Chicago Bears. But they're mostly the same people who also said Allen was no good after his first two seasons with the Bills.

The Bills also re-signed starting cornerback Levi Wallace and starting guard/center Jon Feliciano; added three depth pieces to the offensive line in Bobby Hart, Jamil Douglas and Forrest Lamp; signed one of the fastest humans on earth, running back Matt Breida; improved their linebacker depth with Tyrell Adams and Marquel Lee; and brought in a pair of accomplished pass catchers in tight end Jacob Hollister and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (662 career receptions), who because of the depth they already had will be a third receiver at best.

Beane improved an already deep roster on a shoestring budget to truly set his team up to take the best available athletes on draft weekend without having to reach for any immediate needs.

Yes, the Bills could use an explosive edge rusher, a young, dynamic tight end and perhaps a more explosive starting running back. But with seven picks in the draft, including three in the top 100, they should be in better shape by May than they were a year ago to withstand the rigors of a regular season that's been extended to 17 games. And they definitely will have the kind of talent it takes to earn homefield advantage throughout the playoffs the next time around.

Nick Fierro is the publisher of Bills Central. Check out the latest Bills news at www.si.com/nfl/bills and follow Fierro on Twitter at @NickFierro.