The Buffalo Bills made a pivotal trade 10 months ago and reached the AFC Championship Game in the 2020 season. They're close, but they need to improve in order to get to the Super Bowl.
Bills general manager Brandon Beane spoke with reporters Wednesday in his annual end-of-season wrap-up session and covered a wide range of topics. Chief among them -- pun unintended -- is finding a way to beat Kansas City.
"I think they've shown sustained success and the current gold standard of the AFC and maybe the league -- we'll find out here next week when they play Tampa -- but they're the leader in the clubhouse," Beane said. "You've got to catch them all if you want to get in the Super Bowl. But it'll first start with winning the AFC East."
"They were clearly better than us, so we definitely have work to do."
Such work will include improving a roster that was already good enough to win 13 games and secure the AFC's No. 2 seed in 2020. Beane will be a little handcuffed in attempting to do so this offseason because of the ongoing pandemic's financial impact on the league, which has forced clubs to prepare for a salary cap that could be nearly $25 million lower than it was in 2020.
The GM said Wednesday the Bills and the other 31 clubs don't yet have a final understanding of where the cap might land in 2021, but they'll learn that in the weeks ahead.
An uncertain cap is a great reason to approach the offseason frugally, especially after landing star receiver Stefon Diggs last offseason in the aforementioned big trade. With spending power likely much lower in 2021, Beane pointed toward April -- not March -- as the new place of importance for the Bills to improve.
"We're going to have to draft well," Beane said. "This is not going to be a free agency that we can be as aggressive. We've been aggressive with that because we've built up the resources and you can only have so many drafts. At the end of the day, we still want to draft, develop and sign our own, and we're getting to that point where now we don't have to go out and add pieces from free agency, we've got to see how many of the guys we can retain.
"We'll fill in here and there some holes, but I would not anticipate any blockbuster moves of Stef(on) Diggs type, or some of the moves we made the year before in free agency. It's really gonna be plugging some holes depending on who we lose, and then the onus is on us to really to have a strong draft."
Buffalo is going to search for supplemental reinforcement via the draft, but the big signings and trades aren't coming. With a projected cap space of less than $2 million (with a projected cap of $180 million), per Over The Cap, the Bills have no wiggle room.
This might not please coach Sean McDermott, who pointed out the disparity in speed between the Chiefs and Bills, and also mentioned the need to get better (and perhaps faster) as a team. But he and Beane have been on the same page throughout Buffalo's remarkable turnaround, and it's likely he already knows the Bills' offseason position just as well as Beane.
The public message is simple: Get used to the same key Bills making plays in 2021, with the chance of a few new teammates helping them along the way.