The Buffalo Bills: From NFL Laughingstock to NFL Powerhouse

Nicholas Smith, Staff Writer

Since 1998, Brandon Beane had been in Carolina working in the Panthers front office, working his way up the staff all the way to assistant general manager. In 2011, Sean McDermott joined him in Carolina, but as a defensive coordinator. He was previously in Philadelphia from 2001-2010, coaching any part of the defense he could. These two men would eventually join the Buffalo Bills in 2017 and make them an NFL powerhouse.

On May 9th in 2017, the Buffalo Bills franchise changed forever. They hired 41-year-old Brandon Beane to be their General Manager, after hiring Sean McDermott as their head coach on January 17th of the same year. After a rough first year in Buffalo because of some very difficult decisions, they would eventually develop a great culture, and as a result, create one of the best teams in recent NFL history.

During the first free agency of Sean McDermott’s tenure at head coach, they released plenty of veterans, including cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, among others. He restructured quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s contract, to make sure he could stick around as the signal caller. The next day, he released 6-year veteran Aaron Williams, who was with the Bills for his whole career. But then he made two big splashes in free agency, signing safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Those two players would eventually become franchise cornerstones for the Bills. There were only a few other notable signings with LB Lorenzo Alexander, who took over a big leadership role on defense, and Kick Returner Andrew Holmes who would develop into a pro bowl returner. 

In the 2017 Draft, the Bills made some very impactful picks that would help turn this franchise around. In the draft they selected CB Tre’Davious White, WR Zay Jones, LT Dion Dawkins, LB Matt Milano, QB Nathan Peterman, and LB Tanner Vallejo. Three of these six picks would end up being All-Pro talents, which is absolutely incredible for one draft. Lorenzo Alexander, the LB the Bills signed prior to the draft, helped develop Matt Milano into a top 10 linebacker in the NFL, which is just the beginning of showing how impactful the new culture in Buffalo has become.

Brandon Beane officially took over the reins at GM after the draft, so now it was his turn to make some moves. He traded Cornerback Ronald Darby for a veteran wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a 3rd round pick for the 2018 Draft. Still, he wasn’t done. Just a few hours later he traded former 4th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Sammy Watkins. He was traded to the Rams alongside a sixth round pick, for Cornerback E.J. Gaines and a second round pick. Then a few weeks later he traded linebacker Reggie Ragland for a future 4th round pick. During the season he traded former 3rd overall pick Marcell Dareus for a 6th round pick from the Jaguars. 

Now that all the moves were done it was time for the 2017 NFL season. They started out 5-2 with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, which was incredible considering it was the first year of a rebuild. They quickly came back down to Earth, and ended up 5-5 following a loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman made his first career start in that game, and it could not have gone any worse. He threw five first-half interceptions, which is the second most interceptions in a single game for a rookie quarterback, and he only played one half. After that game, Tyrod Taylor got his starting job back and led the Bills to a 9-7 record, and their first playoff game in 17 years. They lost, but it was clear, the Bills were ready to be back at the top of the NFL. 

The 2018 off-season was an important one for Buffalo. Yes, they finally broke their playoff drought, but they had to show they were here to stay. At the beginning of free agency, the Bills sent shockwaves through the NFL sending quarterback Tyrod Taylor to the Browns for a 3rd Round pick. They also sent starting tackle Cordy Glenn, a first and a sixth round pick to the Bengals in exchange for the Bengals first and fifth round picks. The next day they signed many players, the most important being DT Star Lotulelei. That was all for free agency though, leaving many people underwhelmed, but Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott had a plan. In the 2018 NFL Draft they had multiple first round picks. They selected quarterback Josh Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds with these picks. Josh Allen was known as a very inaccurate quarterback coming out of college, but the Bills believed in him. Tremaine Edmunds was one of the smartest players coming out of college, so the Bills wanted him to be the “quarterback” of the defense. In the third round they selected defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, who was a very good prospect coming out of college. They then took nickel cornerback Taron Johnson in the fourth round. They selected defensive back Siran Neal and offensive lineman Wyatt Teller in the fifth round. They then finished the 2018 NFL Draft with two wide receivers in Ray-Ray McCloud and Austin Proehl. Right after the draft they signed multiple UDFA’s including WR Robert Foster, guard Ike Boettger, and cornerback Levi Wallace. 

Now that the season was about to be underway, the Bills had to announce a starting quarterback for the year. Most people thought it would be Josh Allen, as the only other option was second-year quarterback Nathan Peterman, who had a terrible debut just one season ago. But they ended up naming Peterman the starter anyway. In game one, they lost to the Ravens 47-3. Peterman made the start but only went 5-18 with 24 yards and 2 interceptions. Josh Allen ended up coming into the game in the third quarter with 10 minutes left, going 6-15 with 74 yards. It wasn’t special but it won him the starting job. In week 2 they lost to the Chargers 31-20, but Josh got the start and went 18-33 with 245 yards with 1 touchdown, but 2 interceptions. Once again, not special but good enough. The plan was to keep Josh as the starter for the rest of the season, but in week 6, things went south. He injured his collarbone and was out until week 12. Following his return, Josh finished the season 3-3. His stats for the 2018 NFL season were 2074 yards, 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Obviously it wasn’t great, but he showed flashes of being an elite quarterback throughout the season. Despite the disappointing season, the Bills made two very important moves. They signed defensive Tackle Jordan Phillips and wide receiver Isiaiah McKenzie off of waivers. 

Now entering the 2019 season, the Bills had less expectations than the year prior. Brandon Beane knew that this off-season would be even more important than the year before, because they wanted to get the most out of their new franchise QB. They started the off-season by re-signing DT Jordan Phillips, who they picked up mid-season the year before. After a few days of nothing, the Bills made some big splashes. They signed veteran wide receivers Cole Beasley and John Brown to multi-year deals. They also made two big pickups on the offensive line in Mitch Morse and Jon Feliciano. After making a few more small signings, it was officially draft time. The Bills had the ninth overall pick this year after finishing 6-10 in the 2018 regular season. They selected DT Ed Oliver with the ninth overall pick, who was a monster at Houston. In the second round they selected G Cody Ford, followed by RB Devin Singletary in round 3. They then ended day two of the draft by selecting TE Dawson Knox with the 96th overall pick. On day three of the NFL Draft, they selected LB Vosean Joseph, safety Jaquon Johnson, DE Darryl Johnson and TE Tommy Sweeny. Following the NFL Draft they signed countless UDFA’s including LB Tyrel Dodson and CB Cam Lewis. Once training camp started, the Bills made many moves to the offensive line once again. They traded DE Eli Harold to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for Guard Ryan Bates. Later in the month, they traded OL Wyatt Teller to the Browns, and OL Russell Bodine to the Patriots. 

After a very long and productive off-season, it was time for year two of the Josh Allen experiment and the 2019 NFL Season. After an 8-3 start, it was clear this team was different. The defense was playing at an elite level, although the offense under Josh Allen wasn’t great just yet. Some people weren’t convinced about Josh Allen being this team’s QB of the future even after this 8-3 start, but that would change soon. In week 13 of the 2019 season, the Bills took on the Dallas Cowboys on the road, on Thanksgiving. The Bills got off to a hot start, thanks to Cole Beasley playing phenomenally in his return to Dallas, where he started his career before signing with the Bills. With just over two minutes left in the first half, Josh Allen made the play of his career. It was 4th and 1, if they converted they would have all the momentum and have a chance to start to run away with this game. It was supposed to be a normal QB sneak, where he just takes the ball and dives for the first down, but that is not what happened. He fumbled the snap… it looked bleak, and once again another mistake from Josh Allen, until it wasn’t. He somehow picked the ball up from under about 6 defenders, and ran right through a defender to convert the first down. This play showed the Bills front office that this man would do anything to win a game for his team, including putting his body on the line. The Bills ended up winning this game and moving to 9-3 on the season, which was their best record through 12 games in a long time. Despite this hot start, they would finish only 10-6. But Josh Allen made a playoff game in his second season as the starting quarterback of the Buffalo Bills. They would go into Houston to play the Texans in the wildcard round of the playoffs. Josh Allen did it all, including throwing and catching a touchdown, but it wasn’t enough. They would lose this game 19-16, but this was just the beginning for Josh Allen. 

Entering the 2020 off-season, there was a different vibe in Buffalo. They finally had a great quarterback, as well as an elite Head Coach in Sean McDermott and elite General Manager in Brandon Beane. The Bills had three great off-seasons so far with Brandon Beane in charge, but this one would end up changing the Bills franchise as we know it. He started off free agency by signing guard Quinton Spain to a three-year deal, and CB Josh Norman to a one-year deal. He would also add many veterans in the coming days, including DE Mario Addison, DT Vernon Butler, DT Quinton Jefferson, RB Taiwan Jones, LB Tyler Matekevich, and LB AJ Klein. While these were all very good under-the-radar signings, Brandon Beane had one final trick up his sleeve. On March 19, 2020, he made a blockbuster trade for Superstar wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Diggs, who was an elite receiver in Minnesota for the Vikings, wanted a trade, and his wish was granted as he was now on his way to Buffalo. After making this blockbuster trade, Brandon Beane finished the free agency period by signing safety Dean Marlowe to a one-year deal, WR Isiah McKenzie to a one-year contract extension, and guard Darryl Williams to a one-year deal. 

After making the big splash in free agency for Stefon Diggs, the Bills were left without a first round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. That didn’t stop them from selecting some great players in this draft, however. On day two of the draft, the Bills made two selections in DE A.J. Epenesa and RB Zack Moss. On day three of the NFL Draft, they took a multitude of players in WR Gabe Davis, QB Jake Fromm, K Tyler Bass, WR Isiah Hodgins and finally CB Dane Jackson. After the draft, the Bills signed a lot more UDFA’s including FB Reggie Gilliam and RB Antonio Williams. Later on in the off-season, the Bills extended some key pieces of their team. The first being HC Sean McDemott, who signed a multi-year deal to extend him until the 2025 season. They would then re-sign LT Dion Dawkins to a four-year contract extension, locking him up through the 2024 season. Then right before the season would start, they extended star CB Tre’Davious White to a four-year contract extension as well, who was the first pick of the Sean McDermott/Brandon Beane era. 

At the start of the 2020 season, expectations were high for now third-year quarterback Josh Allen, and man did he deliver. He led them to a historic 4-0 start. In game 1 of the 2020 season, the Bills took on the division rival New York Jets. They had Sam Darnold starting at quarterback, who was selected four spots above Josh Allen. Josh Allen would dominate this game, throwing for his first 300 yard game in his career, along with 2 touchdown passes and 1 rushing touchdown. In game 2, Josh Allen just exploded, throwing for 415 yards and 4 touchdowns against the Miami Dolphins. They won the game 31-28, and Josh Allen was in MVP conversations already. In game 3, they took on the Rams and held a very convincing 28-3 lead in the third quarter, but just like the Falcons in Super Bowl 51, they blew it. Luckily due to Josh Allen heroics, they ended up winning the game despite the blown lead, 35-32. Josh Allen had another amazing game, throwing for 311 yards and 4 touchdowns. In game 4, the Bills would win again, but Josh Allen ended up hurting his shoulder and didn’t have the best of games, but played through the pain. He didn’t miss any time, but his injury proved to be bad after a very mediocre next two games, causing them to drop to 4-2. 

Following the two losses, Josh Allen would prove himself once again, being the dominant player he was through the first two games. He would not lose again for the rest of the season, except for one game against the Cardinals in week 10, where they lost due to a last second Hail Mary attempt, which luckily succeeded for the Cardinals. The Bills finished the season 13-3, despite many injuries and COVID-related issues. They would play the Indianapolis Colts in the wildcard round this year, and won the game, which was their first playoff win in 25 very long years. The next week they would play the Baltimore Ravens, and beat them as well, moving onto the AFC Championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs were favorites in this game, and it was very apparent during the game why they were. They dominated the Bills in a 38-24 game, which wasn’t very close at any point. 

Despite a very disappointing end to the season, considering they were one game away from the Super Bowl, there were many positives to take away from this year. Josh Allen finished second in MVP voting after finishing the year with 4,544 yards, 37 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Now just 9 months ago, the Bills made a blockbuster trade for WR Stefon Diggs, and it paid off big time. He ended the year leading the league in receptions and yards, with 127 receptions and 1535 yards. He also had 8 touchdown receptions, which led the team. Rookie WR Gabe Davis finished the year with 599 Yards and 7 touchdowns, while also flashing an elite talent at receiver. 

In the 2021 off-season, the Bills didn’t make too many moves. The majority of free agency consisted of re-signing players to extensions, to keep the team intact. It was in the 2021 NFL Draft where the Bills made a majority of their big moves. They started the draft by selecting back-to-back DE’s in Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham in the first and second rounds. They then took 6’8, 311 pound OT Spencer Brown in the third round. They then finished out the draft selecting OT Tommy Doyle, WR Marquez Stevenson, S Damar Hamlin, CB Rashad Wildgoose, and then ended the draft taking Jack Anderson in the seventh round. Once again following the draft, Brandon Beane made moves on many UDFA, including TE Quintin Morris. 

Entering the 2021 NFL Season, the Bills were considered Super Bowl contenders. They were favorites in game 1 of the NFL season against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were on a rapid decline. They went into the game very confident, but ended up getting embarrassed at home, losing 23-16. Following the week 1 loss, Josh Allen got this team back on track, leading them to a 4-1 record, including defeating the Chiefs, who eliminated them from the playoffs just a few months prior, 38-20. Despite Josh Allen’s best efforts, this Bills team struggled big time in the middle of the year due to a mix of injuries, and players getting COVID. They finished the season strong, however, with a four-game winning streak, and an 11-6 record. In the wildcard round, the Bills were taking on the long time division rival New England Patriots. Now calling the Patriots a “rival” is a bit of a stretch as they have dominated the Bills for what feels like forever. The media was expecting a Patriots win, but the complete opposite happened. The Bills completely dominated the Patriots in all aspects of the game. They scored a touchdown every single time they touched the ball, winning the game in dominating fashion, 47-17. Now even after this win, the Bills couldn’t get too happy just yet; they had to take on the Kansas City Chiefs once again in the playoffs, this time in the divisional round. This game would prove to be an instant classic. The game consisted of the two best quarterbacks in the game, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes, going back and forth. With 13 seconds left in the game, Josh Allen threw a strike to second-year receiver Gabe Davis for a touchdown to take a three point lead. This touchdown was Davis’ fourth on the day, which was a playoff record, as well as his 200th receiving yard. This game was basically all but over, except this game ended in a nightmare for Buffalo. Patrick Mahomes got the ball back with 13 seconds, and that was too much time. He led his team down to the 35 yard line in just 12 seconds, which set up a game-tying field goal to force overtime. For the coin toss, Josh Allen got to choose as the ball went up into the air, he called tails… it was heads. From there the rest was history. Patrick Mahomes continued to dominate and threw a game-winning touchdown to TE Travis Kelce in overtime, and Josh didn’t get to touch the field again. 

Once again, there was only agony in Buffalo, after another playoff defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs. Brandon Beane knew that this was unacceptable, and decided to make a big move. In free agency, he signed a ton of good players to multi-year deals, including DT Daquon Jones and OG Rodger Saffold. But it was time for another splash. Brandon Beane signed future Hall of Famer, edge Von Miller to a 6 year, $120 million contract. He would bring back former Bills, DT Jordan Phillips, who was here at the start of the McDermott and Beane era, and DE Shaq Lawson, who was drafted by the previous regime in Buffalo. He would extend both OL Ryan Bates and WR Stefon Diggs to monster four-year deals. In the 2022 Draft, the Bills selected many great players. In the first round the Bills selected CB Kaiir Elam, followed by RB James Cook in the second round. In the third round they would select speedy LB Terrel Bernard. To finish out the draft, they selected WR Khalil Shakir, CB Christian Benford, OG Luke Tenuta, and finished the draft with LB Baylon Spector. 

So far in the 2022 NFL Season, the Bills have overcome many adversities in the season-ending injury to star S Micah Hyde, among many other injuries to many other players. They are currently 6-1 entering week 9, and are looking to be the Super Bowl favorites. Josh Allen is once again having an MVP season, with 2198 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. RB Devin Singletary is having a career year, despite it not showing up on the stat sheet, and WR Stefon Diggs is once again dominating the competition. As the Bills are looking to finish a hot start to this season, you just have to admire the work that HC Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane have done to get this team to this point. They have single handedly changed one of the worst franchises in NFL history into an NFL powerhouse.