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Why the Buffalo Bills’ Super Bowl window might be closing

Buffalo Bills Super Bowl window
Credit: Jamie Germano/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Buffalo Bills used to be one of the worst teams in the NFL, hanging at the bottom of the standings every year and dreaming of making the playoffs. The arrival of Josh Allen, Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott changed everything for the Bills’ franchise.

Buffalo didn’t make a single playoff appearance from 2000-’16, one of the longest playoff droughts in NFL history. It led to the Bills’ ownership bringing in McDermott and Beane, with the coach-general manager duo identifying Allen as the player to turn the franchise around.

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Suddenly, the Bills snapped their playoff drought in 2017 and by 2019 Allen had made them a Super Bowl contender. Following another heartbreaking playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, it might be time to realize the Bills’ Super Bowl window is closing.

Buffalo Bills draft history under Brandon Beane

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Buffalo officially hired Beane as its general manager in May 2017, days after the 2017 NFL Draft. He was officially put in charge of building the roster after that. While he proved instrumental in building Buffalo’s roster early on, the success of his draft classes have fallen off in recent years

Drafting Allen wasn’t a no-brainer. For as physically gifted as the Wyoming quarterback was, there were also glaring flaws. He completed just 56.2 percent of his passes in two full seasons at Wyoming, throwing 21 interceptions in 25 games. Quarterbacks with Allen’s inaccuracy and poor decision-making almost always become draft busts.

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Instead, he’s become one of the best players in franchise history and is largely responsible for the Bills’ turnaround.

Buffalo Bills record by year

  • 2023: 11-6, Lost in Divisional Round
  • 2022: 13-3 – Lost in Divisional Round
  • 2021: 11 – 6 – Lost in Divisional Round
  • 2020: 13 – 3 – Lost in AFC Championship Game
  • 2019: 10 – 6 – Lost in Wild Card Round
  • 2018: 6-10
  • 2017: 9 – 6 – First playoff appearance since 1999

However, the slow decline of the Bills’ roster over the last year can be traced back to a series of misses in the NFL Draft from Beane.

Bills draft history

2022 Bills draft class

  • 1st: Kaiir Elam, CB
  • 2nd: James Cook, RB
  • 3rd: Terrell Bernard, LB
  • 5th: Khalil Shakir, WR
  • 6th: Matt Araiza, P
  • 6th: Christian Benford, DB

2021 Bills draft class

  • 1st: Gregory Rousseau, DE
  • 2nd: Boogie Basham, DL
  • 3rd: Spencer Brown, OL
  • 5th: Tommy Doyle, OL
  • 6th: Damar Hamlin, DB

2020 Bills draft class

  • 2nd: AJ Epenesa, EDGE
  • 3rd: Zack Moss, RB
  • 4th: Gabe Davis, WR
  • 5th: Jake Fromm, QB
  • 6th: Tyler Bass, K
  • 7th: Dane Jackson, CB

2019 Bills draft class

  • 1st: Ed Oliver, DT
  • 2nd: Cody Ford, OL
  • 3rd: Devin Singletary, RB
  • 3rd: Dawson Knox, TE
  • 5th: Vosean Joseph, LB
  • 6th: Jaquan Johnson, CB
  • 7th: Darryl Johnson, DE

2018 Bills draft class

  • 1st: Josh Allen, QB
  • 1st: Tremaine Edmunds, LB
  • 3rd: Harrison Phillips, DT
  • 4th: Taron Johnson, CB
  • 5th: Siran Neal, CB
  • 5th: Wyatt Teller, iOL
  • 6th: Ray-Ray McCloud, WR

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Beane struck gold with Allen, albeit with some unprecedented developments from the young quarterback aided by Brian Daboll. He also hit on Tremaine Edmunds, Harrison Phillips, Taron Johnson and Dawson Knox. Wyatt Teller has become an All-Pro guard, but only after being traded to the Cleveland Browns a year after he was picked by Buffalo.

After the 2019 draft class, Beane’s track record becomes shakier. Without a first-round pick, thanks to the Stefon Diggs trade that worked out well, Buffalo used its top pick on AJ Epenesa. Through 59 games, he has recorded just 14 sacks and averaged 0.56 QB hits and 0.33 tackles for loss per game. Moss averaged just 4.1 ypc and 29.6 rush ypg in the Bills’ offense before he was dumped to Indianapolis in the Nyheim Hines trade and thrived in a different environment (4.7 ypc, 61.3 rush ypg). Meanwhile, Gabe Davis hasn’t ever become the No.2. receiver Buffalo wanted him to be despite numerous opportunities each year.

As for Buffalo’s 2021 draft class, risk-reward prospect Gregory Rousseau (26 pressures in 2023) has panned out. Boogie Basham was traded for a 2025 sixth-round pick in August 2023, while Spencer Brown has been an average-at-best right tackle. In regards to the 2022 class, Terrell Bernard has been a hit while Cook is at best a slightly above-average starter.

During the 2022 NFL Draft, cameras caught Beane reacting to the Kansas City Chiefs trading up to the 21st overall pick and selecting cornerback Trent McDuffie. McDuffie was one of the highest-rated players on Buffalo’s draft board and with him hone, Beane settled for Kaiir Elam. Years later, McDuffie is now an All-Pro selection and Elam is likely in his final days with Buffalo.

Revisiting the Sean McDermott contract extension

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The standard for head coaches in the NFL varies by organizational expectations and level of performance in the biggest games. Sean McDermott has the highest winning percentage in Buffalo Bills history (.632) and is on a trajectory to be the winningest coach in franchise history (112 wins, Marv Levy).

Yet heading into training camp, McDermott seemed like someone who could at least approach the NFL’s coaching hot seat. While he’s made the playoffs in six-of-seven seasons as Buffalo’s head coach, the Bills’ recent track record didn’t suggest an extension was imminent.

While the Bills have won at least one playoff game in three consecutive years, that doesn’t meet the standard for a franchise with Super Bowl expectations. Furthermore, the postseason losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins were poor reflections on McDermott’s defenses.

In the 2201 AFC Championship Game, Buffalo allowed 38. points, 29 first downs and 439 total yards to the Chiefs. A year later, Kansas City hung 42 points, 30 first downs and 552 total yards on Buffalo’s defense. Most recently, in a 27-10 AFC Divisional Round loss to Cincinnati, the Bills allowed 30 first downs and 412 total yards.

  • Buffalo Bills defense in playoff losses (2020-’24): 134 points allowed, 110 first downs surrendered, 1,764 total yards allowed in four games

Despite all of this, Buffalo signed McDermott and Beane to contract extensions through the 2027 season. It seemed like a bit of a strange decision, given the perennial playoff disappointment for Buffalo. Months later, with this team now in jeopardy of missing the playoffs, McDermott’s extension looks even worse but the Bills will be stuck with him barring an unexpected firing at the end of the season.

Father Time and cap constraints catching up to Buffalo Bills

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The Bills are committed to Beane and McDermott. While both men are the architects behind the team’s success, Buffalo has also been a disappointment in the last two years because of their actions and decision-making.

Buffalo’s 6-4 record entering Week 10 isn’t bad by any means, but the last five-plus weeks have been a reflection of an NFL power that is slowly falling apart. Father Time has delivered some hits to Buffalo’s defense and the worse might still be ahead.

YearCap SpaceFree Agents
2024-$43.732 million Gabe Davis, DaQuan Jones, Tim Settle, Leonard Floyd, Shaq Lawson, AJ Epenesa, Jordan Phillips, Micah Hyde, Dane Jackson, Taylor Rapp, Dane Jackson
2025$37.756 millionMitch Morse, Dion Dawkins, Rasul Douglas, Jordan Poyer, Taron Johnson, Spencer Brown
Buffalo Bills salary cap figures via OverTheCap.com

Even if 2023 is written off as a lost year because of season-ending injuries, it doesn’t allow Buffalo to escape from its long-term problems. Tre’Davious White will be 29 in January, recovering from a torn Achilles after already making his way back from an ACL tear. He wasn’t the same high-end No. 1 cornerback after returning from the ACL injury and it’s unlikely he is as good post-Achilles repair.

  • Tre’Davious White PFF grade by year: 88.5 (2017), 61 (2018), 76.4 (2019), 74.5 (2020), 65.7 (2021), 61.9 (2022), 68 (2023)

Even if 2023 is written off as a lost year because of season-ending injuries, it doesn’t allow Buffalo to escape from its long-term problems. Tre’Davious White will be 29 in January, recovering from a torn Achilles after already making his way back from an ACL tear. He wasn’t the same high-end No. 1 cornerback after returning from the ACL injury and it’s unlikely he is as good post-Achilles repair.

  • Buffalo Bills average age: 26.3 years old (25th in NFL)

Getting Matt Milano back in 2024 will help, but he’ll be 30 years old next season. Meanwhile, Von Miller will be 35 years old, while Jordan Poyer, A.J. Klein and Micah Hyde will be 33 years old. In addition, Shaq Lawson, Leonard Floyd and DaQuan Jones will all be in their 30s next year.

Getting Matt Milano back in 2024 will help, but he’ll be 30 years old next season. Meanwhile, Von Miller will be 35 years old, while Jordan Poyer, A.J. Klein and Micah Hyde will be 33 years old. In addition, Shaq Lawson, Leonard Floyd and DaQuan Jones will all be in their 30s next year.

  • Buffalo Bills average age: 26.3 years old (25th in NFL)

Cap space is another big problem. Cap charges for Diggs ($14.875 million to $27.854 million), Allen ($18.636 million to $47 million), Miller ($7.9 million to $23.874 million) and Ed Oliver ($4.9 million to $9.25 million) all explode in 2024. Buffalo will have to let many of its veterans and starters walk in free agency, all without being able to replace them with proven players.

  • Josh Allen contract: $47.056 million cap hit (2024), $56.556 million cap hit (2025), $52.256 million cap hit (2026), $45.284 million cap hit (2027)

The next two years are going to force Buffalo to rely heavily on the NFL Draft to acquire talent and Beane’s track record in the last three years casts doubt on how effective the Bills will be at finding cheap, young talent.

While Allen will always be good enough to make the Bills a perennial playoff contender, it takes a great roster to win a Super Bowl and Buffalo has fallen far behind the Miami Dolphins, Kansas City, Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens in that regard. If things don’t improve, the Houston Texans could be next to pass the Bills in the AFC.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Buffalo Bills, check out #Bills rumors, rankings, and news here.

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