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Bills general manager Brandon Beane named NFL executive of the year

Sal Maiorana
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Brandon Beane

Had Brandon Beane made only the trade to acquire wide receiver Stefon Diggs, the Buffalo Bills general manager would have probably been in line to be named the NFL’s Executive of the Year by both The Sporting News and the Pro Football Writers’ Association.

Because Beane did so much more to put together this team that will play for the AFC championship, it was almost a no-brainer that he was announced Thursday as the winner of the award.

Since coming to Buffalo from Carolina in May 2017, Beane and coach Sean McDermott – who Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Wednesday should be the clear-cut winner for coach of the year – have worked hand in hand to change the fortunes of the Bills’ franchise.

This was a team in almost nonstop disarray for 17 years before the tandem from Carolina took over the operation, and their handiwork has produced three playoff seasons in their four years on the job, topped by the 2020 team that ended Buffalo’s 25-year AFC East drought and has advanced to the title game for the first time in 27 years.

Knowing the biggest missing piece in the Buffalo offense was the lack of a true game-changing receiver, Diggs pulled off the deal of the NFL season when he sent a cache of draft picks to Minnesota for Diggs, including Buffalo’s No. 1 pick in 2020.

Diggs went on to have the greatest season any Buffalo receiver has ever had, shattering team records and becoming the first Bills receiver to lead the NFL in catches (127) and yards (1,535). No Bills receiver had ever led in either category, let alone both.

His presence turned the Bills into a dynamic offense and was the biggest reason why quarterback Josh Allen made the quantum leap from middling starter to burgeoning superstar.

However, that was also one of the key transactions Beane and his staff made. 

Beane retooled the defensive line after allowing Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips, two players he felt had reached their ceiling in Buffalo, leave via free agency. He signed Mario Addison, Quinton Jefferson and Vernon Butler to bolster a front that needed to be better in the pass rush, and against the run.

He brought in linebacker A.J. Klein who, after a slow start, played a key role in helping the Bills survive without Matt Milano for several games. He signed cornerback Josh Norman to provide depth at cornerback, linebacker Tyler Matakevich to be the Bills’ special teams leader, and offensive tackle Daryl Williams who enjoyed a rebirth after a couple down seasons in Carolina.

And in the draft, he took edge rusher A.J. Epenesa in the second round, running back Zack Moss in the third, wide receiver Gabriel Davis in the fourth and kicker Tyler Bass in the sixth. Epenesa came on at the end of the year, Moss showed promise before getting hurt, Davis was a steal given the way he played, and Bass had one of the finest rookie seasons any kicker in NFL history has ever had as he set a Bills scoring record with 141 points.

This on top of all the previous building Beane has done, specifically, making what sure looks like a brilliant decision to draft Allen No. 7 overall in 2018, plus the additions in 2019 of free agents Mitch Morse, Cole Beasley, John Brown, Jon Feliciano and Andre Roberts, and the drafting of Ed Oliver, Dawson Knox, and Devin Singletary.

► In other news, the Pro Football Writers’ Association named Bills’ offensive coordinator Brian Daboll as its assistant coach of the year. McDermott did not win coach of the year as that went to Cleveland’s Kevin Stefanski.

Using the players Beane brought in, Daboll crafted an exciting and innovative attack that resulted in Buffalo scoring a franchise record 60 touchdowns and 501 points, an average of 31.3 per game which was second in the league.

Daboll, who interviewed for the vacant head coaching positions with the Jets and Chargers but did not get either job, is still in the running for the Texans job, as is Buffalo defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

Sal Maiorana can be reached at maiorana@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.