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Brandon Beane: 2020 was fun, but it's over and big challenges lay ahead for Bills

Sal Maiorana
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Thanks to their 38-24 AFC Championship Game loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Buffalo Bills fell short in their quest to play in the Super Bowl for the first time since January 1994.

And as he reflected on the 2020 season, one that saw the Bills take a quantum leap forward, general manager Brandon Beane admitted on Wednesday that this team wasn’t ready to take that final step and that it reached its ceiling.

“I still think we have to be very honest with where we’re at – we’re still not a Super Bowl team,” he said candidly during an hour-long season-ending Zoom call with reporters. “There’s one team happy at the end of the year. We made a great step last year in ’19 from ’18 and another step this year. We still have to go further. The goal here is to win that thing. Until we get in that game to compete for it, we can’t win it. So it wasn’t good enough this year.”

He’s right, just as coach Sean McDermott was on Tuesday when he essentially said the same thing. This was a great season for the Bills, particularly in the context of where this franchise has been for most of the 21st century. But no one at One Bills Drive is satisfied because their attitude is, as it should be, is that unless you win it all, you’ve won nothing.

Brandon Beane hopes the Bills have begun a period of sustained success.

Not that there’s nothing to celebrate, because there is. “Back-to-back seasons with the playoffs, which is good,” Beane said. “That’s a start of what I refer to as sustained success. We won the AFC East so we’ll obviously be the hunted team in that division. I think people will refer to us as the team that played in the AFC Championship last year.”

More:Bills coach Sean McDermott knows the climb is difficult, but vows to grow and rebuild

But now that they’ve unseated the Patriots in the division and have advanced to the NFL’s Final Four, things will only be more difficult in 2021 and the Bills are going to have to be ready for all comers. No longer are they the little underdog that could.

“We’re gonna get people’s best and we know that,” he said. “Next year is a new year, though. Nothing we did will matter when we start in this offseason or when we start camp. Every team will be built with new players, so we’ll have to hit the reset button. We’ve got a lot of work to do to try and get this thing going and build a team that can earn its way back to where we were and hopefully further.”

Here are a few other topics Beane covered:

Is time right for a Josh Allen extension?

Bills quarterback Josh Allen revs up the crowd.

One of the biggest reasons why the Bills have been able to be active participants in the free agent market the previous two years was because they have their quarterback on a relatively speaking low rookie contract. That won’t be the case for long.

The Bills must decide before May whether to exercise the fifth-year option on Allen’s deal. If they do so, it would push his salary above $20 million and put off his free agency until after the 2022 season. They could also use the franchise tag to get another season of control in 2023, though that would boost his salary several more million.

In these uncertain salary cap times, when it could dip to as low as $175 million in 2021, far below the pre-pandemic projection of the $210 million range, exercising the fifth-year option now and then working on the extension next offseason may be the prudent course, as long as Allen is patiently on board.

More:It sure was a great run by Josh Allen and rest of Buffalo Bills in 2020

But given the season he just had, the time may be right for the Bills to go ahead and give Allen his first massive deal in the form of a several hundred million dollar extension, even though it would limit their financial ability to upgrade the roster in spots, plus probably prevent them from re-signing some of their own key free agents.

“I don’t get into contracts (with the media), but it’s a fair question since I’m very proud of Josh,” Beane said. “He’s shown people what he can do in this league and I don’t think he’s reached his ceiling. I think there’s still room for him.”

What to do with Matt Milano?

Bills linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano wrap up Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins.

On the salary cap, Beane sent up the warning flare that it will be a challenge for the Bills. “There’s probably going to be some tough decisions,” he said. And the toughest may be on Milano. 

Of all the impending free agents, you can make the case that the most important one will be yay or nay on the outside linebacker who, when he’s healthy, is clearly one of the best players on the defensive unit. But that’s the thing, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy most of his career and Beane hinted that that’s something to be taken into account before shelling out a big contract.

“Matt is a very good player,” Beane said. “What a great job he’s done since he came in here to improve from 2017 to now. His biggest thing is playing 16 games. That will be the first thing he’ll tell you. We’d love to be able to get Matt back, he knows that, I shared that with him and I’m sure Sean has as well.”

Milano has missed 10 games in four years, plus played hurt in numerous others which limited his effectiveness. Do the Bills want to invest in a player who hasn’t always been available?

“The business side matters,” Beane said. “He wants to – and he’s earned the right – to go to free agency and see what his market bears. We’ll do our best to retain him and as many guys as we can. We just don’t even know the numbers yet and what it’s going to be. There’s going to be some tough decisions unfortunately for us. Whether it’s letting guys go on this roster or having to watch guys leave.”

That sounded an awful lot like Beane talking about Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips last year. If you were to read between the lines, it sounds like Milano has played his last game as a Bill and the team may look to find his replacement in the draft.

Might the franchise tag be in play for Milano in 2021, meaning a one-year salary of around $15.2 million? “We want to keep good players,” Beane said. “But it will come back to that cap and what we can afford. If it’s $175 million then we’re right at it right now. So, definitely some tough moves to make.”

Offensive line decisions pending

Bills center Jon Feliciano  at the line of scrimmage against Patriots Shilique Calhoun (90).

As you go down the pecking order, Beane will also have to make decisions on whether he can afford to keep guard Jon Feliciano and/or tackle Daryl Williams.

“Whether we can get them back, I don't know,” Beane said. “We'll have to see where their markets are and things like that. But if not, we'll have to try and find some similar replacements at a cost-effective number.”

Feliciano missed the first seven games with a pectoral injury and when he returned, he played not great, but fairly well. “I thought he came back really fast, which was a testament to him,” Beane said. “I think it could've lasted another three or four weeks according to the doctors. So kudos to him and our medical staff getting him back. You love his versatility, his toughness. I thought overall he did some good things. Was he perfect? No. But none of our guys were.”

Beane said he originally signed Williams, who he knew from Carolina, to compete for a guard spot, but Williams proved to be a better fit at right tackle and he really came through with a nice season, nice enough that he may have priced himself out of Buffalo.

“He's a very steady Eddie personality, and I thought he brought a calmness to our O-line,” said Beane. “His 2017 year, he was a second-team All-Pro at right tackle, so we knew he could do it. He had just had that bad knee injury which set him back a little bit. It was good to see him back to playing like he did probably three, four years ago. It was a nice piece for us.”

The band is staying together

Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier with linebacker Tremaine Edmunds against the Colts.

Now that David Culley, the former Bills QB coach, has been named head coach of the Texans, all of the vacant jobs have been filled, meaning it looks like the Bills will have dodged every possible staff change bullet that was flying around. With the Houston job filled, it looks like defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who interviewed for two jobs, will both be back in Buffalo.

This gives the Bills rare continuity at the top of the coaching staff with McDermott and Frazier back for their fifth years and Daboll for his fourth. It also probably means the roster of assistant coaches will remain intact, though as new staffs are put together, someone could poach from Buffalo.

One report is that QB coach Ken Dorsey, passed over in Seattle for its OC job, may still be in play for the OC job in Miami. 

Also, two of Beane’s top personnel men, assistant GM Joe Schoen and director of player personnel Dan Morgan, were both considered candidates for some of the open GM jobs, all of which are now filled.

“It’s a catch-22; you want guys to have opportunities, that means we’re having success, that’s the way the industry works,” Beane said. “Selfishly you want them to stay, but if it’s the right opportunity for them you want to high five them and say, ‘Great job man. You just hit a career goal whether it’s a GM or a head coach or whatever.’ We’re happy to have any of these guys back that didn’t land one of those jobs.”

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