Bills not tanking....yet.
By Mike Catalana
I know tanking. I have seen tanking. As a fan I have lived tanking. The Buffalo Bills are not tanking. As an unapologetic fan of the team that perfected the lose to win mentality, the Philadelphia 76ers, I know when a team is playing the long game by doing everything possible to avoid wins. The Bills moves, to this point, are miles short of “trying to lose” . We are not exactly breaking up the Beatles in Buffalo. This was a severely flawed 7-9 team that was built to be a bully by Rex and Doug. Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane have just begun the great Bills makeover and not every move is going to get the fans to “Trust the Process”.
I am genuinely surprised by the release of running back Jonathan Williams. He is a young player who seemed to get the idea of what Rick Dennison wanted in his run game (plant your foot and go). But you do realize we are talking about the backup running back? Mike Gillislee arrived out of nowhere to become as productive of a backup back as there was in the NFL. No disrespect to the players in the game, but running back is the place you can find good players off the street.
I do think there has been a substantial shift in the vision of the franchise since the new regime took over. They began with bringing back key veterans like Tyrod Taylor, Kyle Williams and Lorenzo Alexander. Brandon Beane arrived saying they were trying to “win now and win in the future”. But while that seemed like they were 50-50 in that approach at the start, there is little doubt the focus is more on 2018 and beyond. Trading Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby sent a major signal that 2017 is a year of transition. But the reality around the NFL is that most experts would say the team is not substantially different with Jordan Matthews and EJ Gaines on the roster. That being said, there is little doubt the key to those deals was getting the 2nd and 3rd round draft picks.
As this season plays out we are going to see the balance of win now and win in the future shift even more to the long term. I have no doubt that Nathan Peterman will take meaningful snaps for this team and that move will not be connected to a Tyrod Taylor injury. Other young players will get their chance to play key roles so the Bills can evaluate what they have going forward. I have been saying for months this roster will be a fluid situation all year. The bottom third of the 53 and the practice squad’s only constant will be change.
Do I think there is a chance that they hold a fire sale during the season? Sure. But the only move that signals they do not want to try to win would be shipping off Lesean McCoy. He is the best player on the team and he can win games for you (and for other teams). But if you are thinking someone is going to send you a first round draft pick for a 30 year old running back you have not be following the NFL very closely.
At the beginning of camp I thought the Bills had a chance to win 7 or 8 games. That was probably overly optimistic, but recent franchise history has shown this team’s ability to find that mediocre watermark no matter who coaches and who plays QB. Now, after all of these moves, I think they are more likely a 5-6 win team. The Jets are awful. They will probably split with the Jay Cutler’s. They will win a game or two at home outside of the division and steal one on the road no one expects.
Maybe it is just semantics. Maybe it is the word “tanking” and all that goes with it that keeps me from saying the Bills are taking that approach. Compare the roster to the one the Jets will put on New Era Field on Sunday and you will see what throwing away a season is all about. At some point both eyes will be on the future. In Buffalo we are not quite there yet.
MCatalana@13wham.com Twitter: @MikeCatalana