Bills quarterback Josh Allen and new wide receiver Stefon Diggs, acquired in a mid-March trade with the Vikings, have yet to get on the field together. They have found a way to develop chemistry, though.
“Josh told me that they have been (video) gaming,” Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane said Tuesday. “Maybe they are playing a game that’s not football, but they are bantering back and forth and getting to know each other.”
Bills players staying connected this offseason
It can’t be ruled out that they could be playing as teammates on Madden.
“I’d love it, as long as Stefon is wearing the Bills colors,” Beane joked — kind of.
This bond-building, the only option since COVID-19 restrictions have kept players from on-field work with teammates at club facilities, is paramount to the Bills this offseason if they are to supplant the Tom Brady-less Patriots in the AFC East.
“Our goal was, ‘How do we score points?’ ” Beane said. “That caught up with us at the end of the season in Houston.”
Buffalo averaged just 19.6 points — tied for 23rd with the Raiders. Yet managed to grind out 10 wins before losing to the Texans on Wild Card Weekend. That is known as borrowed-time offense. Part of the struggle, according to Beane, was not having a deep-ball/catch-and-run big-play receiving threat to complement Cole Beasley and John Brown. Enter Diggs.
Beane said Buffalo tried to pry Diggs from the Vikings at last season’s trade deadline, but Minnesota wasn’t down.
With draft pick No. 22, Beane didn’t think any of the top-shelf wide receivers would be available. He didn’t want to forsake his first-rounder or a stash of other picks to get up high enough to select a receiver who might not be able to make enough of an immediate impact like Diggs could. So the Bills dealt No. 22 (along with three other draft picks) to the Vikings for a player who had 63 catches for 1,130 yards and six touchdowns last season. Beane said Diggs should be worth the haul Buffalo parted with.
“Too many of our drives were having to be nine, 10, 11 plays,” Beane said. “You want to control the ball, but you also want an easy score once in a while.”
The inability for Allen and Diggs to even play catch has slowed the development of improvement needed in the passing game. Beane said that his quarterback and wide receiver learning to trust one another as people — not football players — can be just as beneficial. That’s what is happening now.
One thing the Bills have working in their favor is minimal turnover on the coaching staff and in the front office. Such continuity in the organizational hierarchy should help, with so much uncertainty at every turn, Beane said.
Changing of the guard in the AFC East?
“If this COVID-19 happened a year ago, I doubt we would win 10 games,” Beane said. “Eric Washington (defensive line) is the only new coaching addition. All three coordinators, (head coach) Sean (McDermott), myself, that will help us. These are uncertain times for us all. Some teams have a whole new staff, whole new regime. I think they are more behind the eight ball than we are behind (at) this point.”
With Brady out of New England, the Bills’ opportunity to finally surpass the Patriots in the division seems ripe. That’s not the thinking in Orchard Park. The playoff berth, the growth of Allen and other players, the additions of Diggs and defensive end Mario Addison and a strong draft mean nothing right now.
“Internally, we are starting over,” Beane said. “We had a 10-win season last year, which is great, but the message from Sean to our players is it’s a new season — a really new season with the COVID-19. More (of the talk) comes from Tom Brady leaving. For people to bet against Bill Belichick is what I’d call not-smart gambling. He’s going to find a way. I’m sure he knows what he is doing.”
“Until one of us three knocks them off, they’re the team to beat.”
Beane also said the Dolphins and Jets look stronger, so the AFC East is not a two-team race between the Bills and Patriots.
Buffalo Bills Offseason Plans
All teams right now are staging virtual meetings and conditioning sessions. Beane said Bills players have been attending, attentive and eager. It’s hard to know exactly how players are handling things. But the GM said that McDermott and the coaches aren’t just talking football with players.
There have been real-life discussions, guest speakers and follow-up calls just to make sure guys are doing OK and/or if their wives and kids are good. That leadership is hitting home, literally. This gives Beane optimism that whenever guys get back together, they’ll be united and ready to roll.
“Sean’s message has been to find a way,” Beane said.
This article was first published by NFL.com.