BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The 2023 season ended in a familiar fashion for the Buffalo Bills -- a third straight exit in the divisional round of the playoffs and the team falling short of its Super Bowl goal.
The similarities extend to an offseason that once again will have difficulties due to a tight cap situation with tough decisions to be made, especially on the defensive side of the ball, all while staying competitive in an AFC ruled by the Kansas City Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
With free agency just around the corner, the Bills have several key contributors set to hit the open market. General manager Brandon Beane reiterated in January that spending on big-time free agents is not something that should be expected.
"I don't think you're gonna see any splashes even if I found something that was exciting to me," Beane said. "I don't think it would fit within our cap parameters. And so, I think everyone needs to understand that we're going to be shopping at some of those same stores we were shopping at last year. We're not going to be on main street of New York City or ... where all those high-end shopping centers are. It's not feasible to where we're at, but we're gonna use every resource we can."
While an official cap number for 2024 has not yet been announced, the Bills are currently projected to be more than $50 million over the cap. Restructuring some contracts is likely, such as quarterback Josh Allen's, as he is set to account for $47.1 million in cap space.
Things are about to start moving quickly and the NFL Combine begins next week. How best can the Bills use the resources available to them? What are the biggest positions of need and which of the potential outgoing players could be most valuable to try and re-sign?
There is only one defensive tackle from the 53-man roster under contract for 2024 and that's Ed Oliver, so there's no doubt it's a position that the Bills need to address in a big way. Eli Ankou, who spent most of 2023 on the practice squad, is also signed to a reserve/futures contract.
The key here, and arguably the most important re-signing the Bills can make this offseason, is trying to bring back Jones. While he missed a majority of his second year with Buffalo due to a pectoral injury suffered in a Week 5 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in London, Jones was a significant boost up front when he was healthy.
Joseph was brought in after the trade deadline to try and help with Jones' absence, but when Jones, 32, returned from injury late in the year and for the playoff stretch, it was a reminder of his value that the Bills were not able to replicate.
"We missed DaQuan when he got hurt in London and I told him as much [after the season concluded]," Beane said. "DaQuan is a good player, first and foremost, a longtime starter in this league. Beyond that, he's a leader and he's well respected. He makes others around him better. ... He's earned the right to test his market and see what it looks like. But we would be a fool not to entertain bringing him back."
Whether the Bills will be able to afford to bring Jones back is the question. His age and only playing seven regular-season games in 2023 could help, plus it's clear that the veteran will get serious playing time in Buffalo, but more money elsewhere is certainly a possibility. He is also not a long-term solution at a position in which the Bills could very well look to add young talent through the draft.
The first question here is whether Hyde decides to retire, something he said in January he is not in a rush to decide. Hyde has been partnered with safety Jordan Poyer, who has another year on his deal with the Bills, for the last seven seasons all under coach Sean McDermott.
If he decides to keep playing, the question becomes if the Bills can afford to bring him back. Hyde missed most of the 2022 season due to neck surgery and then played 14 regular-season games in 2023 as stingers became an issue.
"Individually, it was a battle each and every week to get back on that field on Sundays," Hyde said. "There's a few times this year I had no idea if I was going to be back out there. And so, I was able to make it back out there and it was tough. It was tough mentally, physically. But yeah, I'm glad that I was able to go on this road with the boys and at least try to finish it off right."
If all the above questions work out, bringing Hyde back on a short-term deal makes sense for the Bills as they continue to make that Super Bowl push, but even if he does return, it's past time for the team to invest in younger answers at safety. Beane projected the Bills to have 10 draft picks once the compensatory picks are awarded, and getting new and younger safety help on this roster for the present and the future would be wise.
There's a chance that the Bills can find a deal that works for them and either re-sign Davis or bring in a veteran for that No. 2 role, but this overall seems like a position that -- financially and otherwise -- the team is best addressing through the draft.
Davis made it clear in January that he is intending to explore free agency.
"I feel like definitely gotta go to March and see also the other options as well," Davis said. "I feel like that's the business side of it and I gotta take advantage of it."
In six drafts run by Beane, the Bills have never drafted a receiver in the first two days. That changing this year will be a popular topic once again leading up to the NFL draft in April. With the limited resources available and needing a talented receiver to work with Allen for the long-term, adding to the room in free agency would be good for 2024, but more long-term solutions may be better found through the draft.
In an ideal world, the Bills bring back both Floyd and Epenesa. Floyd signed with the Bills on a one-year deal late in free agency and had an impressive season with 10.5 sacks, while Epenesa's rookie deal has come to an end coming off the best season of his career: 6.5 sacks, five batted passes and two interceptions.
It's unknown exactly what's next for Von Miller, which leaves the Bills with even more question marks at the position. On the field, the pass rusher continues to try and work his way back from right ACL surgery, and off the field allegations of assaulting his pregnant girlfriend are still under investigation.
Trying to find creative ways to invest in pass rushers through the draft and free agency will be key, even if bringing Floyd and/or Epenesa back is unachievable.