BUFFALO — Sean McDermott didn’t mind being put on the spot when asked whether the Buffalo Bills have a roster that’s built to win now.
“You’re beautiful, man,” McDermott said, referring to a reporter during a video conference call Thursday. “Throw the fastball high and inside. Chin music.”
And yet, he wasn’t ready to swing away in addressing the media for the first time since the Bills upgraded their roster in free agency and acquired receiver Stefon Diggs in a trade with Minnesota in March, before shoring up secondary needs in the NFL draft last weekend.
McDermott would only go so far in acknowledging the Bills’ current roster is the deepest it’s been since taking over the job three years ago.
“Listen, we’re definitely further along than where we were when I got here,” he said. “And that’s part of the goal, you want to be able to say that.”
The proof, however, is still months away given the challenges he and the rest of the NFL faces in wondering when teams will be allowed to begin practicing because of the coronavirus pandemic. And there are still games to be played.
What’s not in question, on paper at least, is the Bills finally resembling a contender based on a variety of factors for a team coming off its second playoff appearance in three years.
Buffalo’s roster features continuity, with all but four regulars returning from last season. And whatever holes there might have been, were shored up through a series of offseason additions, including defensive end Mario Addison, defensive tackle Vernon Butler, linebacker A.J. Klein and cornerback Josh Norman.
It’s enough for some to regard the Bills as the chic pick to supplant the New England Patriots atop the AFC East standings following Tom Brady’s departure.
Diggs’ acquisition alone was important because it has the potential of improving a Josh Allen-led offense that had difficulty scoring. Buffalo failed to top 21 points 11 times last season, including a 21-18 overtime wild-card playoff loss to Houston, in which the Bills squandered a 16-0 third-quarter lead.
“We need to score points, and that’s been an emphasis and a theme that we’ve talked about since the end of the season,” he said of a team which had 10 games decided by seven points or fewer.
“I would love to take a seat on the bench in the fourth quarter of one of these games and maybe eat an orange slice or drink a Gatorade instead of having my heart go a million miles an hour,” McDermott added.
Concerns still abound, with one of his biggest involving the lack of practice time to develop Buffalo’s passing game.
McDermott said the offense spends about 70% of its spring practices working on passes, with the focus turning to the running attack once players are allowed to wear pads. He also wondered how long it might take for Allen to build chemistry with Diggs.
“I am concerned about it, but I guess not worried at this point,” McDermott said, noting every team faces its share of challenges. “What you do is try to adjust and adapt, and like we said before, our theme this offseason has been: `Find a way.’”
McDermott has a track record of overcoming adversity in Buffalo.
During his first season, the Bills overcame a patchwork roster in transition — Buffalo traded three starters, receiver Sammy Watkins, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and cornerback Ronald Darby — to finish 9-7 and end a 17-year playoff drought. Last season, the Bills made the playoffs despite an offense that featured eight new starters.
Though players are working out remotely on their own, McDermott is reintroducing his annual offseason team-bonding sessions by once again having newcomers introduce themselves by sharing their backgrounds during team sessions.