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Exit Interview: Buffalo Bills

The Bills’ painful playoff exit put a spotlight on the team’s problems, beginning with Josh Allen. What will it take to fix his flaws?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

As each club is eliminated from the postseason, The Ringer will examine what went right, what went wrong, and where the franchise could go from here. Today it’s the Buffalo Bills, who collapsed in their wild-card game against the Texans.

What Went Right

The Bills just had their first 10-win season since 1999. This might not feel like a 20-year high point for Buffalo right now, but a lot went right for the team this season. They fielded a top-five defense in both points and yards, put up their first double-digit-win season in two decades, and showed growth on offense with playmakers like John Brown and Devin Singletary. Oh, and they had a 16-0 lead in a road playoff game. About that …

What Went Wrong

The Bills are still searching for their first postseason win since 1995, and this loss to the Texans particularly stings. With a 16-point lead deep into the third quarter, Buffalo had a win probability as high as 96.7 percent. The team scored just three points in the second half and overtime, though, and added to the franchise’s long history of postseason pain.

This game—and this season more broadly—should have even the most ardent Josh Allen believers question whether he can be the Bills’ quarterback of the future.

Allen chucked the football 46 times in this game. That is not a game plan that will work for the Bills, especially when Allen converted those 46 attempts into 24 completions (52.2 percent), 264 yards (5.7 per attempt), and zero touchdowns. He also had zero picks, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying—numerous passes hit the hands of Texans defenders, though they weren’t able to hang on to the football. Allen also fumbled the ball twice, losing it once.

His decision-making, though, was eye-raising at best and shockingly awful at worst. At one point, on a crucial scramble late in the fourth quarter, Allen nonsensically tried to lateral the football to avoid a tackle. That decision cost the Bills a chunk of yardage thanks to an illegal bat of the ball, but it could have cost the team the game had a Texans player been in position to scoop it up. Footballs are not round: No player should recklessly toss them around.

Allen also took a 19-yard sack on a third down in the fourth quarter when the Bills desperately needed a field goal. And on a crucial fourth-quarter drive he dropped the ball out of nowhere, virtually handing the ball to the Texans. There was seemingly an endless stream of these perplexing errors. In short, it’s not a good sign for any team if their quarterback is better as a running back …

… or wide receiver …

… than he is at quarterback. Allen’s entire 2019 looks like this—he can do everything but throw. He finished the season with 3,089 yards on a 58.8 percent completion rate with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He ranked 23rd in adjusted net yards per attempt (5.71), 27th in Pro Football Focus’s grades, 24th in QBR, and 35th in completion percentage above expectation. Allen still possesses tantalizing arm strength and is one of the best rushing QBs in the game (510 yards and a league-leading nine touchdowns), but he needs to improve his decision-making and accuracy. The loss to the Texans put a spotlight on all his flaws—and they are ones that will be difficult to fix. Luckily for the Bills, Allen is entering only his third season, so they have plenty of time to continue to evaluate him before deciding on an extension—but don’t be surprised if this time next year he’s talked about in the same way Mitchell Trubisky is.

Free Agency

The Bills have managed the financials of their roster well. They have few notable free agents, and more than $88 million in projected cap space—the fourth most in the league. The conventional wisdom is that teams should go all in while they have the luxury of a quarterback on a rookie contract, and while I don’t believe Allen is the passer of the future in Buffalo, the Bills should overspend some with the goal of putting the best roster possible around him while his cap hit is in the range of $5 million to $6 million. They certainly have the cash to do it.

As far as immediate concerns go, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and guard Quinton Spain are both free agents. Phillips had 9.5 sacks in 16 games, though he failed to make the Pro Bowl or an All-Pro team. Spain came to Buffalo on a one-year deal, and started every game at guard. Both are worth keeping around, if the price isn’t too high.

The Draft

The Bills have all of their early-round draft picks, and could focus on one of the many top-tier wide receiver prospects in this draft class, including Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy, Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, Clemon’s Tee Higgins, or Bama’s Henry Ruggs III, among others. That’s the most glaring need for the Bills. While John Brown certainly anchored the unit with 1,060 yards and six touchdowns (more than a third of Allen’s passing yards!), an infusion of talent at that position would help the Bills field a more balanced offense—and, more importantly, help the team evaluate Allen.