It wasn’t just luck
Now that the Buffalo Bills have not only a franchise-caliber quarterback, but one who’s locked up for quite some time, let’s take a moment to reflect on how they got here. Specifically, winning arguably the biggest gamble in the history of the sport. One of the more polarizing prospects of the 2018 NFL Draft, even his most ardent fans considered him a “project.”
That sentiment led to articles/takes like the one my headline is poking fun at. Now to be fair to the author, I also “penned” stat-based articles that showed how unlikely it was for Josh Allen to reach this point in his career. To my credit and a few other stat nerds, we weren’t all naysayers—simply pointing out that Allen would need to become the outlier of all outliers to be what Bills fans hoped. And that part remains true. Further, I’m happy as can be that he shattered all reasonable models.
But back to the point: How did the Bills and Josh Allen outsmart everyone?
It’s a bit awkward to discuss human beings like lottery tickets, but when you’re forcing them into the even more awkward premise of drafting them to start their career…why the heck not? The first step for Buffalo was to assess the gamble. It was no secret that the Bills were looking to get a quarterback in the 2018 NFL Draft and that the first round was the play in mind.
Using the lottery ticket analogy, if a first-round pick is one of those fancy $10 scratchers, you’re not buying the ticket if the grand prize is $12. You’re not risking ten to maybe get two. Further, if there’s a $2 scratcher (second-round pick?) that has the same possible payoff as the $10 one, why put the larger amount on the line?
The Bills assessed the gamble and went with Josh Allen—a $10 scratcher with astronomical payout potential. That’s only part of the equation though. One of the difficulties with the lottery ticket analogy is that it’s not entirely random if you see the payout. What did the Bills do that boosted their odds?
Sure, everyone agreed Allen had potential, but we’ve all seen potential wasted for various reasons. It’s my belief that the key to Allen reaching his potential has been the relationship between the front office and their quarterback—even before they selected him.
Back in early 2018 this site had numerous conversations on what assets general manager Brandon Beane could trade that we were comfortable with the team giving up. I went on record with an extreme take. I was comfortable with the team trading anything they thought necessary to get their guy. Not A guy. THEIR guy. Many people cited that several talented players would be available and that the Bills could sit back and let someone fall under the premise that it’s better to have “QB that fell to you + other player(s)” than it is to lose “other player(s)” and walk away with only “their guy.”
In most cases I’d agree, but not with a quarterback. The reality is that head coach Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane might only have gotten one shot at picking a quarterback. Pick a player you have zero reservations about—especially as the face of the franchise. Pick a player you’re excited to see coming in the building. Pick a player that you won’t hesitate to stand behind.
Fall in love.
For a person you love you’ll move mountains to help them out. You’ll go out of your way to support them during tougher times. You’ll find them the things they need to be successful. You’ll let them fail and learn. You will continue to be excited to see that person enter the building.
The Bills have moved mountains (revamped offensive line). They’ve gone out of their way to support Josh during tougher times (unwavering support during rookie season). They’ve found the things he needs to be successful (Stefon Diggs, steadily increasing playbook). Allen was allowed to fail. And boy has he ever learned. I don’t know if any team has been this excited about their quarterback.
We’ve seen the reverse. Rosen, aka “The Other Josh” was unwanted, unloved. I’m not claiming he’d be vying for an MVP in different circumstances, but it’s fair to say his potential has gone untapped. Bills fans recall the friction between EJ Manuel and Doug Marrone. Again, I’m not arguing a sneak Hall of Fame pick by any means, but if you think Marrone fostered the best Manuel that was possible I have a bridge to sell you.
Allen himself is obviously a large part of the success story, but on the team’s side of the ledger make no mistake. It began with a love story.