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Antwan Staley: Bills contending window still open for business with Josh Allen under center

AFC East fans, I know what you’re thinking.

On Wednesday, the Bills made a stunning move and traded wide receiver Stefon Diggs after four seasons with the team.

Because Diggs is leaving and other players such as safety Jordan Poyer, center Mitch Morse, and wide receiver Gabe Davis have departed, some might believe the Bills’ demise is finally here after four consecutive AFC East titles.

“Are we better today, probably not,” Bills general manager Brandon Beane said on Wednesday. “It’s a work in progress, and we’re going to continue to work on that.

“I would just hope that people know I’m competitive as hell, and I ain’t giving in. We’re going to work through this, and we are going to continue to look. I’m confident in the guys we have on the roster and I’m confident and the staff we have upstairs.

“We will continue to find pieces to add and we will be ready to roll when it comes time in September.”

On paper, the Bills are certainly not the same team they were a season ago. Buffalo has lost its top two receivers, their starting center, and one of its heart and soul defensively.

But there’s one aspect the Bills have going for them that no other team in the AFC East has going for them, and that’s an elite quarterback in Josh Allen.

After Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Allen is arguably the best quarterback in the sport. No one has more passing and rushing touchdowns combined than Allen (173) during the last four seasons. Also, only Mahomes has thrown for more yards (19,012) than Allen (17,540) during that span.

Sure, replacing a talented player like Diggs is challenging. During his four seasons with the Bills, Diggs registered 445 receptions for 5,372 yards and 37 touchdowns.

However, Buffalo should be optimistic that it can still compete in the AFC because the team was still winning despite Diggs’ role decreasing last season. While he finished the year with 107 catches for 1,183 yards and eight touchdowns, Diggs only caught 30 passes for 288 yards and just one touchdown in his final six regular season games.

In the playoffs, Diggs finished with just 10 catches for 73 yards and zero touchdowns. After they fired Ken Dorsey and replaced him with Joe Brady, who was then an interim offensive coordinator, the Bills began to focus their offense more on running the ball using James Cook‘s and Allen’s legs. The interim tag was lifted and Brady was named the Bills permanent offensive coordinator this offseason.

After Brady was made the offensive coordinator, the Bills averaged 156 rushing yards per game. With Dorsey, the Bills averaged just 117 yards on the ground.

With Diggs departing, the Bills will certainly be in the market for a receiver in this month’s draft. The 2024 class of receivers might be the best in over a decade. Even selecting 28th in the draft, Buffalo should be able to find a receiver who can make an immediate impact.

The Bills also have the ammunition to trade up for a receiver with the 2025 second-round pick they received in the Diggs trade.

What should also give the Bills some optimism is the other teams in the AFC East have significant questions they need to address. The Jets have won the offseason after their moves on the offensive line (Tyron Smith, John Simpson, Morgan Moses), signing receiver Mike Williams and trading for edge rusher Haason Reddick.

However, the Jets’ season hinges on Aaron Rodgers‘ health and play. A year ago, Rodgers played just four snaps before he tore his Achilles and missed the rest of the season. Without him, the Jets finished 7-10 for the second consecutive year.

Although Rodgers, 40, is expected to make a full recovery and participate in the Jets’ offseason program, it’s hard to know what to expect from someone his age coming off a significant injury. The Jets are also in a make-or-break season with coach Robert Saleh in charge. They also have a tackle in Smith, who has not played an entire season since 2015, and Williams is coming off a season-ending ACL injury.

Then there are the Dolphins, who blew a three-game lead in the AFC division last season with five weeks left, only to lose their final three games. That included losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs in the AFC Wild Card Round.

Miami’s defense has significant questions after losing defensive tackle Christian Wilkins in free agency and releasing veterans in linebacker Jerome Baker, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, and cornerback Xavien Howard. This doesn’t even include edge rushers Bradley Chubb (ACL) and Jaelan Phillips (Achilles) recovering from season-ending injuries during the latter part of 2023.

The Patriots are in rebuild mode after coach Bill Belichick and the organization parted ways days after a 4-13 season. Now New England can hope coach Jerod Mayo and a new quarterback can return the organization to its glory years.

There’s no reason that Buffalo can’t win the AFC East for a fifth consecutive season with a rookie receiver, Curtis Samuel, Khalil Shakir, tight end Dalton Kincaid, and running back Cook.

The Bills’ demise has been greatly exaggerated. Anytime a team has a quarterback like Allen, he is their Super Bowl and playoff window. Could the Jets or the Dolphins win the AFC East? Sure, both teams have the talent to do so.

As legendary wrestler Ric Flair often said, “To Be The Man, You Gotta Beat The Man.”

Until proven otherwise, the AFC East belongs to the Bills.


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