Five years ago, the best Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane could have hoped for when reaching out to a representative of an elite free agent was a polite text informing him the interest was not mutual.
Flashing forward to the 2022 offseason, Beane sometimes doesn’t even need to make first contact. He has people calling him.
Like Von Miller’s agent, Joby Branion.
Beane had called Branion a few times over the years about Miller, an elite pass rusher with 115.5 career sacks who is a lock for the Hall of Fame. But this time Branion called Beane about his client, who was about to become a free agent.
“If we could work it out financially and hit some important points for them, this is was where he wanted to go,” Beane recalled being told.
So the Bills, who were not believed to be among the players in the market for Miller, suddenly were frontrunners. Beane then made sure to create enough salary cap space to make Miller an offer he couldn’t refuse.
And just like that, Miller was a made member of the Bills Mafia as perhaps the final piece of a complex Super Bowl championship puzzle the franchise has been working on for six decades.
Last year, a number of their players with expiring contracts never hit the free-agent market, choosing instead to sign below-market deals to stay. Linebacker Matt Milano was one of them. Wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie was another.
McKenzie re-signed with the team again this year, this time for two more seasons.
That all was because of the culture built by Beane and coach Sean McDermott that has seen the Bills make the playoffs in four of the last five years, had them playing for the AFC championship following the 2020 season and had them 13 seconds away from doing the same thing last January.
The Bills have a unicorn of a quarterback in Josh Allen, who often is more lethal when plays break down than when they follow the script.
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They have an upgraded practice facility that stacks up to the best around the league.
And as of Monday, barring any unexpected complications with the approval process for the New York State and Erie County budgets, they have a new, state-of-the-art stadium on the way in 2026.
Now players lobby behind the scenes with their agents to come to Buffalo or sometimes campaign openly on social media, like quarterback Matt Barkley and defensive end Shaq Lawson did before returning for their second stints this year.
Lawson on March 9 tweeted a GIF of him during his first stint with the Bills (2016-19), essentially serving as a plea to return to the team that made him a first-round draft pick in 2016. Eight days later, following two unproductive seasons away from Buffalo, he reached an agreement to return.
Flashing back again, McDermott talked on Monday at the NFL Meetings about the way things were before he and Beane turned Buffalo from an outpost to an arctic resort.
“I’ll give you a quick story on that,” McDermott said. “I remember being at the [NFL Scouting] Combine my first season. This is before Brandon was on the scene there in Buffalo with me. And one of the agents said to me, `you know, you’re going to have to maybe pay a little bit more to get guys to come to Buffalo.’ And, you know, I didn’t say anything. I just shook my head, but inside I was saying, `well, you’ll see because if you get it going a certain way at a certain level, it’ll be a place people want to come,’ and I think that’s what you’re seeing now, by the way we’ve won, by the way we’ve handled things.
“Josh Allen and the players that we have in the locker room are the types of people and players that people want to play alongside of and live alongside of.”
They don’t have a championship yet. But make no mistake, the Bills have entered a Golden Age they figure can last a good, long time.
Nick Fierro is the publisher of Bills Central. Check out the latest Bills news at www.si.com/nfl/bills and follow Fierro on Twitter at @NickFierro. Email to [email protected].