05 Apr

Is Bills’ contention window over? Why Josh Allen proves that’s not the case

The Buffalo Bills had an interesting offseason for a team that’s won 11-plus games and been to (at least) the divisional round of the playoffs for four straight years. Stefon Diggs getting traded was the icing on the cake for an organization that parted ways with Leonard Floyd, Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, Tre’Davious White, Mitch Morse, Gabe Davis and Tim Settle.

With Diggs gone, the Bills will have to replace a player who was vital toward Allen emerging into a top-five quarterback in the NFL. Diggs holds the top-four marks for single-season receptions in team history, having 100-plus catches in each of his four seasons in Buffalo. He also is the only player in Bills history to have 1,400 receiving yards in a season — and Diggs has accomplished that feat twice.

Diggs also has the most catches (445), the second-most receiving yards (5,372), and tied for the second-most receiving touchdowns (37) in the AFC since joining Buffalo in 2020. Only Tyreek Hill has more receiving yards and receiving touchdowns than Diggs, showcasing his impact in Buffalo.

The Bills and the Chiefs were the only two teams to win 11-plus games and reach the divisional round of the playoffs in each of the last four seasons. The Chiefs have three Super Bowl appearances in that span (winning two), while the Bills have only reached the AFC Championship Game once (and that was in the 2020 season).

Things have not gone the Bills way despite the deep playoff runs, failing to capture the championship that has eluded the franchise since winning the AFL title in 1965. Buffalo still hasn’t been to the Super Bowl since losing its fourth consecutive Super Bowl in the 1993 season.

With all the offseason changes in Buffalo, is this championship window closed? Not with Josh Allen still on the roster.

Allen may have had Diggs through his four seasons of being one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, yet he’s carried the Bills offense on his shoulders time and time again. He has the most combined passing and rushing touchdowns in the NFL over the past four seasons with 173, trailing only Patrick Mahomes in passing touchdowns (137) and Jalen Hurts in rushing touchdowns (36).

Allen is second in passing yards with 17,540, trailing only Mahomes. He’s third amongst quarterbacks in touchdown rate (5.8%, minimum 1,500 attempts) and ninth in passer rating (96.9). Allen is also coming off a season in which he led the NFL in total yards (4,830) and total touchdowns (44). His 20,010 combined passing and rushing yards trail only Mahomes (20,448) for the most in the NFL over the last four years.

The player with the most total touchdowns after his first six seasons in NFL history (221), Allen also has the most total yards per game in the playoffs (330.2). Allen is also seventh amongst qualified quarterbacks in playoff passer rating (100.0), throwing 21 touchdowns to four interceptions in his postseason career. His five rushing touchdowns in the playoffs are also tied for sixth in NFL history.

The Bills are 63-30 with Allen has their starting quarterback, and Allen has finished in the top five of MVP voting in three of the last four seasons. As long as Allen is on the field, the Bills have a chance.

Buffalo was winning by limiting Diggs
The Bills’ offense over-focused on Diggs when Brian Daboll and Ken Dorsey were the offensive coordinators. Once the Bills fired Dorsey and gave the play-calling to Joe Brady, the offense spread out more and didn’t feature Diggs as much.

Diggs’s numbers dwindled as a result. He had 34 catches for 315 yards and just one touchdown over the final seven regular season games, averaging 9.2 yards per catch. The Bills were 6-1 in that stretch, with their only loss in overtime to the Eagles.

While Diggs had just 10 catches for 73 yards in the playoffs to go along with his end-of-regular season numbers, Allen still was able to produce in the playoffs. He completed 68.2% of his passes with 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions (101.7 rating) in his two playoff games — this after completing 60.7% of his passes with 10 touchdowns to 7 interceptions (85.5 rating) while rushing for 278 yards and 8 touchdowns with Brady as the offensive coordinator.

The Bills were winning games by limiting Diggs — and Allen was still productive. Even without Diggs and a limited wide receiver group with Curtis Samuel and Khalil Shakir leading the way, they’ll still get strong play from Allen. Keep in mind Allen still has Dalton Kincaid at tight end and James Cook at running back, two strong pass-catchers at their respective positions.

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The future regarding the salary cap
The Bills’ salary cap situation for 2024 looks bleak, but Buffalo appears to be playing the long game here. The Bills will carry $31.1 million in dead cap space with the Diggs trade, but will save $19 million in cash by trading Diggs now — giving them $19 million in freed-up cap space for 2025 by having Diggs off the books. They’ll have a projected $4.5 million in available cap space for 2024.

Buffalo isn’t in a great spot with the salary cap for 2025 even with the Diggs trade, but the cap is expected to rise again. The Bills have the No. 28 overall pick in 2024 (first round), along with the No. 60 pick (second round). They have a first-round pick and two second-round picks for 2025.

The salary cap outlook for 2024 is bleak, but it gets better for 2025 and significantly better for 2026. Allen will only be 30 years old come the 2026 season, still in the prime of his career.

The Bills will be competitive if Allen is healthy, regardless of their draft picks and salary cap situation. Buffalo has a top-five quarterback, but needs to find the No. 1 wide receiver to replace Diggs.

Fortunately, the Bills have drafted well and have the draft capital to move up from No. 28 to accomplish the task. Brandon Aiyuk and Tee Higgins are also potentially available, two options if the Bills don’t decide to draft a receiver.

The salary cap won’t matter if the Bills can replace Diggs. Buffalo appears to be in position to get a viable alternative while still having its core piece in Allen.

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