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Bills GM Brandon Beane not wavering on Stefon Diggs as 'No. 1 receiver' following down year

The Buffalo Bills face questions of a familiar sort after a fifth consecutive postseason failure.

Principle among those is figuring out how to reinvigorate Stefon Diggs, who performed far from his signature self over the second half of the season.

"He's a No. 1 receiver," general manager Brandon Beane told reporters on Tuesday during his end-of-season news conference. "I firmly believe that. I'm not wavering off of that. … We have to continue to put weapons out there to keep teams from bracketing him or locking him down in different ways. … Stef can still play. I'm sure he would love to have that deep ball again. He'd be the first to tell you. He's super competitive. He's going to work his tail off this offseason.

"I know there's various reasons or questions on this, there's production and all that, but I still see Stef as a No. 1 receiver."

The deep ball Beane mentioned was a Sunday night moonshot in the fourth quarter from quarterback Josh Allen, standing at his 12-yard line, impossibly dropped into Diggs' hands at the Kansas City's 27-yard line.

It was a difficult catch to make, with Diggs failing to jump and corral it past Chiefs safety Justin Reid, but the Bills desperately needed a play like that from one of their stars while trailing by three points with just over eight minutes remaining in what eventually became another postseason loss to rival Kansas City.

Diggs eventually finished with just three catches for 21 yards in the 27-24 Divisional Round defeat, his lowest receiving total all season.

The disappointing outing was emblematic of how Diggs' season devolved as it went on.

After beginning the year with five 100-yard outings in Buffalo's first six games, the 30-year-old would eclipse 80 yards just twice more, and, including playoffs, five times finished with a receiving yardage total in the 20s.

Of his 107 catches, 1,183 yards and eight touchdowns in 2023, 49 catches, 620 yards and five scores occurred in those first six weeks.

"I can't say, in particular, why," head coach Sean McDermott said regarding Diggs' drop-off. "If I could, we would flip it back that way to the way it started earlier in the year. … Stef's a great player. I love Stef. He was a phenomenal teammate."

Diggs' cap number for 2024 jumps up to $27.8 million, and while he doesn't seem in danger of not being a Bill next year given his track record of excellence, his rising salary does represent some of the money problems facing the Bills moving forward.

Buffalo currently has the fourth-lowest cap space heading into the offseason, per Over the Cap, a stark reality for a team that's been so close -- yet so far -- from following through on a playoff run.

From their franchise quarterback and their head coach up to the GM, though, no one on the Bills sees some type of window closing.

"You're constantly changing the roster," Beane said. "This is a quarterback league, and I believe in the guy we've got under center. You look at -- I know Joe Burrow in Cincy since he got hurt this year, probably hurt their chances -- but look at who's playing in the conference championship: Lamar (Jackson) versus (Patrick) Mahomes. Josh has played in that game. Obviously, we've come up short. Wish we were still playing, but it starts there. We've got other players. Hell, he can't do it by himself, but I don't subscribe to 'the window is closing' or is closed. But every team is a new team. Sometimes a team clicks at different parts of the year. I think we have to figure out who we were, what we did best."

As they have for several years, the Bills did everything well, rallying from a 6-6 record to win six straight and lock up a place as one of the AFC's final four teams. Despite firing offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey on Nov. 14 and replacing him with Joe Brady, Buffalo still ranked sixth in scoring. The defense finished fourth.

But having a guy capable of winning it all under center costs money. Allen's cap number is set to jump from $18.6 million to $47.1 million in 2024, 19.3% of the cap percentage as it currently stands.

Scheduled free agents include stalwarts like safety Micah Hyde and role players like wide receiver Gabe Davis to help keep defensive heat off Diggs.

There's also players like Von Miller, who will be due $17.1 million in base salary after going sackless in 12 games in his return from an ACL tear, and Tre’Davious White, a Buffalo mainstay who has no guaranteed money remaining on his contract and is coming off a torn Achilles (his second season-ending injury in as many seasons).

"We don't have the same money we had going into 2019, 2020. But we will work around it," Beane said. "We're not planning to take a year off and not be competitive. Will we be younger in some areas? Yes. Will we have to rely on draft picks? Maybe we we're not able to keep five D-tackles that we feel can play this year. … I'm not laying my head down tonight and going, 'We don't have a shot at it next year.'"

Beane added: "We need to hit this draft. We need to hit every draft because we've talked all along, if you don't draft well, when you get in this cap situation then it really shows."

The money issues certainly complicate Buffalo's path over the hump, but even with those lingering questions, everyone involved is still buying in.

"I'm extremely proud of what we've accomplished, but not in any way satisfied or going to get complacent with where we're at," McDermott said. "Every year you start over. And every year, I can promise you, that fire burns within me as bright as it did the year before -- if not more so. We're disappointed, yes, but not broken."

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