If you pressed me to rank the most indispensable Buffalo Bills of this glorious era, I’d go with quarterback Josh Allen in the top spot, followed by general manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott.
Obviously, you need talented players to win, and, in my humble opinion, Allen has emerged as the most talented player in the NFL – a big, spectacular athlete who can beat you with arm, legs, guts and improv.
I’m not trying to diminish the intense, incredibly hard-working McDermott by putting him in the third spot. He is among the top 10 coaches in the league and has done a marvelous job raising a moribund franchise from the ashes of the “Wrecks” Ryan error, but, as the 13-second debacle in the playoffs showed, there’s still room for improvement.
Beane, meanwhile, has proven to be a master architect, the best GM we’ve seen in Western New York since Bill Polian was constructing the Bills Super Bowl teams. He continues to handle the salary cap, free agency and the draft with a nimbleness needed in order to stay in contention, even in years like these, when cap space is at a premium.
The moves he’s made in restructuring contracts of existing players and adding free agents such as Pro Bowl guard Rodger Saffold and defensive linemen Tim Settle and DaQuan Jones have strengthened the roster. Yes, there is much work to be done – cornerback remains a pressing need – but I’m confident Beane will keep bolstering a roster capable of winning it all this year.
As March Madness tips off, Syracuse fans are dealing with March Sadness, as the Orange sit at home following a 16-17 season, the first losing record in the program since the 1968-69 team went 9-16. Before performing a post-mortem on this season and looking forward to the next one, digest the enormity of that streak for a moment. Think about it: Richard Nixon was in the White House the last time Syracuse experienced a losing basketball season. Fifty-three consecutive winning records. That’s a mark college basketball blue bloods Duke, North Carolina and UCLA have never matched.
That said, Jim Boeheim will have his work cut out for him, as he attempts to rebound from the only losing campaign in his 46 seasons as SU head coach. In all likelihood his two sons, Buddy and Jimmy, won’t be returning even though Buddy has another year of eligibility and Jimmy could petition for an additional year because the graduate transfer’s senior season at Cornell two years ago was benched by COVID.
One guy, though, who may opt to return is Cole Swider, and that would be a huge boost because the sweet-shooting 6-foot-8 forward averaged 13.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Center Jesse Edwards, arguably the Atlantic Coast Conference’s most improved player, is scheduled to return for his senior season. Had he not suffered a late-season fractured wrist, Syracuse’s streak of winning seasons would be intact and the Orangemen might very well be playing in the NCAAs.
Joe Girard and Symir Torrence return in the backcourt. To me, Girard’s natural position is shooting guard. The fleet-footed, deft ball-handling Symir showed an ability to play point guard in the ACC tournament, averaging 10 assists per game. If he could just improve his jump shot a bit, he could be the answer. Other help may come from recruiting. Five players are committed, and the Orange are still in the running for highly regarded point guard prospects Judah Mintz and Skyy Clark. Top recruit Benny Williams was missing in action most of this season as he attempted to make the leap from high school to college ball. Hopefully, he’ll be able to play more to his potential next season.
Timing is everything in sports and investing. Saturday, a deep-pocketed collector forked over $518,000 to purchase what was being billed as the final touchdown pass of Tom Brady’s illustrious career. The football used in that historic feat had been tossed into the stands by Tampa Bay Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans during January’s playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams, and the fan who caught it, smartly decided to cash in.
The man who bought the auctioned-off artifact figured it was a solid investment whose value would only continue rising as time passed. But Sunday afternoon, Brady took the air out of that ball and that investment by announcing he was coming back for a 23rd season. Now, unless Brady suffers a career-ending injury before the season or shocks the world by deciding to retire again, the collector who purchased that ball will never recoup the money he forked over. One sports collecting expert told me that football’s value immediately nose-dived by about $400,000, if not more. Ouch!
No one is happier than I that Major League Baseball is back. So great to be talking about trades, free-agent signings and exhibition games than the tone-deaf squabbles of billionaire owners and multi-million-dollar players.
The sport still has some serious issues to address. Finding ways to put more balls into play during this all-or-nothing, home-run-or-strikeout era is of paramount importance, as is speeding up the plodding pace of play, which, hopefully, will quicken with next year’s introduction of the pitch clock.
But at least they’ll be playing a full schedule this year. To have continued dickering about billions at a time when we’re all being crushed by inflation and the tragic news out of Ukraine would have further eroded the game’s hold on even die-hards like me.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.