Bills QB Josh Allen embracing leadership amid veteran departures

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Amid all of the changes that have come to the Buffalo Bills this offseason and with the draft still less than a week away, quarterback Josh Allen remains a vital constant for the organization.

Of the eight team captains on the 2023 Bills, six are not currently with the team. The two remaining are Allen and Von Miller. While there has been plenty of focus on what Allen can accomplish on the field, his role off of it is continuing to evolve.

Allen, as coach Sean McDermott described on Thursday, is and has been "the leader of our football team. He's the face of the franchise."

Allen being the cornerstone of the organization isn't a new development, but the leadership that role encompasses is something Allen is looking at this offseason now that the long-standing leaders alongside him, such as Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, Mitch Morse and Stefon Diggs, are no longer with the team.

Allen, who turns 28 next month, has said he leads by example, something that he has done throughout his career and often says authenticity is an important aspect of leadership. He will be entering his seventh NFL season, this one under new full-time offensive coordinator Joe Brady -- the third of his NFL career -- and sees a chance to evolve in the significant role he already holds for the Bills.

"I think it's an opportunity for myself to grow as a leader and to bring along some of these young guys and new guys that we've brought into our team," Allen said on Thursday. "That's an opportunity, frankly, that I'm very excited about. It's something that's going to be very challenging, but I'm very willing to do it.

"It's just kind of crazy to think that I'm going into my seventh season. ... But again, it's just another opportunity for me to go out there and be the guy that I'm supposed to be and the guy that I believe I am, and I'm going to need guys along the way."

Allen will lead a significantly younger team than in years past -- most of the key players who were released or traded are over the age of 30. On Thursday, in his pre-draft news conference, general manager Brandon Beane noted how players the Bills take in the later rounds of Day 3 will have a better chance of making the roster in 2024, in part because of the many established veterans who moved on.

"I don't think it's a wrong thing or a bad thing to get younger. I think that, as a coaching staff, as a leader, to be able to come in and kind of mold these guys into the team that you want to be, I think there's a very exciting opportunity," Allen said. "Again, it takes two to tango. You need to have the right guys that are willing to come in and work hard and do things the right way, which I can confidently say in this locker room right now we have those guys."

The Bills began voluntary offseason activities on Monday, and McDermott pointed to the focus on leadership as something he knows Allen is working on and yet another way he can evolve as a player. The coach said he has "been very happy" with Allen's leadership during the first week of offseason activities.

Some of that approach comes from Allen's experience and what he learned from navigating relationships in the past. When asked about what he learned from navigating the relationship with Diggs, he acknowledged the responsibility that his role comes with.

"A franchise quarterback, guys that get to their second contract ... you're not getting paid just to be the quarterback. You're getting paid to be the best leader that you can be; the best quarterback obviously comes with that," Allen said.

"Guys are relying on you a little bit more and understanding that but trusting the coaching staff, trusting your teammates around you and having that type of humility, where it's like, you're able to say when and where you're wrong. And I think that's what we've learned over the last few years, not just with [Diggs], but with other receivers and with other players as well. ... Everybody's got a different type of relationship, everybody has something different that makes them tick."

The other new leaders of the Bills are still to be determined. McDermott noted that he has a list of about 10 to 15 "candidates" he is watching, while also noting that the team is always working on developing leaders behind the scenes.

One example of that is starting middle linebacker Terrel Bernard, who is going into his third year and earned his role last season. Despite missing the preseason and most of training camp, he solidified his spot over the course of the season.

"[Taking more of a leadership role is] something that I've put a lot of effort and a lot of time into this offseason," Bernard said on Thursday, "preparing to take that next step and put myself out there and try to be one of the guys that's helping lead this team and doing everything that I can to help everybody around me."

So, the message from the team's leader with a vital draft for this organization next week -- the Bills have 10 picks -- is that the goals have not shifted.

"Doing everything that we can do to make the playoffs and give ourselves a chance to win the Super Bowl," Allen said of the expectations. "The best way to make the playoffs is win your division and that starts with winning the first game and taking it one game at a time and that's how we're gonna approach it."