Well, the first day of the NFL Combine is over — and most of the main decision-makers throughout the NFL went through the media room to discuss their upcoming offseason and what could be — and the Buffalo Bills were no different.
Both head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane took individual turns speaking with the media, and then, each did a one-on-one interview with 7ABC Buffalo after the fact,
You can see the videos of both interviews above, but with all four media sessions, here were my 15 takeaways from what the Bills’ brass had to say in Indianapolis.
1) Bills were talking up Tyrod Taylor big time
- Both Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott took their turns in singing the praises of Tyrod Taylor. McDermott referenced Taylor’s work ethic and character for about the zillionth time and then added that the quarterback can add being a key part of a playoff run to his résumé. But that begs the question, with whom does he need to show this new, updated résumé? Furthermore, Beane went on to also speak highly of Taylor, saying that they’re not scared off by the bonus. McDermott reiterated that they would not cut Taylor “at this point,” but the qualifier is the key piece to the sentence. Just as it was spoken of at the time of the report by NFL.com, the Bills left themselves multiple outs from their current working relationship with Tyrod Taylor.
2) Tyrod’s on the roster “right now”
- The first of which, is saying that they’re not worried about the $6 million roster bonus that comes due on March 16, the third day of the new league year — which was a talking point for both individuals. Going in line with the “at this point” qualifier was a couple of others throughout all of the availability. When asked about Tyrod Taylor in relation to that bonus, Brandon Beane said the quarterback is on their roster “right now.” Later on, Beane said this exactly:
“We’re happy with where we’re at with Tyrod and Nathan [Peterman] until we decide differently.”
The key phrase there being “until we decide differently.” If you’re thinking this thing has more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese, we’re on the same page here. The way this thing is sounding, as how it was initially indicated in the NFL.com report, is that the Bills are trying to build a market for themselves — and an important part of all of this was getting the message out there that they are comfortable with eating the $6 million roster bonus, which is likely a sticking point for many teams looking for a bridge, short-term option at quarterback next season. However….
3) Buying a draft pick?
- I asked Brandon Beane, point blank while referencing the Cleveland Browns essentially buying a second-round draft pick from the Houston Texans last year to help them get the terrible Brock Osweiler contract off of their books, if that is to help further their trade negotiations. Beane didn’t rule out a trade yet again — despite having yet another opportunity to do so — and then said that they’ll continue to evaluate if any options out there present them with a potential upgrade at the quarterback position. Through all the time that the two main players in the Bills organization were speaking, at no point did it rule out a swift change at the quarterback position in one of a number of ways. And it certainly seems change is on the horizon — though you really can’t rule out anything in the NFL.
4) On rookie QBs, “the fit is critical”
- And that takes us to the rookie quarterbacks, which is the hot topic here in Indianapolis with the Bills. It’s no secret that the Bills have a desire to find that franchise quarterback that they want to build around — and given all the ammo that they have in the 2018 NFL Draft, a really strong case for them doing so this offseason can be made. As much as it’s important for the game on the field to be there, the personality of the quarterback, and the fit into the locker room that they’re trying to build is of utmost importance. Sean McDermott on that exact topic:
“You hit the nail on the head. The fit is critical. A lot of words are thrown out there that are tied to me like, ‘DNA,’ and that’s what I believe in. That’s what Brandon and I really believe in and doing things the right way. We’re looking for young men that… obviously, you know, these are young kids in some time that have grown up like I have, that everyone goes through from different things in life. And at the same time, we’re trying to get a good feel for who they’re going to be when they’re with us. It’s not an exact science whether it’s on-the-field or off-the-field, but, you try and nail it down as much as you can, and our scouts do a tremendous job of that.”
Even more important, the Bills main duo — McDermott and Beane — hadn’t met several of the underclassmen quarterbacks ahead of the NFL Combine, which means their scouting reports and feelings on those players have yet to be completed. With “the fit” playing such an integral role to McDermott, these next few days will be huge for getting that feel as to who these players are.
5) How they spend their interviews with QBs at the Combine
- So the main question is, how will they get to know these players in just a short amount of time — 15 minutes — among their individualized interviews? Bringing it to Buffalo from Carolina, Brandon Beane said they’re going to spend the majority, if not all of the allotted time, on watching film. This has surely evolved over time because draft prospects are more prepared than ever before for the usual questions that teams ask them. The Bills like to get them away from that by having a film-viewing experience ready because the prospects don’t know what play of theirs that they’ll get next. While they don’t get a complete window into the prospects soul, the Bills said that you can learn a bit about a person and how they explain things, how far along they are with their understanding of the game, and how they explain plays that perhaps didn’t end as well as some of their others. Based on how they answer these questions, McDermott and Beane can start to gauge what type of personality they may have. The background and all of the information that they’ll eventually need can all come later in other visits where there is much more time that can be spent in a less-pressurized atmosphere.
6) Will Rosen be visiting? “Oh yeah”
- And that brings us to our next topic: UCLA QB Josh Rosen. Many have wondered about Rosen’s personality based on some cherry-picked comments from a wide-ranging interview that garnered some headlines in 2017, and how that could relate to potentially being a fit with the Bills from that perspective. The honest answer to all that is pretty simple…. they don’t know yet. McDermott and Beane haven’t met with Rosen ahead of the NFL Combine. With how important it is to both of those entities to know that the person meshes with their locker room, there should be little to no definition at this point as to which of the quarterbacks they could be targeting. Anything suggesting something to the contrary is a bit superfluous at this point. They can certainly like what they see on film, but that’s only a part of the puzzle. Now, with that written, that can all start to change this week after the Bills’ duo starts to meet with these players — and then, later on, when they go on the road to their pro days or bring them to Orchard Park for one of their 30 pre-draft visits. And with Rosen, there wasn’t any hesitation from Beane that the UCLA quarterback would be heading to Buffalo for a visit. “Oh yeah,” the GM replied while the question was barely finished being asked.
7) Panthers had no idea Cam Newton would be their guy before the Combine
- A shining example to Beane as to why it’s too quick to gauge who they identify as “their guy,” is what happened in Carolina for the 2011 NFL Draft. Beane admitted that in February, ahead of the NFL Combine that year, the Panthers had no idea that they’d fully settled on Cam Newton being their guy. It wasn’t until after they had talked to him, vetted him as much as they could, and figured out that he was the type of leader that they wanted for their franchise from a personality standpoint that they started to decide on life with Newton. So really, all of this is a long-winded way of saying that the Bills, regardless of what anyone says, don’t yet know which of these quarterbacks that they would like to make the face of their franchise — only that they are eager to learn about what makes all of them tick.
8) In the draft, trading conversations begin on a very basic level this week
- Indianapolis is always a wonderful week for NFL types, because almost every single scout, front office person, and coach are in one place to see it all happen. And along with it, all of these important league people are under the same roof for the actual event, in the same restaurants, and in the same bars after hours having discussions with other teams about the state of their rosters. While you can’t really pin down anything definitive during the NFL Combine week, it is a time for teams to be able to have introductory conversations as to what the other might be open to. And in relation to trading up to the draft order, those can certainly start in Indianapolis, too. Sean McDermott on the matter:
“It’s such a fine line because it is a chronologically driven agenda with free agency first, and the draft… but that said, some of these conversations do happen here or even before here. So, you don’t want to get started too early, but you also don’t want to be late to the dance, so to speak. Those conversations are being had. Brandon is having those conversations and some of our other executives are having those conversations as well. That happens here at the Combine quite a bit.”
For the Bills, it’s pretty simple — and to use McDermott’s analogy, in trying to find a dance partner to help them move up the order and secure the services of the quarterback, if they like one enough, that their heart most desires… and all of that starts this week.
9) Bills trying to get ahead of the curve with analytics
- Earlier this month, the Bills made the announcement that they’d hired a new Director of Analytics to their staff. While much wasn’t made of it by the press release in relation to the other two hires they made, it was notable because of the success that was had by the Philadelphia Eagles with using their analytics staff to help make more informed decisions all across the board on the football side. The Bills’ new man in charge is Luis Guilamo, a 34-year-old that McDermott confirmed will contribute to the football side — not the business side, which is what the Bills have primarily done in the past. Why was it such an important hire?
#Bills HC McDermott on Luis Guilamo, the team's 34-year-old new Director of Analytics that will help on the football side: "This is important for us as we look forward to growing, making sure that we are staying out in front of things as opposed to be late to the party..." More: pic.twitter.com/tiYcswwYWD
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) February 28, 2018
As long as the Bills don’t reject the information when it counts most, this is an excellent and encouraging step in the right direction to have an edge over some teams that will still reject the advances certain analytical measures have done to further football operations, both in roster building and on game day. It’s encouraging, but also a wait-and-see because Guilamo’s exact role is still vague to this point in time.
10) May Kyle Williams not be about retirement?
- One of the more eyebrow-raising elements to the two press conferences was the information McDermott and Beane chose to say about Kyle Williams. The initial read on the situation from most after the season was that it was merely a matter of whether or not Kyle Williams wanted to play another year, but that wasn’t really the feeling based on what Beane, in particular, had said. The GM said that it takes two to come to an agreement, and on the issue of retirement, that Williams hadn’t communicated to him that those were the two options the defensive player was considering. That, in itself, is interesting because Williams is a soon-to-be free agent that the Bills’ coaching staff grew to love. If it’s a matter of whether or not Williams wants to play in Buffalo, given perhaps a perceived step back for the 2018 season, is another topic entirely. At the very least, the Bills’ comments on Williams on Wednesday were interesting.
11) Vontae Davis will start on the outside
- Although it certainly isn’t set in stone, the ideal for the Bills when they signed Vontae Davis to a free agent contract is that he would figure in as an outside cornerback in Sean McDermott’s scheme — likely as the starter opposite Tre’Davious White. That much was confirmed by Sean McDermott on Wednesday, which certainly helps them cross off a glaring need with a soon-to-be free agent coming from their roster. At this point in his career where he might have lost a step or two with his speed, transitioning into zone coverage is an ideal step and allows him to potentially have a bounce-back year on a one-year contract.
12) The door isn’t closed on EJ Gaines, but it’s basically closed on EJ Gaines
- Brandon Beane wouldn’t totally turn the page on EJ Gaines on this point because you can never really say never in the NFL, however, he did say they’re not going to go outside of their limits to keep him.
“But it takes two,” Beane said. “We have a lot of free agents and what the value is, what someone else is willing to pay and what we can afford will all come into that decision."
With diminishing cap space, the potential for receiving a compensatory draft pick for Gaines in 2019, and with Davis on the roster — it seems way more likely than not that they’ll be moving on in 2018 without Gaines.
13) Setting the board twice
- One of the more fascinating parts of the draft season is how and when teams go through and set up their draft boards. For the Bills, they do the exercise twice as opposed to just once after the whole draft circuit wraps up following pro days and visits. Beane said he and his staff all sat down and devised a draft board as if “the draft were tomorrow.” Now, a lot of that — specifically at quarterback — can change based on how the interviews go and with both Beane and McDermott starting to meet and getting to know the personalities of those specific prospects. However, they set the board, and then revisit it in April after they have all of their information to see how their feelings have changed. It’s yet another example of how the Bills meticulously prepare to try and maximize their returns in the offseason.
14) Who has the final say?
- You might read this and think to yourself, “Well, that makes sense.” What makes this notable, though, was that we haven’t yet heard the clarity on the matter of ‘Who has the final say on personnel matters between McDermott and Beane?’ Today, McDermott dropped that into the conversation casually, saying that Beane is, in fact, the one with the final say on personnel matters. While McDermott will certainly have a significant voice in the decision-making process, but in their first full offseason together, we now know without a doubt that these are the final decisions of the general manager — for what it’s worth.
15) LeSean McCoy will be a prominent member of the Bills in 2018
- I’m not exactly sure why this was in question, based on his importance to the Bills’ operation and the lack of secondary options that the Bills have on their roster, but the Bills confirmed that despite McCoy’s age, he will be a big part of the equation for the team in the upcoming season. Case closed.