Every single year, every team in the entire National Football League picks up and moves their operation to Indianapolis for the week, in the hopes of finding the clarity through a usually opaque time of the year: the offseason.
As the posturing is set to begin through the week, so too will the Buffalo Bills complete search for a long-term answer at the position that has plagued them for decades now. The coming week is always the first and most formative one for how these crucial two months will be shaped.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine.
Five things to watch, from a Bills perspective:
1) Identifying “The One”
- Perhaps I’ve been watching The Bachelor a little too much lately, or maybe I like The Matrix a little bit more than I probably should admit, but over the next week while talking with these quarterback prospects in closed-door meetings, general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott are akin to Morpheus with two extended hands and a different offer within each. The first, if they don’t impress the Bills’ brain trust enough, they will be returned to the rest of the NFL to draft. The other? Well, that could pave the way for the Bills to offer an extended invitation to Wonderland as the potential next big franchise quarterback — and the first since Jim Kelly in the late 90s. NFL teams get a set amount of meetings with the college prospects that they so choose, and it would be an outright shock if the Bills don’t talk to USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, and heck, maybe even Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta and Luke Falk of Washington State, I’ll be completely shocked. Information is power — as is trying to get a read on these players. And for Beane and McDermott, the right personality is a big part of the equation in trying to decide which one of these players they’ll potentially be making a (down-the-line) job-risking maneuver up the draft board to secure their services. The entire offseason will be defined with what they do in the draft at the quarterback position, and the Bills are set up — better than they ever have before — to make a definitive jump up the draft board and still have a somewhat normal draft class in 2018. The time to find “The One” is now — and it starts this week with seeing how well those personalities mesh with what they’re looking for to lead them into the future.
2) Get ready for more Tyrod chatter
- Seeing as how there is a wink-wink, nod-nod feel to all the collusion that goes on in Indianapolis between teams and NFL agents, the rumors regarding all the top names available in free agency (and even those that could be cut by their current teams) will be amongst the biggest takeaways from the week to come. All these parties talk under the seemingly false pretense of the hypothetical, which all parties are forced to cloak themselves with. It really is the worst kept secret in the NFL. However, with that in mind, expect the quarterback carousel to be a major topic of conversation all week — which prominently includes Tyrod Taylor. The latest report came from Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, who said that the Bills won’t just cut Taylor ahead of March 16 (the day his $6 million roster bonus comes due) just to cut him. However, there was a lot of leeway left in there for ways that the Bills could excuse themselves from Taylor being on the roster in the 2018 season. Should the Bills eat the $6 million roster bonus, it could essentially buy them a better draft pick through the trade market — seeing as how the team that acquires the quarterback would be on the hook only for a modest $10 million price tag for the upcoming year. Since we all have NHL Trade Deadline on the mind, think about it the same way as teams trying to unload a player for a higher draft pick by taking on more of his salary. It’s the same principle. Under those terms, we could see “Team X is interested in Tyrod Taylor” reports this week, and it could yield perhaps an early Day Three selection. For a starting commodity that’s under contract, the Bills should try to maximize a potential return for Taylor. There are always ways to massage the salary cap to get around dead money, but letting him walk for nothing is likely low on the priority list. If nothing else, that report could have been an effort by the Bills to try and jumpstart the interest in Taylor and open them up for business — and when all teams are in the same buildings, restaurants, and bars in one city… business gets discussed. Oh yeah, oops, you weren’t supposed to know that.
3) Keep an eye on recently released free agents for the Bills
- After just signing veteran cornerback Vontae Davis to a one-year contract, don’t be surprised if you see the Bills jump in on more free agents like him. And by that, I mean the ones that were released prematurely from the natural end of their contracts by their clubs. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com already reported that the Bills met with former Jaguars running back Chris Ivory, and I wouldn’t expect him to be it as the offseason continues. Why will targeting players like this be a priority for the Bills? Because it costs them absolutely zero draft resources, and it also fills needs that are secondary in nature during a year where they’re likely to be all in with trying to move up the draft board for a quarterback. It’s one less need that they have to address in 2018, it doesn’t necessarily preclude them from taking someone at the same position later in the 2018 NFL Draft, it doesn’t count against their compensatory formula for the 2019 NFL Draft. It ultimately frees them up to do whatever they want in the draft, so moves like these are important. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least bit to see them kick the tires on former Carolina Panthers defenders Kurt Coleman (safety) and Charles Johnson (defensive end) — two former starters for Sean McDermott at positions of need for the Bills. that are in the latter stages of their careers and would benefit both by being back in McDermott’s scheme and to shift into more of a rotational role. As the week goes on, likely more players will be informed of their release, and I would expect the Bills to be very active with those players at positions of need.
4) The interest on E.J. Gaines and Jordan Matthews
- We haven’t seen a Buffalo Bills general manager operate the way that Brandon Beane does, which is why you have to start being more cognizant of a different way of roster building — because it’s one he firmly believes in. With Marv Levy, Russ Brandon, Buddy Nix, and Doug Whaley, it was draft and spend first, think about the ramifications later. With Beane, the opposite is true. Everything is done with a long-term lens, which is why the compensatory formula is as important to him as it is. He believes firmly in drafting, developing, and re-signing — which is why any opportunity to add “free picks” for players that don’t fit into their long-term plans is of importance. And now that those picks are traceable assets, it gives them even more value than you would think, and it would enable the Bills to have the flexibility to move a 2019 third or fourth round pick to secure a trade up in the order, knowing that they’re getting one back through the compensatory formula. With that written, be on the lookout for the potential price points for both E.J. Gaines, Jordan Matthews, and maybe even Preston Brown. Those three are the best chances at the Bills free agent class of striking it rich enough to warrant solid consideration on the free agent market, which in turn helps the Bills. Letting Preston Brown walk would essentially set the market for them to grab a middle-tier free agent — and a contract not totally dissimilar from Brown’s — and have it only cancel out his standing in their compensatory formula. I apologize if you’re tired of reading about ‘compensatory formula,’ in relation to the Bills — but know this: Brandon Beane thinks about it just as much as anyone in the NFL, as he should.
5) Re-signing their own
- With all of the teams and agents in one place, this is usually a week where players can gauge the market they might have before the official start of free agency on March 14. And for the Bills, with the players they might want to re-sign from their 2017 roster ahead of the 2018 season, this is usually a week where players that can’t find a great market come back to the team and say, ‘Let’s make this work.’ That’s not the case with all soon-to-be free agents, and some would rather re-up with their teams as it is. However, this is also a good time for the team to gauge what the market is like and who might become available between now and the start of the season. And for the Bills, there are three main soon-to-be free agents I think they should concentrate on bringing back. The first, nickel corner Leonard Johnson. Now that they have Vontae Davis signed up for 2018, they could bring back Johnson on a one-year deal, similar to the one he just signed last offseason to play with the Bills. He clearly wants to be in Buffalo and play for McDermott and was quite serviceable in his role last year. Should the Bills be able to find a cornerback later in the draft that could challenge Johnson for his job, they still have depth at the position and someone that they know can step in and play meaningful snaps for them. Wide receiver Deonte Thompson is another name the Bills should try to re-up with. He stepped in and become a top-three receiver immediately for the Bills, and he would provide a similar role to them if they can bring him back for a reasonable price. Lastly, despite his struggles defensively at times, Ramon Humber is someone the Bills should try to bring back. Still a very good special teams player, Humber can help out that unit and in the event that Matt Milano is injured, they know he can step in and be sound against the run at weakside linebacker. There could be some others they look to, but those are the main three they should focus on, in my mind.
Wednesday: Head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane will both meet with the Buffalo media in Indianapolis.
Thursday: Offensive linemen and tight ends will meet with the media
Friday: Quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers will meet with the media
Saturday: On-field workouts begin in Indianapolis.