By the time Thursday night wraps up, the Buffalo Bills will have all the information they can get to try and figure out who will be a member of the 53-man roster. Ahead of the preseason finale, I had the chance to sit down with Bills general manager Brandon Beane for a 1-on-1 interview, and he certainly had some interesting comments throughout.
You can watch the full interview in the video above, but here are my top five takeaways from the conversation:
1) Bills will move on from Dareus if he doesn’t buy in
- Star defensive tackle Marcell Dareus made headlines for the wrong reasons once again on Saturday, having violated a team rule and being sent home to Buffalo just hours before the team’s third preseason game against on the road against the Baltimore Ravens. The Bills waited until the next day to speak with him, and given his past off-the-field history, some have been beginning to wonder if this might be a marriage that ends sooner rather than later. During the interview, Beane said that there have been some players that have not “bought in” to the type of locker room and the accountability required to be a member of the team. That was in reference to a question that wasn’t even about Dareus. So, is Dareus one of those players that have yet to buy in? Beane’s response:
“You know, I don't know. Time will tell. It was disappointing as I said, after that game. He was contrite (Sunday) and said the right things. Actions speak louder than words, and you know, time will tell. Hopefully, he is. We hope he'll play to his potential. We know what kind of player he can be. We hope to see that on the field.”
That leads us to the next portion of the conversation. The Bills and their locker room, the culture in the building, and the accountability factor are all extremely important to head coach Sean McDermott and Beane. However, Dareus’ current contract is hellish in terms of thinking about releasing him in 2017. The Bills would have to put an additional ~$7 million on his already weight $16.1 million cap hit in 2017, and then in 2018, they would have to pay ~$14 million in dead money to the cap. It’s an expensive message to send, but with the money considered, would the Bills part ways with Dareus if he doesn’t buy in? Beane was pretty clear:
“Yeah, any player that's not buying in, we'll find a way to move on without him.”
Long story short, Dareus better buy in, because if he doesn’t, the Bills’ current decision makers do not appear to be the type to bluff.
2) Tyrod will get as much time as he needs in 2017
- It’s been a trying preseason for Tyrod Taylor. After having a down performance in Week Two of the preseason against the Philadelphia Eagles, Taylor was slow out of the gate in Baltimore on Saturday, and then suffered a concussion really early on. It’s created a lot of buzz for rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman within the fan base, and frankly, some have even wondered aloud if Peterman will get some starts in 2017. Even through all of the struggles, Brandon Beane made one thing very, very clear:
“He's our starter. Make no bones about it... he's gonna lead us out there and that's really all we're focused on. Nathan's a rookie. This takes time, that's a big jump. He's making his progressions, we think he's done a nice job. Tyrod has played in this league. He's started a lot of games. He deserves this opportunity, and that's really all we're focused on is him being our starter this year.”
It makes sense in the fact that the Bills owe it to themselves to see if Taylor, a starter for the past two seasons, can progress in the ways that they want him to. If he does, they’ve got a bonafide starting quarterback on their team heading into the future, and he could serve as a good bridge to whenever the new young quarterback — which it still seems likely that they’re going to take eventually — is ready to play. Peterman has not looked like a starting quarterback in the preseason. Has he made some nice throws, and shown an overall comfortable stature in the pocket? Yes, he has. However, he’s been underwhelming as compared to the way some of the fan base has been building him up. He needs time, and the Bills understand that. Get used to seeing No. 5 behind center as long as he’s healthy, or until it becomes abundantly clear that he just doesn’t have it in this offense.
3) Bills trying to “force” the pocket on Tyrod in preseason
- I am one of many that have pointed out that in the preseason, Taylor just doesn’t look comfortable from the pocket when dropping back from being under center. It’s interesting, because, on the surface, it appears that the Bills are setting Taylor up to fail by not calling plays that are best for his skill-set. However, as we come to find out from Beane, that was the plan for the preseason games to get their starting quarterback the work he needs in becoming a better pocket passer — and for them, a better chance at finding their answer on Tyrod Taylor:
“I think you guys have heard me say it, making plays from the pocket -- I think we've tried to force that on him and work on that, and I think he's gotten better. I think he'll be better prepared. We know he can move around, the boots, the waggles, all that stuff -- you know, the zone reads. We know he can do that and we'll definitely plan to use that in the season. But, I think in practice you've been able to see the improvement in the pocket and even some plays in the game.”
This reminds me of when Ronald Darby was a rookie for the Bills. Rex Ryan and the defensive coaches wanted to expose Darby to a lot of different things he wasn’t comfortable with — a trial by fire sort of approach — to get him ready and more confident in some of the weak areas of his game ahead of the regular season. It worked that season, as Darby had a great campaign in just his first year. That’s the hope here for Taylor, who the Bills will likely utilize by moving him around — because that’s where he’s best. However, the Bills have made it quite clear that being able to throw from the pocket is their top priority for a franchise quarterback. This will be the biggest way Taylor can prove to the Bills, when he’s healthy, that he can be the player they’ve been looking for. It really can’t get any more simple than that.
4) Beane non-committal to Andre Holmes
- Through summer of training camp, practices, and preseason games, the underlying theme for three players, in particular, is whether or not the Bills will keep them, or if they’ll release them to gain a potential third-round compensatory pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The three names, as you likely well know by now, are wide receiver Andre Holmes, guard Vladimir Ducasse, and defensive end Ryan Davis. At this point, they can likely live without Ducasse and Davis, but Holmes is the tough one out of this equation. Two of the top five wide receivers on the roster are injured, and the other is more of a special teams threat than anything. That leaves Holmes, without Jordan Matthews or Rod Streater healthy, as a starter along with Zay Jones. That extra third round pick could help them build into the future with a potential starting player, so it’s a delicate balance for them. Is Holmes safe? I asked Beane point blank:
“I don't like to say anybody is safe, but, Andre has done a good job. I'm scared to say anyone is safe, you never know what happens. But, Andre's done a good job. He's a hard-worker, he's been a proven guy at least as a backup receiver and an excellent teams player. We'll let it shake out after Thursday night.”
Based on the way the roster is structured at wide receiver, I don’t think the Bills will be sitting on their hands through waivers, or in the trade market, to try and add a player to the group that can help them on the field almost immediately. If they are successful, with the wiggle room that Beane smartly left himself, I could see them waving goodbye in the effort to get that compensatory selection. After all, what’s more important, building toward the future, or having a backup-caliber wide receiver start a few games for you in 2017? They just don’t want to leave the cupboards completely bare for the team this season.
5) Four-to-five spots up for grabs in the final preseason game
- I always have a soft spot in my heart for the fourth preseason game, because it’s always a bunch of players that are essentially fighting for their lives. It’s also good to know how many of those precious roster spots are up for grabs going into the game. The Bills general manager said, after going through it as many times as he has, there are four or five roster spots that will be decided in Thursday night’s game. So, who might he be talking about? On offense, I have to think that spots at running back (Joe Banyard vs. Taiwan Jones), wide receiver (Brandon Reilly vs. Daikiel Shorts vs. Philly Brown), and offensive guard (Vlad Ducasse vs. John Miller vs. Jordan Mudge) are all up for grabs. At running back, I would anticipate the best one of those two on special teams will get the roster spot. At wide receiver, it might just be a temporary spot on the 53-man roster, but the Reilly, Shorts, Brown trio could be battling for one spot. At guard, if Ducasse doesn’t win the starting job, you can make a compensatory pick-laden case to just release him, and keep the interesting Jordan Mudge on board. On defense, I think the spots Beane is talking about are all in the secondary. The Bills will have to decide whether or not to keep cross-trained cornerback Bradley Sylve on the 53-man roster, or perhaps someone else like Greg Mabin. At safety, can Shamiel Gary and Trae Elston lock up their roster spots ahead of Joe Powell and B.T. Sanders? These are the decisions the Bills likely have coming up this weekend — ahead of the waiver wire period, that is.