The initial wave of NFL free agency is now complete, and the Buffalo Bills came away with a handful of new players — along with some immediate needs of theirs filled with veterans. To wrap up the hectic past seven days, general manager Brandon Beane met with the media for nearly 20 minutes to discuss both the additions and the subtractions with his roster.
And in doing so, the majority of the conversation all centered around the quarterback position — and for obvious reasons.
What was said by the Bills’ main cog of the offseason just six weeks ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft?
Five takeaways from Brandon Beane on Friday:
1) The poker playing with trading up has begun
- As everyone around the NFL continues to believe that GM Brandon Beane has a plan to get the Buffalo Bills up the board in the 2018 NFL Draft in order to secure a young quarterback to build a team around, people are also trying to pin down the Bills one specific quarterback. However, Beane isn’t playing into the noise whatsoever. Speaking for the first time since the NFL Combine in February, Beane kept his cards close to the vest in terms of both trading up, the quarterback position, and in which one of these young quarterbacks might actually interest him. On the trading up portion, he didn’t commit to anything — and why would he? If he was going to come right out and say, ‘Our plan is to move up in the draft order into the Top 5 to take a quarterback,’ that completely kills every ounce of leverage he could have with a team that he might be dealing with. And with how he explained how he went about attacking free agency — by setting a value and not getting into the funny money if the price rises a great deal above their value — he’ll want to maintain any leverage that he has. He’s got awareness about this, he knows what’s out there, and he certainly knows the perception of what they’re going to do that exists — but he also knows what will happen if he gives any ounce of legitimacy towards that perception. I still think he and the Bills are going to try everything that they can to trade up for their franchise quarterback, but it would have been reckless for him to admit as much in a press conference setting.
2) As for which QB they like, much more work needs to be done
- If the Bills get their likely wish to trade up for the quarterback that they covet, I don’t think anyone should be in the business of trying to peg them down for which quarterback is actually the guy that they want at this point of the draft. It very well could be the case that Beane has his own personal favorite of the top six quarterbacks that checks all the boxes that he has from a film perspective, but the factor that needs to be weighed more heavily is the in-person factor — especially with a head coach like Sean McDermott, how important the locker room is to him, and for how strong the head coach’s position is with the organization after an excellent first season. Beane said honestly that he hasn’t been with some of these quarterbacks for more than 15 minutes at this point, and if it was done at the NFL Combine, the majority of that was getting the player to break down film with them. As the coming weeks go by and the Bills make visits happen — which they certainly will — the all-important personality fit will come into focus more for Beane and McDermott. After the press conference, Beane told me that whether it’s as an official pre-draft visit, or for the Bills to go fly and meet with the player, that they intend to have extended time with all of the perceived top six players. That includes USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph. As for who he likes of that group, there is quite literally zero incentive for Beane to inform anyone outside of his immediate circle — we’re talking one, two, or three people here — as to which quarterback he likes at this point in time.
3) The McCarron move explained
- The Bills, for what their situation is at the quarterback position at the moment, attacked free agency the right way. According to Beane, they set their values, called around for what the going rate was for some of the other players that they weren’t even interested in, and then slow-played it to see what was left standing once the initial wave was through. That’s where A.J. McCarron comes into play, who was probably hoping for a better market and a firm starting job as his next destination. However, he got the equivalent of a prove-it contract in a place that he could wind up starting some games, but that is also probably not his ultimate resting place in the NFL if he plays well enough. Being a player with upside, and not entirely certain that they’ll be able to move up the order to make a trade to get that player, the Bills seem comfortable enough with having McCarron on the roster to potentially start this year if he earns it. Beane encouraged the quarterback competition between McCarron and Nathan Peterman, even without the current presence of a rookie quarterback. The move for McCarron was a low-risk, low-cost signing that could wind up helping them down the line — whether it be in the form of starts, or perhaps even a future draft pick for him heading their way in one way or another.
4) The Bills sound like they’re all but done in free agency
- Having been really active during free agency — likely after figuring out that their own free agents didn’t exactly have a strong enough market to factor into the compensatory formula — the Bills made it sound like that they’re putting the free agent market on the back burner. With Preston Brown now heading to Cincinnati — as originally reported by Ryan Talbot of NYUpstate.com — and it looking quite unlikely that they bring E.J. Gaines back, Beane declared on Friday that they are “very low on money” for free agency. He also said that they could still sign some players, but nothing that’s going to “hit the ticker.” And without that money available to them, that means they are likely moving on without Gaines and wide receiver Jordan Matthews — who were the two best chances for their free agents to get a quality contract on the open market. Now, the focus shifts to the NFL Draft, and for Beane and McDermott to potentially peg one, two, or three of these premiere quarterback prospects to be the one that they’d make another move up the board for.
5) The money is high on Lotulelei, but it makes more sense from a long-term perspective
- In Beane’s press conference, he said that the Bills put a priority on a pair of things (which likely are behind having a franchise quarterback). Those two things? Protecting the quarterback, and wreaking havoc on the quarterback for the other team amongst their front seven. They identified Star Lotulelei as a player that could help them up the middle immediately and paid him handsomely for it. Lotulelei has an AAV on his five-year deal of $10 million — which is a lot for his specific role in McDermott’s defense. However, after thinking about it for a while, I can understand Beane’s vision with the signing. The players that mainly played in the one-technique role last year (Marcell Dareus, Adolphus Washington, and Cedric Thornton) were one of the main weaknesses on a weekly basis. It put more pressure on both Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams to create pressure, and that was only made worse by both Shaq Lawson and Eddie Yarbrough tailing off at the other defensive end position as the season went along. With Lotulelei, they have a player that can potentially free up room for teammates to make plays — and to take some pressure off of Williams and Hughes. It is not normally the “money” defensive tackle spot in Sean McDermott’s defense though, as that is primarily lined up for the pressure-generating three-technique role (for example, Kawann Short in Carolina). However, Kyle Williams is in that role at the moment, and I would tend to believe that that position will be a target of the Bills within the first two rounds either in 2018 or 2019. That player will then be on a rookie contract for the next four seasons, so by the time they would have to pay that player legitimate money to play a critical role in the defense, the Bills will be able to get out from Lotulelei’s contract without a huge dead money hit. It’s actually quite smart planning for the Bills at a crucial position to the defense. However, it is a big contract, so Lotulelei needs to prove that he’s worth it with consistent play when he’s on the field — especially if he’s on the field for under 60-percent of snaps like he was in Carolina. He is just another example of how the Bills can take advantage of basically an entirely rebuilt roster that is without many compelling cases of young players to re-sign in the near future.