(WKBW) — With the NFL Scouting Combine well underway, for the second straight day an integral member of the Buffalo Bills organization met with the media in Indianapolis. And this time around, the spotlight shone on general manager Brandon Beane -- the man in full charge of a critical next two months.
As he made his way through his media tour on Thursday afternoon, he stopped for a brief one-on-one chat with 7ABC. Among the topics of conversation, free agency theory and how Beane defines his much-discussed usage of the word 'judicious' as it relates to spending in free agency.
Five takeaways from the one-on-one interview with Beane, which you can watch in full in the video above:
1) Judicious and prohibitive are not synonyms to Brandon Beane
- At the end-of-season press conference, there was one word that many clung to about the Bills' offseason plans. The Bills had spent the past two years trying to rid themselves of dead cap space and bad contracts, which led them to a 2019 offseason where they have near $80 million in cap space. So when Beane used the word "judicious" to describe how they planned to spend in free agency, there was some thought that the Bills would be hesitant to go after the big fish in free agency. Now with almost two months since the first time he used the term -- and also just two weeks away from the official start to free agency -- what does a "judicious" approach to free agency mean? For Beane, it's simple -- and it doesn't mean they have to sit on the sidelines during the first day of free agency. Quite the contrary, it's more about the Bills identifying the players that best fit into their individual systems -- even if they'll wind up costing a premium as one of the top-tier free agents available. As it goes, the terms "judicious" and "prohibitive" don't necessarily coincide as it relates to free agency. But how does the "judicious" nature of free agency work in with their theory on roster building? The full thoughts from Beane:
"Listen, we will put values, and we have. We put values on players from guys that will know come in and start, to guys we think will compete to start, to guys that 'this guy would be a great backup.' They all have their values financially and they have their values on our roster. So, if there's a guy that's a premium player that we feel fits the value that it is, and fits our team, then we'll target him and go after him and see how it shakes out. I can't predict if we're going to land three guys on the first day or zero guys on the first day."
After all, the Bills did spend a premium contract on Star Lotulelei last offseason because they believed in the value he could add to the team as an instant starter and weren't afraid to give him a lucrative contract -- even when they didn't have a ton of cap room. Now that they have quite a bit of financial flexibility, my guess is they'll likely look at a handful of premium players at the premium positions that they value the highest, and then see how it all fits in. However, the one area that Beane doesn't want the Bills to get caught up with is chasing in free agency, which calls for a clarification as to where the line is as multiple teams look to rope in impact players.
2) The balance between 'in-play' and 'we're moving on' to the Bills
- Because the NFL doesn't structure their offseason in the same way as the NBA, in which the draft is the precursor to free agency, teams can't use the free agent period to round out the roster the way that they would like to. Instead, they have to try and play one giant game of poker in free agency to figure out what player and cost is worth it to them, while still not jeopardizing future years with delayed cap negligence. For Beane, even though they could be in play for a premium player on the free agent market, they have to be willing to set boundaries and stick to it, which is what he originally meant with "judicious" all along.
"But if you're in free agency in the first couple of days, more times than not -- but it's being aware of not getting too far. If you think a guy is $8 million is the range. If he goes to $9 [million], okay, but if it goes to $12 or $13 million, now you're getting out of hand. You're doing that young man a disservice. He's not going to be able to live up to a $12 million deal, and you're also making bad cap decisions, which, if you make enough of those they'll catch up to you. We just got out of it. We don't want to put ourselves right back there."
For those that were dissauded that the Bills would be hesitant to go after a big fish, you're in luck. If they deem it worthy enough and in their projected value, I'd expect the Bills to be in on those discussions until -- in the confines of the poker analogy -- the raising stakes makes them want to fold. So now, it's about identifying the positions and players they deem worth it, which is another exercise in itself.
3) Beane's premium positions?
- Later in the conversation, it was more of a roster building theory question discussed in generalities. The premise, do the Bills look to allocate a set amount of cap space by position so they don't go overboard and ruin their flexibility at other spots, or, does it have more of an ebbing and flowing feel to it? Beane answered, but pay close attention to the positions he identifies in more of a general answer:
"I think it ebb and flows. If you are building a team, if you just said hey I'm going to play fantasy football, and I'm going to go -- then there are premium positions starting with the quarterback and pass rushers and things like that. You can look right at what's getting paid in this league. Quarterbacks make the most, pass rushers, and then probably those guys protecting the quarterback. I think depending on what you've drafted and the model that's set, sometimes you may have a couple of young guys at a position that haven't hit free agency, so you can't say, well I'm going to spend X-number of million on corners. Maybe you've drafted two guys and you've got them low, don't just go spending extra money if you don't need it."
Of the three premium positions he listed in an ideal world, the only top of mind spot that the Bills have settled for the 2019 offseason is at quarterback. After that, the Bills have a legitimate need to add players that can generate pressure on to the quarterback, and of course, a massive need to help keep Josh Allen in the pocket and beating teams with his arm. Should the Bills follow that premium position logic, in terms of the premium players that may become available without getting too far into the funny money business, some players available certainly stand out for the franchise. Names like linebacker and edge rusher Anthony Barr, centers Matt Paradis and Mitch Morse, and offensive tackle Darryl Williams all seem to fit the profile of what they could be looking at -- within reason, of course. Now, will the delicate balance between 'in-play' and 'moving on' shift more to the latter as free agency opens up? Unfortunately, only time will tell -- which is often the hardest part for fans wanting to see their favorite team improve the roster. A lot of times, it's a total waiting game for the teams themselves, because you don't know what will happen until the action goes live.
4) The conundrum that is needing an impact receiver
- As the college game and the professional level drifts apart in the expectation of their wide receivers, the gap also widens on the number of first-year players that can make an impact for their teams. That makes holding on to productive receivers in the NFL a bit higher of a priority, while also lessening the pool of free agent receivers to those that don't seem to fit the 'home run' category. For the Bills, finding receivers are one of the most crucial parts of adding to their roster in the offseason because they need to surround their young quarterback with more talent to take advantage of his gifts. That much is clear. How they go about it is a lot more complicated. Beane has made his thoughts known about not needing an atypical 'number-one' wideout, and being able to win with a stable of players that all chip in and keep the defense guessing where the ball is going next. However, if you don't have enough of them, where does that put going out to find a wide receiver in the free agency scope -- concerning the Bills' free agency theory? Considering that wide receiver wasn't one of Beane's top of mind premium positions, you have to wonder how much they'd be willing to spend on the top-of-class guys in 2019 -- which seems to lack in an impact player in its purest essence. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Bills let the free agent market with receivers play out the same way they did with the quarterback market last year. Have some initial talks and gauging the market, while letting some chips fall -- and striking on a potential value player. I mentioned it at the beginning of the week, but I'm fascinated by the potential pairing of Devin Funchess with the Bills on a low-risk, short-term deal for more than just the Carolina connection. And as long as he some team doesn't go overboard for him, it could be the best thing for all parties.
5) Beane: Slot receiver isn't solved
- The Bills tried several players to fill the role of slot receiver -- one that can become a go-to element of an offense that the team lacked for Josh Allen -- and had mostly poor results. Isaiah McKenzie gave the most flashes of potential, but even he was inconsistent in all the time he received. The Bills drafted Ray-Ray McCloud, gave him a chance, and wound up making him a healthy scratch as the year went along. Finding an impact slot receiver, especially with the pairing of Zay Jones and Robert Foster as boundary receivers already on the roster, might wind up being a priority to Beane in free agency or the draft. Judge for yourself:
"We had some different guys last year that played different roles, even the guys late in the year in McKenzie and some of those guys, and Ray-Ray. We even added some guys at the end of the year, so I think we have some different flavors there, but to say we've solved that, I can't sit here and say we have. I think we've got some guys that have shown flashes of what they can do, but we need someone that's accountable that can do it for the whole season, and can these guys do it? They'll get a chance. But it doesn't mean that if we think there's upgrade in free agency or the draft, that we wouldn't make that move. We're trying to create competition, and add as much value, and let the best man win."
If I had to guess, I think this might be where the draft could come into play. The NFL draft has plenty of quick-twitch athletes that can play on the inside that would potentially serve as a cost-effective upgrade to the McKenzie and McCloud combination, without having to take a more significant swing and allocating a higher free agent deal to a slot receiver. After all, Beane values the draft above all else and building from within, and non-first-round slot receivers have a habit of making an impact here or there. It doesn't mean they'll get their way and be able to find one in the offseason, but it sure sounds like it's a spot Beane wants to address at some point in the next two months.