The first official day of practice is all over and done with at the 2018 Senior Bowl — and while the players started to get acclimated to the setting of an all-star game in more of an informal session, the focus from a Buffalo perspective was firmly on the Bills and what they might do this offseason.
Both head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane took separate turns meeting with reporters — and while they were tight-lipped and tried to give as little precious information as possible — there were still some clear takeaways from what the duo in charge of the Bills had to say.
My 7 takeaways from what McDermott and Beane had to say today:
1) No vote of confidence for Tyrod’s future employment
- Even though both McDermott and Beane spoke at different times on Tuesday, the answer from one to the next was mostly the same in regards to the future of Tyrod Taylor. They admire the work that Taylor puts in, they were quick to point out that both Taylor and Nathan Peterman did some “nice things” in 2017, and that they’re continuing to evaluate. At no point, in either man’s answer, was there any clear indication from them that the Bills starting quarterback from 2017 would be back with the team next season. In fact, McDermott even said, “I’m not going to get into Tyrod’s future.” All of these are ominous signs for Taylor — even though he’s signed through the 2018 season at a cap number of over $18 million. His cap number and some other factors will surely be examined, but with a substantial roster bonus due days after the new league year begins, the Bills know a decision will need to be made — and without a supreme vote of confidence today, it’s clear they are thinking about moving on from Taylor. The same type of language was used when talking about Rick Dennison shortly after the season wrapped up, saying that they weren’t going to talk about it but that they’d be evaluating it thoroughly. While there’s still a chance Taylor could come back — depending on if the quarterback market around them completely flops — it’s continuing to look like his playoff game with the Bills has a strong chance of being his last with the team.
2) What the Bills look for this early in the draft in a QB
- It’s the most complex decision teams have to make throughout their careers. They have to try and find a skill-set that they believe in with the quarterback position, they have to find the player that best represents that, and then hope that the player turns out to be someone that can bring the franchise sustained success — and in turn, their own job security. For the Bills, they’re entering an offseason where they’re likely to add at least one substantial piece at the position. Beane admitted that teams have to be careful to not fall into a trap of convincing themselves that a quarterback prospect is made up of those characteristics they look for, and then discussed how there are so many different aspects to playing quarterback which makes it such a “layered piece” for a team to try to fill. For McDermott, he likes this time of year to examine the one area that the Bills were hellbent on changing this time last year in Orchard Park — finding the right type of person he looks for to fill his locker room. McDermott said he looks the players in the eye at an event like the Senior Bowl, and he tries to get to know their DNA as much as possible. It’s all part of the equation for the Bills — and it’s just a matter if that player exists in the 2018 NFL Draft — and whether or not they’ll actually have the opportunity to draft that player. Don’t discount the “fit in the locker room” point — especially at that position, because that player will eventually be looked upon to set the tone inside a locker room, so they’ll want to knock the human side out of the park with their next young quarterback.
3) Trade-up talk
- In the 2018 NFL Draft, the Bills own both the 21st and 22nd overall selections which for them is solid because they have two first-round selections, but it could very well put them on the outside looking in of the top quarterbacks in play. A popular topic around Buffalo over the past few months has been the idea that they can package those picks together, along with some others, to get somewhere into the Top 10. It’s all good in theory, but the execution isn’t guaranteed, of course. As Beane pointed out Tuesday, there needs to be a willing seller for the draft pick, and the price can’t be a “king’s ransom,” as he put it. The Bills are still within the realm of possibilities to pull something like that off, but it has to be for someone they absolutely love in the draft.
“If you put a quarterback — whatever position — if you put a guy at the top, you think he’s a top-five guy… that’s the one you would make the move for — but that’s any position. But that comes with a hefty price to be able to do that from 21 or 22, where we’re at. We’re not saying we would do that. To go up there, we’d have to really feel good about it.”
While it certainly doesn’t rule the Bills out from moving all the way up, I think Beane had a clear agenda here to try and take a fire extinguisher to all the trade up talk. Not only has it been thrown around as a possibility for them — it’s been talked about as though it is a sure thing by some fans and media out there. While Beane certainly wants his guy at quarterback, he’s not going to sell himself short for the future just to do it.
4) “We’re a long way from where we need to be”
- Backing up that point… the Bills have a legitimate amount of work to do on the remainder of their roster outside of quarterback — and the quote above from Brandon Beane is all the evidence you need of that. Outside of the starting safeties, center, kicker, punter and maybe the tight end position, the Bills could make a legitimate case for using one of their selections in the first three rounds on every remaining position. The Bills need at least one starter at quarterback, wide receiver, right guard, offensive tackle if they trade Cordy Glenn, defensive tackle, linebacker, cornerback, and they could use main backups at running back, defensive end, and safety as well. There are needs all over the place, which means trading away all of the key pieces to the next couple of years of drafts wouldn’t be the wisest thing. However, securing the quarterback they covet is the ultimate trump card, and as long as they’re not getting ripped — I think that even with all the attempts on Tuesday to quiet down the speculation around them, the Bills are still very much in play to make a major move up the board for a quarterback.
5) Staff changes still could be coming
- Much along the same lines as the Tyrod Taylor answer, when asked if there were any staff changes still on the horizon, Sean McDermott didn’t say that the staff was set — and I’m sure a large part of that has to do with new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll still getting acclimated to his new role. He’s been on the job only a little over one week, and with the Senior Bowl being this week, it’s probably not enough time to get all his ducks in a row to hire staff members if given the option. Even Sean McDermott said that his experience as a coordinator makes him respect wanting to have coaches on your side of the ball that you are comfortable with, but also added that Daboll has some experience already with some of the offensive staff. While the final say will ultimately be with McDermott, you’d have to think that he’s open to Daboll wanting to add some of his guys to the staff, too, which might mean some other positional coaches could be on the way out.
6) The Bills will be in on the compensatory picks in 2019
- For the first time since the subject was broached over and over again this year, Bills GM Brandon Beane finally admitted that he couldn’t do anything about getting the compensatory selections for Stephon Gilmore and Robert Woods in 2018 because “it was too far to do anything about it” when he walked in the door after the 2017 NFL Draft. But make no mistake — that will not be repeated by the Bills this offseason if Beane has any say about it. The Bills GM is a big believer in taking advantage of the compensatory picks when his team has a chance for them and admitted that they will be very cognizant of the moves they make with respect to that formula. That, along with Beane still being hesitant about their cap situation being where he wants it, leads me to believe that the Bills won’t be swinging big on free agency, and will likely sign players below the compensatory pick threshold.
7) In-house free agents have yet to be broached
- The Bills have quite a few starting players to discuss regarding the 2018 season in terms of their own upcoming free agents. Among them: defensive tackle Kyle Williams, cornerback E.J. Gaines, wide receiver Jordan Matthews, and middle linebacker Preston Brown. Of those players, there is a legitimate case to be made about all of them moving on. The decision with Kyle Williams is basically all up to him at this point, and if he wants to come back and play the Bills will likely welcome him with open arms. However, with the other three, Gaines plays a position that has seen a lot of money thrown at it in recent years — and with how well he played this past year, he could be in line for a better payday than you’d think — even with all his injuries this year. It never seemed like Matthews was a fit for the Bills this season, so it seems likely that he moves on, and Brown just wasn’t a fit at middle linebacker in Sean McDermott’s defense. The Bills, however, won’t get into their offseason plans for their own until after they get back from Alabama this week. That’s when they’ll all sit down to figure out a plan of attack for their own unrestricted free agents, to determine if there are any they’d like to keep. On the plus side, bringing it back to the compensatory selection point, all three of Gaines, Matthews, and Brown could help them qualify for a compensatory selection if they sign a large enough contract. Keep an eye on that trio to help the Bills in the future in that way.