One day as the Bills brain trust began planning for free agency and the 2018 NFL draft, there was a meeting. The meeting was called by Brandon Beane and attended by Sean McDermott, the coordinators, Terry Pegula and others. Everyone grabbed a pastry and coffee and, after the minutes of the last meeting had been read and approved, they got down to the business at hand.
Beane said, “Okay, before we get into the specifics of individual players, let’s define in a broad sense what our player personnel objectives are for this year.”
McDermott said, “Get me someone who can sling it and someone who can bring it. Get me a quarterback and a linebacker.”
Pegula said, “What about all the other positions where we need help? We need offensive linemen; we need to rebuild the defensive line; we have to do something about the receivers; McCoy isn’t going to play forever.”
Beane replied, “Terry, remember that Sean and I told you in my interview that we were going to rebuild this team, that big personnel changes were needed and that it was going to take at least two full seasons to replace many of the players we had with the players Sean needs. Those two seasons are 2018 and 2019 – we played 2017 more or less with the team Sean inherited, less the guys we unloaded. We used last season to get rid of some of the high-value guys Sean didn’t want around and to build a war chest to acquire new players. We tore things down, and now we start building again.
“There’s not much we can do in free agency this season, because our dead cap situation is horrible, but the draft is another story. Getting rid of Watkins, Darby and Dareus made the cap situation worse in the short term, but it got us some valuable picks to add to the pick we got from KC in the draft trade last year. So the draft is where we start building. Next year, we’ll have cap room and draft picks and we’ll stock up on players.”
“I get all that,” Pegula said, “but that doesn’t explain why we’re only looking for two guys.”
McDermott joined in. “Terry, I can teach 20 players who are good, solid NFL athletes how to play their positions to make a winning team. We’ll collect those guys as we go along. But I need two special players. I need a quarterback and I need a linebacker.”
Pegula ended the exchange by saying, “I brought you guys here to build a winner, and I said I’d give you complete authority to do it, so you’re calling the shots.”
Okay, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know exactly who was there or what was said. I don’t know if there were Dunkin Donuts old fashioned doughnuts or Wegman’s croissants, but I’m betting that exchange between Beane and McDermott took place somewhere, sometime.
And Terry Pegula is not a stupid man, so he didn’t need an explanation in 2018 about what the process is. Still, that conversation, or the essence of it, has been at the core of the Buffalo Bills’ strategy as they seek to become relevant in the NFL.
How do I know? It was obvious by late last year, if not earlier. Taylor was not McDermott’s guy to run the offense, and Preston Brown simply didn’t have the speed to be McDermott’s guy to spearhead the defense. McDermott wanted and needed someone to sling it and someone to bring it.
Beane went to work, and in one April evening in Dallas, he completed the first big steps in the process. It cost him essentially all of the surplus draft capital he and McDermott had acquired trading picks and players over the previous year. Now, with no second round picks this year and with no cap room, Beane will have to wait until 2019 to fill some of the holes.
Beane’s not done acquiring guys; there will be some late-round picks and some undrafted free agents, but the guys with high-end NFL measurables will be gone before Beane gets another pick. McDermott and his coaches will do the best they can with the guys who come to camp. We will see how much magic they can do with limited resources, but it’s fair to assume that they will have some weaknesses in the lineup in 2018.
The Josh Allen debate will rage on for months, maybe even years. Why didn’t Beane move up to #2 to steal Darnold from the Jets? (Too expensive to get the Giants to move off Barkley.) Why didn’t they take Josh Rosen, the more NFL-ready guy available at 7? (I don’t know, but I’m guessing three reasons: Size and durability, native intelligence – Allen crushed the Wonderlic, and continuing fears that Rosen is a “me-first” guy.) For now, Allen will be number 2 on the depth chart, until he shows, in July or September or November, that he should be the starter. If he isn’t the starter by 2019, the doubters will have been right.
And Tremaine Edmunds, talent or not, still hasn’t played a down in the NFL. He’s an unfinished product. Beane could have stayed at #22 and held onto #65 and gotten two good football players, but Beane and McDermott saw what looks like their best shot at a difference maker on defense and took it.
Beane and McDermott’s strategy was interesting. After all the debate about the strengths and weaknesses of the quarterbacks in the draft, and after all the analysis of the linebacking prospects, the Bills chose the best athlete at each position. In Allen and Edmunds they have the guys who were the biggest, strongest, best physically equipped players in the draft at their positions. In each case, they were the best by a good margin over the others.
Why were the two best athletes available at #7 and #16 in the draft? Primarily because neither has demonstrated football instincts quite as good as some of the others at their positions. Neither was quite as “NFL-ready” as a Baker Mayfield or a Roquan Smith.
Was Allen their #1 quarterback? Was Edmunds their #1 linebacker? GMs and coaches never answer that question, and we may never know. What we do know is that Beane and McDermott believe that these guys can be the offensive and defensive leaders they need to build a big-time winner.
Essentially, Beane sent a message to McDermott: “I’m getting you the best talent available. It’s your job to get them to be stars in the NFL.”
And McDermott is ready for the challenge, because McDermott has shown already that he’s prepared for any football challenge.
The Rockpile Review is written to share the passion we have for the Buffalo Bills. That passion was born in the Rockpile; its parents were everyday people of western New York who translated their dedication to a full day’s hard work and simple pleasures into love for a pro football team.
Editor’s babble: Very excited to have Mark Korber share his Rockpile Review with us when the spirit moves him. Mark joined our moderator staff at the now (RIP) Buffalo Bills Message Board where he shared his Rockpile Review with fans for many years. Although you won’t find Mark on Twitter, you can find him on the Stadium Wall forum at twobillsdrive.com. Thanks, Mark!