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Jerry Sullivan: Why it's (yet another) critical draft for the Bills

I know everyone is geeked up for the draft, but let's dispense with Mike Gillislee first, since his departure for New England is symptomatic of the dysfunction that has plagued the Bills franchise for two decades.

For the second year in a row, the Bills let a valuable free agent get away because they didn't give him a second-round tender, which would have cost a shade under $1 million more than their eventual offer and likely resulted in Gillislee and Chris Hogan remaining in Buffalo

Fool you twice, blame it on Bill Belichick. It's amazing – a national humiliation – that the Pats could be the Super Bowl champions and still afford to poach free agents that the Bills couldn't keep (that includes overpaying for Stephon Gilmore).

You would think the Bills, not the Pats, were the team that had made perennial Super Bowl runs and were confronting the inevitable financial reckoning that follows success in a salary-cap sport.

It could have been avoided if the guys running the show weren't trying to save a few bucks. Yes, there are grave consequences for mismanaging the salary cap and making the countless other dubious decisions that left the Bills with a financially bloated and inferior roster.

So once again, it's a critical draft for the Bills. Don't we say that every year? After 17 years without playoffs, it's actually getting worse.

They lost their best cornerback, two starting safeties, their second and third wideouts, a starting defensive tackle, the league's most productive backup running back and their No. 2 quarterback (if you care about EJ Manuel).

So yeah, I'd say it's an important draft. They have needs everywhere – OK, they're solid at fullback. It's an event that breeds eternal hope. But how could fans be optimistic when the guys who got them into this mess are still running the scouting and personnel operation?

Doug Whaley is lucky to have a job, and the same goes for Jim Overdorf, the dunce capologist. But it's not necessarily a good thing that the Pegulas have handed Sean McDermott more power over the personnel side than his predecessors, before he's coached his first game.

McDermott acts like a man who expects to win right away, to impose his football genius on an unsuspecting NFL. He's counting on his discipline and preparation to overcome a thin, depleted roster, same as old Gregg Williams did before going 3-13 in his debut in 2001.

The NFL is a harsh business. It can bring the eager and naive to their knees very quickly. McDermott will find out soon enough what it's like to inherit a team in decline. But his ego tells him he can make a run. That's why he decided to keep Tyrod Taylor as his starting quarterback.

If it were my show, I'd have waved goodbye to Tyrod and committed to a quarterback with the No. 10 overall pick on Thursday. But by keeping Taylor, the Bills appear to be middling it,  hoping to win with him in the short term and steal a sleeper QB later in the draft.

That would be a dangerous play, typical of the short-sighted, inconsistent thinking that has plagued Pegula's franchises. If the Bills were honest about their plight, they would have moved on from Taylor, acknowledged they weren't a contender, and given a full commitment to getting a QB.

Sure, good ones fall through the draft. The Bills have sat and watched several slide right by them. They're the last team I would trust to identify the next Russell Wilson or Dak Prescott. These are the same people who saw Manuel as a franchise guy and picked Cardale Jones last year.

But if they love a quarterback, they should grab him with the 10th pick. I like Deshaun Watson. Scouts question his accuracy and decision-making, but they said the same thing about Prescott. Watson rose to every challenge in college, and he has the makings of a franchise NFL quarterback.

McDermott might have other ideas. Despite his contention that the picks will be made by consensus, it looks like he'll have the final say. They won't let Whaley and his scouts talk, so what does that tell you? Given that every new Bills head coach since Marv Levy has used his first-ever draft pick on his side of the ball, I expect McDermott to go defense at 10.

Most likely, it'll be a cornerback or safety, depending on who's available when it gets to their pick. They could also trade back, which wouldn't be a bad idea, considering the draft's defensive depth and their many needs.

The secondary was a weakness the last two seasons, and the issues have been compounded by the departures of Gilmore, Corey Graham, Aaron Williams and Nickell Robey. McDermott knows what it's like to have your secondary weakened. He was coordinator of a Carolina defense that was 29th against the pass last year.

McDermott believes he can turn this into a top 10 defense right away. Shaq Lawson, who missed half his rookie season, and Reggie Ragland, who missed all of it, will be there from the start. They helped the secondary by signing Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer in free agency.

Still, you can never have enough defensive backs in today's NFL. McDermott knows what lies ahead in his first season. For one thing, they play the NFC South in their crossover, which means facing Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and Jameis Winston, who now has DeSean Jackson to pair with Mike Evans at wideout.

You could certainly make an argument for a wide receiver. How will Taylor and his agent feel if, having lost two wideouts in free agency, the Bills don't use that 10th pick to give Tyrod another elite target and enhance his chances to get a real long-term extension this time?

That would suggest a consistent, coherent plan. As you might have noticed on the hockey side, that's not exactly a hallmark of the Pegulas' sports empire. Reach for whatever strikes your fancy and hope he's a gem – and that he doesn't one day wind up in New England.

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