Sean McDermott was more difficult to pin down on the subject than John Cena.
The Buffalo Bills’ coach was asked multiple times in multiple ways last week what will happen in the team’s draft room if, when the selection is required to be made, there is a difference of opinion between himself and General Manager Doug Whaley.
Each time, McDermott gave a variation of the same answer, one that centered on it being a “team” decision.
“This is absolutely a team effort,” he said. “One hundred percent a team effort. Doug and I have had great meetings. He's keeping me abreast as to the situation, as far as evaluating the players. He and his staff line things up for us in a nice way so we can have productive, healthy meetings, so we can come up with the right players for this organization moving forward.”
Pressed as to who would ultimately make the decision, McDermott wouldn’t crack.
"We're going to make that call together,” he said. “We don't always go into those meeting rooms and agree. It's like your family. You don't always go home and agree on everything. And that's important that you can have that dynamic.
“Healthy conversations have some disagreement at times. That's not to say there's been disagreement, but when we do things it's got to be open-air communication, not afraid to disagree, so that at the end of the process, we get the right players for this organization.”
McDermott has a reason to feel confident that, when push comes to shove, he’ll get his way. That’s because first-time head coaches usually do. Research from The Buffalo News shows that over the past five years, 25 of the 36 new head coaches hired in the NFL have drafted a player on their side of the ball with the team’s first draft pick in the year that they were hired. That’s nearly 70 percent of the time.
That includes the Bills, who in recent years have drafted Ronald Darby (in the second round) in 2015 and EJ Manuel in the first round in 2013 for Rex Ryan and Doug Marrone, respectively. In fact, every Bills coach since Marv Levy has seen the team use its first draft pick on a player for “his” side of the ball.
“A couple of reasons for that: No. 1, usually the club is coming off a season where that particular side suffered so they’re leaning more toward a coach to fix one side of the ball or the other,” said Phil Savage, the executive director of the Senior Bowl and former general manager of the Cleveland Browns. “Often times, the team says ‘hey, we’re having problems on offense, let’s find an offensive-oriented head coach, or vice versa. That’s one reason the percentage is high.”
The other reason, according to Savage, deals with timing.
“Once the coach gets on board, it’s a short window of time from the middle of January to the middle of April to get all this information under wraps, plus put your staff together, establish a relationship with ownership and go through pro free agency,” he said. “I think you always would lean more to where your comfort level is, which is why those two things would factor into why that percentage is so high.”
With glaring needs at cornerback and linebacker, and potentially safety if the right player falls to them, that’s something to consider Thursday night when the Bills are on the clock.
A couple of the occasions in which a team drafted a player on the other side of the ball come with legitimate reasons.
• In 2012, the Colts took quarterback Andrew Luck No. 1 overall despite coach Chuck Pagano having a defensive background. Nobody was passing on Luck that year.
• In 2016, the 49ers drafted Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner in the first round despite coach Chip Kelly having an offensive background. Kelly, however, coached Bucker during their time together with the Ducks.
Depending on how the board falls Thursday, the Bills could have options if they want to address defense with the first pick of the McDermott era. Safeties Jamal Adams (LSU) and Malik Hooker (Ohio State) are looked at as top-10 talents, as is Buckeyes cornerback Marson Lattimore. If one of them falls to No. 10, the Bills could be tempted.
Temple linebacker Haason Reddick, meanwhile, has steadily risen up the mock-draft boards and would fill a big need on McDermott’s defense.
“I would say, in his case, even though his background is as a defensive coordinator, I think one of the feathers in his cap is that he came out of the Andy Reid tree with Jim Johnson, so there’s a structure and a discipline there,” Savage said. “Their approach to running a program, you know Andy had a lot of latitude with personnel, and I’m expecting that Sean will as well, but they hired him to manage the overall team and roster, so with that being said, I wouldn’t think that he’s going to shy away from an offensive player, there just might be more comfort with a defensive player.”