So much for that smooth start to the offseason for the Buffalo Bills.
General Manager Brandon Beane’s morning coffee must have been ruined Saturday with the news that the New York Jets have moved up to the third pick in next month’s draft. That puts Buffalo’s AFC East rivals in prime position to draft a quarterback – which has been widely assumed to be the Bills’ plan.
To move up to No. 3, the Jets gave the Indianapolis Colts the No. 6 overall pick, as well as three second-round picks – No. 37 and No. 49 this year, as well as New York’s second rounder in 2019.
Let’s not sugar coat this for the Bills — it’s a potentially huge problem. The current top five of the draft features Cleveland at No. 1, the New York Giants at No. 2, the Jets, the Browns again and the Denver Broncos at No. 5. Every one of those teams has a need at quarterback.
That could very well leave the Bills on the outside looking in at one of the perceived “big four” – USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Wyoming’s Josh Allen.
When the Bills officially traded left tackle Cordy Glenn and the 21st overall pick in the first round to the Cincinnati Bengals on Wednesday for the No. 12 selection, it was the first domino to fall in what was expected to be another move up the board.
“I know everyone assumes that we’re going higher than 12," Beane said Friday. "I don’t know what we’re doing, I honestly don’t. We’ll see. We’ve got, I think, six weeks from yesterday until the draft. Over that time, I’m really going to get to know every player, not only the quarterbacks, of who we’re going to consider.”
Beane cautioned that he had spent only 15 minutes – the allotted time teams can interview prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine – with some of the top quarterbacks, which he said is "obviously not enough for me to even draft a guy at 12."
Evidently, the Jets didn't need more prep time to know they were ready to move up, which puts the pressure squarely on Beane. Seemingly every move the Bills' GM has made since taking over has been with an eye on accumulating the draft capital necessary to trade up and acquire a franchise quarterback. That includes dealing last year's starter, Tyrod Taylor, to the Cleveland Browns for a third-round pick, No. 65 overall, on Wednesday. That move gave the Bills six picks in the first three rounds draft – Nos. 12, 22, 35, 53, 56 and 96.
Beane, though, tried to pump the brakes on the trade-up talk Friday.
"There are some players that are going to be at 12, whether it’s quarterback or another position, that I know would not have fallen to 21," he said. "I’m excited about that. There’s some guys that we were talking about right before we went to the combine with our scouts that I’m like, ‘we’re wasting our time with this guy. He isn’t falling to 21. This guy is a top 10, 12 [pick]. He isn’t getting past 15’. We’re in the range for those guys, and that’s not necessarily quarterback."
Make no mistake. If the Bills don't come out of the draft with one of the perceived top four quarterbacks in the first round, a significant portion of the team's fan base will consider the offseason a massive failure.
Now, that might be out of their control. The Colts are gone as a trade-up option into the top five.
"Talked to a couple other teams, but we still wanted to stay in position in that top 10 where we can still get a premium player," Colts General Manager Chris Ballard told the team's official website Saturday in detailing the trade with New York. "We feel like at six, we'll still be able to acquire a premium player."
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) March 17, 2018
Ballard indicated the Colts might be willing to move down again, "but it would have to be a pretty attractive offer from us to move away from six because of the player we think we're going to get."
Moving to No. 6 might not be enough for the Bills, anyway. With the Jets at No. 3, Beane might need to aim higher, which means attention shifts to the Giants at No. 2. The cost of moving that far up likely got more expensive with the Jets’ move. Using the standard Jimmy Johnson trade chart, the No. 2 pick is worth 2,600 points. The Bills' first four picks are worth a combined 2,690 points.
The Jets' deal, however, shows that the conventional chart value might not be enough. New York traded away a whopping 2,956 points (1,600 for No. 6, 530 for No. 37, 410 for No. 49 and 416 for the average value of a 2019 second-rounder) for the third pick, which has a value of 2,200 points.
Knowing that the Bills aren't the only quarterback-needy team in the draft, the Giants can ask for a king's ransom for the No. 2 pick. There is also the possibility that Giants General Manager Dave Gettleman will determine that there is no price worth moving down from No. 2 if he’s convinced he can get Eli Manning’s successor there. Beane recognized that possibility when speaking with reporters at the Senior Bowl in January.
"It's only for sale if somebody is willing to move it," he said. "I know there's going to be all these hypotheticals of, 'this is how the Bills could do this. This is what it would take.' But you have to have a partner if we decided it was worth it ... to move up there.
"Even if you want to move to two or three or four or five, whatever number it is, they have to be willing to do it. And they may ask for a king's ransom that does not make sense for us. Again, we have to have a partner if we were ever choosing to move up or move down. Who knows what will happen. We're still a long way from doing that because we haven't put a final value on each of these players."
That sets up a scenario where three quarterbacks are selected in the first three picks, something that hasn't happened since 1999, when Tim Couch went No. 1 to Cleveland, Donovan McNabb went No. 2 to Philadelphia and Akili Smith went No. 3 to Cincinnati.
In that scenario, would the Bills still want to move up to take the fourth quarterback? And would the Browns be open to moving down? It’s assumed they will take a quarterback with the first pick, which could make them a trade-down candidate at No. 4. It’s not that simple, though. If the first three picks of the draft are quarterbacks, Cleveland could get a player like Penn State running back Saquan Barkley or N.C. State pass rusher Bradley Chubb at No. 4. Passing up on that type of premium talent might not be worth it for the Browns, who already have nine draft picks, including five of the first 64.
If the Bills can't get into the top five, they might be resigned to staying at No. 12. Slow playing the quarterback decision worked in free agency, where the Bills landed AJ McCarron at a bargain rate. But doing so in the draft might not be the wisest plan with so many quarterback-needy teams ahead of them.
Louisville's Lamar Jackson and Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph are thought to be the next two quarterbacks to come off the board. Perhaps they are a target at No. 12 (Jackson) or No. 22 (Rudolph). Otherwise, they would be punting on taking a quarterback entirely in the first round, which would be highly questionable decision for a team that passed last year on Clemson's Deshaun Watson and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes. At some point, the team has to address the game's most important position with a premium draft pick.
Gettleman and Beane have a relationship from their time together in Carolina, when Beane was his assistant GM. You can bet that Beane will be in touch with his former boss. Chances are, those conversations will take on a more urgent tone after Saturday's move.
Bottom line: Moving up for a quarterback got harder — and more expensive — for Beane on Saturday.