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Newton pays visit to meet with Gailey; The lockout doesn't stop the Bills from playing the role of engaging host

The Buffalo Bills are getting an up-close-and-personal look at the highest-profile player in the draft.

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton arrived in town Monday night and will meet with Bills coach Chan Gailey today. There were reports the two had dinner at a local restaurant Monday evening, after Gailey, General Manager Buddy Nix and Chief Executive Officer Russ Brandon spoke at a "State of the Bills" event for suite and club seat holders at the Hyatt Regency downtown.

Newton isn't the only quarterback coming to One Bills Drive. Nix indicated that Missouri's Blaine Gabbert and Florida State's Christian Ponder will be coming in at some point. Nix added that a couple more could be added to the list of visits.

NFL teams are allowed to bring in up to 30 prospects before the draft.

Gailey and Nix admitted quarterback isn't the Bills' biggest need because they believe veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick is a reliable starter. But both men made it clear they have to strongly consider taking a potentially great signal caller if he's available with the third overall pick in the draft.

"Let me just say this to you, and try not to read anything into this and try not to connect the dots, now, but if you wait until you do not have a quarterback to draft one, you're too late," Nix said. "Now our greatest need is not quarterback. It's definitely not quarterback. Invariably, if there's going to be a franchise guy there and one we deem as a guy that can go eight or 10 years, be the face of the organization and take us to the playoffs and win every year, you can't pass him up."

Gailey added: "I think what you're trying to evaluate is if there is a guy at quarterback that you believe can be a franchise quarterback long term. You hope to never be picking three again and it's your one opportunity to make that pick if that's what you believe. If you don't believe there's a franchise quarterback for the future long term, we have other needs. It's not like we don't know we have other needs. We understand that. But you're weighing what's best for the franchise."

Newton has been the center of attention since the Heisman Trophy winner led Auburn to the national championship. There are some risks involved because he played only one year at a high level and played in a spread offense. But he possesses the physical tools that intrigue NFL teams, including the Bills.

The Bills also met with Newton at the NFL scouting combine in late February, and Nix had dinner with him the night before his March 8 pro day at Auburn. But Gailey said the player visits are critical in the evaluation process.

After taking a physical, the visiting player meets with the coaching staff. Besides physical ability, Gailey wants to see what a player knows about the game and what kind of person he is. And he doesn't pull any punches when discussing the team's situation.

"I lay everything on the table with guys when they walk in here," Gailey said. "I try to get them to understand exactly who we are, what we're about, where we're going and how we plan to get there. And if we end up working together, this is how they might fit into the scheme and into the system."

Nix said Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus will be among the players visiting in the weeks leading up to the draft. Outside linebacker Von Miller visited with Bills brass earlier this month. Like Newton and Gabbert, Dareus and Miller are projected as top-10 picks.

Nix pointed out the players the Bills bring in for visits is standard operating procedure for every NFL team.

"We got to be through [with visits] by April 20," he said. "A lot of those guys that come to us leave here and go to other teams. Everybody is trying to rob the same train."

Nix drew laughter from the audience when he brought up talking about the draft this time of year.

"Before I start telling you about the draft a little bit, I want to make one thing clear, it's an unwritten rule that it's not a sin to tell a lie during pre-draft discussions. Everybody does it, it's accepted. So everything you hear or read or see, you need to keep in mind that about 10 percent of it is the truth. Everybody tries to connect the dots."

Gailey gave the crowd a description of his personality and in doing so got the faithful fired up.

"I'm not very flamboyant," he said. "That's just not me. I'm not a comedian. I'm not a theologian. I'm not a philosopher. I just coach football. I want to coach your football team and get us to where we want to be, and that's be champions again and have things rocking and rolling out at Ralph Wilson Stadium."

Nix told fans he was pleased with the improvement of the Bills' wide receiving corps and the offensive line. He said tackles Mansfield Wrotto and Erik Pears and guards Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart were solid in-season addition.

Nix said Pears, a former starter in Denver, has a chance to start at right tackle this season, but added, "We also need another tackle. We need a tackle through the draft or through free agency if and when that happens."

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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