How much say will Buffalo Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula have in the team’s selections in the April 28-30 NFL Draft?
Plenty, according to Bills General Manager Doug Whaley.
“His team, he can do what he wants, absolutely,” Whaley said in answer to a question of whether Terry might direct him to choose a specific player.
Whaley said that didn’t happen last year, the Bills’ first draft under the Pegulas' ownership. But Whaley did say the owners' involvement goes well beyond his sharing “what we’re thinking about” with them and that they have "final say; we have to run everything by those guys."
“Let’s put it this way, when they come in a meeting and we have a game plan together, saying this is how we’re going to attack this draft, and that’s when (Terry will) say, ‘Hey, have you thought about this?’” Whaley said during Wednesday’s Bills pre-draft media briefing. “And we like it because they haven’t been around football long enough to be tunnel-visioned like we are, and they bring an outside perspective. There’s been a couple times he’s mentioned stuff that we never talked about and we went, ‘That’s great.’
“So that’s why, not only because he owns it, but that’s why we meet with him and run things by him because of that outside fresh perspective.”
Have the Pegulas ever vetoed a player-personnel decision, including trades or free-agent signings?
“Not at all,” Whaley said. “So far, they’ve had implicit trust in us, but we’ve got to still keep producing.”
Here are some other items addressed during the session, which, besides Whaley, included director of player personnel Jim Monos and director of college scouting Kelvin Fisher.
(On whether the Bills are a candidate for trading down from the 19th overall pick?) Whaley: “If you can get somebody to call up to 19, we’ll definitely entertain it. To answer your question, yes there’s depth and perceived depth in a lot of areas that we need sheer numbers. So that opens up the possibility and it’s intriguing to us. To go up would probably be something really special, but again we’ve done it before. Most likely, with what we’re doing, moving down would be a highly more intriguing situation than going up.”
(On the likelihood of the Bills drafting a quarterback) Whaley: “I would say there’s a very, very good possibility we will be drafting a quarterback. When that will be, I can’t tell you because I don’t know. We always look at the value and the opportunity and it has to meet. It won’t keep us from keeping the options if somebody calls and wants to trade a quarterback during draft day or after the draft or before the draft. So we do keep all our options open but right now, it’s safe to say, that’s the leader in the club house on how we would acquire a quarterback.”
(On whether Terry Pegula, a Penn State alum and major supporter of Nittany Lions athletics, has put a bug in his ear about former PSU quarterback Christian Hackenberg) Whaley: “I mean, not in my ear, but he talks about prospects all over. Not just Hackenberg, but (defensive tackle Austin) Johnson there at Penn State. He knows those guys. I’m more in his ear than he’s in mine, because he has seen those guys. He has probably followed them from recruiting all the way up to now. So I’m more in his ear than he is in mine.”
(On traits the Bills look for in a quarterback) Whaley: "I think the biggest traits that we look for are accuracy, decision-making, and ability to make people around them play better … and to lead, and to have command of not only his offense, but of the huddle. So, those are some characteristics we look for. Are they the only ones? No. I can’t give you the blueprint, but, those are some of them.”
(On whether, due to salary cap limitations, there is greater urgency to find difference-makers in the draft) Whaley: “I think every draft you have to find difference makers. Every draft you have to try to hit on as many guys as possible. If not, then you guys say, ‘Bring out those articles.’ I think the internal pressure to hit on a draft is what drives us and we’re excited about it.”
(On whether the Bills are done meeting with prospects) Whaley: “Yes. Today’s the 20th, correct? This is the last day you can bring players in. (You will not be visiting other players?) Me, personally, I will not. (Did you use your full 30 visits allowed by the NFL?) We did not. I think it was 25-26.”
(On what makes prospect visits so important) Monos: “For us, it’s been great. I think we’ve done a nice job of targeting guys we’re interested in. We don’t bring guys in just to bring them in. We really do get a chance to get to know them as people a little bit. And then our coaches really can dive into it and do some work. And they get medical attention if (there’s anything the medical staff) need to look at, so for us it’s very helpful.”
(On what positions are deepest in the draft) Monos: “Yeah, we talk about it all the time. Everybody’s saying defensive line and it is. But we feel like every position, if you’re good evaluators, you’re going to find a guy in any round. So quarterback gets labeled as a deep position. Every team’s going to be different. But we think quarterback, D-line, we do think it’s good for those this year.”
(On Rex Ryan’s involvement in the draft process) Whaley: “We’ve always looked for their input, coaching, in our process, that starts in May. After the season, we give coaches some guys to look at. We want to know from them, how do they fit, and can they learn and get to know their mental aspects and how it would translate to our team. But the thing that is encouraging when you talk to Rex Ryan and his staff, they say just get us good to great players because they transcend everything, and we can make it work. So we do look for their input, but the mandate is that you guys do what you do. Just keep bringing us good players.”
(On whether the Bills look for specific physical qualities in linebackers to fit Ryan’s defense) Whaley: “I look at it, not Rex’s defense, (but) where the game’s going. I mean, you look at our division alone. New England, well, now they’ve got the two tight ends, but they’re going to be in a lot of three- and four-wides. The Jets, their three wides is the base set, and Adam Gase in Miami, his base set is three wides. So the game is going to a more spread-out, less downhill … how many fullbacks are in the league? So those bigger-bodied guys are not going to be as heavily coveted in our division just because you’re going to be in nickel and dime a lot. We’re going to play 70 percent of the time in nickel, so we need a guy that’s quick. Now, for me, though I don’t think (Alabama’s) Reggie (Ragland’s) just a straight banger. I think he’s got a chance to play on third down. In all, just look at football in all. Those old-school MIKEs that take on the fullback and blow up guards, you’re not finding them in college. Colleges don’t do that. It’s getting fewer and fewer teams here in pros.”
(On Alabama defensive tackle Jarran Reed) Fisher: "Good player, good person. We spent time with him at the Senior Bowl, got to know him a little better. He missed a visit with us because his baby was born, but he's a solid player. I think he can help us. One of the good D-lineman that's in this draft."
(On Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch) Fisher: “Good player. I think he’s got a little ways to go, but he’s going to be a good player.”