Opening Statement: First off, before you guys ask, I want to quickly thank Joe Schoen, Malik Boyd, Kevin Meganck, and Jim Overdorf. Those guys did a heck of a job for us; this thing happens fast. And all of our pro scouts did a heck of a job. They start back in November, December evaluating all these guys and there are so many free agents. I can’t watch them all, Joe can’t watch them all, even Malik can’t watch them all – we’ve got to split it up. It’s a group effort, and we had a week and a half of meetings back after the Senior Bowl going through these guys to help us set our table. You’re kind of setting your own draft board for free agency. It helped us make the moves we did, because it happens fast, and if you’re not ready, you can jump on the wrong guy. So, again, before you guys got started, I wanted to thank all those guys for what they did.
Q: So Brandon, the quarterback piece in its entirety, can you start with: you trade away Tyrod [Taylor] and what you got for that, and then the process that led to AJ McCarron coming aboard and how you see the whole picture.
A: First off, [in regards to] Tyrod, I really hope that’s a great situation for him. I will root for Tyrod the rest of his career other than when he’s playing the Bills. I think he’s in a good spot. In my conversations with John Dorsey, they were super excited for what he is going to bring and I thought it was important for us to be fair to him and put him in a spot that they were going to surround him with talent. I just want to say publicly, thanks to Tyrod for his efforts here and we wish him the best. Second question was, AJ McCarron - we did a whole look on these guys that were out there as free agents and we looked on a lot of different areas, but we took it slow. I know everybody was jumping on guys quick. I went with the more methodical, ‘let’s make the right decision’ [approach], ‘let’s not get into chase mode’ and I actually spoke to Hue Jackson the night before we signed him. [I] texted with two other coaches of his that I know and the one word that they told me about AJ that got me fired up was ‘competitor’ and I love that. This guy has an edge to him, he’s been backing up Andy Dalton who’s their franchise guy. He filled in, I believe, four games [and] should’ve won a playoff game. They had an unfortunate fumble, but they were down 15 [to] nothing in the fourth and he brought them back [and] made a big through to A.J. Green. We watched every throw of his and what he did and thought he did some real good things. [We] thought he had upside and that’s what he’ll do; he’ll come in here. We’ve got him and Nathan [Peterman] right now on the roster, and those two guys will compete. We’ll see what else happens between now and that first game.
Q: With all those quarterbacks flying off the board, was there some nervousness knowing that you targeted this guy? Was there a little bit of - you played it methodical [and] it worked out, but we’re you starting to wonder [if] you made a mistake there?
A: No, because we put values on every player. I reminded my guys the night before this started over a text, I was basically reminding them to jump me if I start chasing someone. [I told them] ‘you be my checks and balances,’ and we put values and ranges [on free agents]: this is probably where the floor [that] he’s going to be, this is the max we’re willing to pay on this guy. Again, we talked, we looked, we researched the market. Sometimes you’re calling on a guy that you think is going to be a similar value, you don’t really want him for whatever reason, culture, what you’re looking for for your offense, but you call just to gauge the market. [You do that] just to see where you’re going to have to be on the guy that you’re targeting. We did a lot of that. Again, we took the slow, methodical approach, and we had our reasons for that. I’m thrilled with getting AJ here, and [I’m] excited for his opportunity to show what he can do.
Q: Brandon, you said that we’ll see what else happens and the big elephant in the room is the draft and how you set yourself up. The conventional wisdom has you guys even possibly moving up further. What are your thoughts? What do you say about your thoughts approaching the draft and the quarterback issue?
A: Well, again, it’s the same as I’ve said all along: we’ve done our recon on all positions, we’re still doing it. I’ve kind of, after Indy, refocused on free agency, so I kind of put a ‘stiff arm’ to the draft for a little bit. Now that we’ve spent our money, it’s about 100 percent back on the draft for the most part. Again, I have yet, I think I told you guys in Indy, I have yet - I’ve met them all, I have done that, but some of them for 15 minutes. That’s obviously not enough for me to even draft a guy at 12, or I know everyone assumes that we’re going higher than 12; 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.
Q: How do you handle, like you just talked about, the assumptions that a lot of us have about how you’re going to approach the draft at QB in your conversation with AJ McCarron and the immediate label that he’s getting as the ‘bridge’ so on and so forth? How is that handled in those discussions, aside from the money?
A: I heard that word yesterday, everybody is talking about the ‘bridge’. I don’t look at AJ as a ‘bridge’; the ‘bridge’ isn’t in my vocabulary. This is a chance for AJ to come in and compete, and that’s to showcase what he’s got and compete. Nothing’s being given here for any position that we have. That’s the way that Sean [McDermott] and I believe it should be. AJ is not playing behind an established person; he was playing behind an established Andy Dalton there. This is a different scenario for him. He felt like this was a good opportunity for him to come in and win a job. We felt like this was a good opportunity for him to showcase his talents, so that’s where the marriage, so to speak, came.
Q: Brandon, can you talk more specifically about the trade with Cincinnati to move up to [draft pick] 12, how that all came to pass, the philosophy, and how you feel about where you’re at in terms of draft assets?
A: Well, I never have enough assets. Listen, it was a win-win. Dion [Dawkins] played well for us last year. Cordy [Glenn] had an unfortunate year, and that was Sean and I’s limited exposure to him; I’d seen him on tape, obviously, and he’s a good player. Cincinnati let [Andrew] Whitworth go, I mean, they didn’t mean to, but he got paid in L.A. and I think they felt that they needed to strengthen up their left tackle spot and so we started conversations, and it worked out. We figured out the value, I set the value of: it’s going to take this to get him. We worked it out and they accepted it.
Q: How much better do you feel about being at 12 and 22 as opposed to 21 and 22? I mean it seems to put you in a much more favorable position to do what many assume you’re going to try and do.
A: I mean, yeah, listen, I know everybody assumes [that] we’re going higher, [but] I don’t know that. 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. 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. At the end of the day, we’re going to get a better player. That’s a second round value that you move from 21 to 12, and there’s a reason for that. You’re getting a player that should be of a little bit more value.
Q: Brandon, it seemed pretty obvious about who you brought in: you brought back Kyle [Williams] and you brought in the two defensive lineman. Clearly, you and Sean looked at the defense last year and knew you needed some upgrades up front. Is that the process that you went through and thought ‘that’s an area that we need to get better in’?
A: I think you saw how we did in Carolina: we believe that’s the way it works. I want to be strong up front and Sean does as well. Our staff all understands what we’re looking for. We’re looking to protect on the offensive line and wreak havoc on the defensive line. That was the moves with Star [Lotulelei] and adding Trent Murphy.
Q: Brandon, can you give us an update on mainly two free agents: Preston Brown and E.J. Gaines, and anyone else if you want? There was a report that you guys had an offer for Preston and just seeing where that goes.
A: Yeah, I’m not going to get into too deep of what’s offered and what’s not. We’re still talking with a lot of guys, including them. We would love to have them back, but other than that, until something’s done, that’s really where it’s at.
Q: Just to clarify what you said earlier, you said ‘we spent our money, we’re 100 percent back in the draft’. Is that just the quarterback or is that the entire roster?
A: No, I mean, we’re very low on money. We can do some lower level things, but nothing that’s going to hit the ticker.
Q: Can you pinpoint close to where you’re at? It’s confusing to look at the different websites. Roughly, where are you at as far as your salary cap space?
A: Well, we have to save money for the draft picks and I like to be conservative with the injury replacement costs when you get guys injured starting in camp and through the year. You’ve got to have money to replace those guys. I like to have a nest egg [of money] back there. We’ve got, in my mind of free agency money, we’ve got a little bit left, but it’s not much.
Q: Are you surprised at sort of how slow the free agent market has developed for some of your own guys? You’ve got a lot of guys out there, we mentioned two, but a bunch. Any surprise with how slow it’s developed and does that encourage the possibility that you can be at a better position [with those free agents] at the right number to bring some of these guys back?
A: Yeah, you never know. It’s musical chairs for the teams and the free agents, really. Teams are nervous that the holes they got that they’re not going to get a guy in those seats. The agents, when you talk to them, they’re trying to see what’s real and what’s not. There’s a lot of chess, so to speak, [and] cat-and-mouse games that go on of people throwing out ranges, but maybe they’re not really the range. That’s why you’ve got to put your value on them. I don’t want to get into whether I’m surprised or not. I think at the end of the day, the people that are still out there haven’t found the right fit for them, and if it works out for them to come back here, great, if not….
Q: Big picture approach to what you’ve done in free agency, the defensive concentration, the d-line concentration especially, would you walk through how you approached that, how you saw that before you set out into free agency? What you were looking to go after and how you feel you addressed those positions? Just a bit of a breakdown.
A: I think what we definitely wanted to do was to build it up front. There’s other guys that we didn’t get that we looked into, because sometimes you want a guy, and at the last minute he signs with his own team, so he’s off the market. Or you’re hearing from the agent, ‘hey, it’s going to be here’ and we can’t get there, that’s not where our value is. We did that at all positions; there’s positions we didn’t fill that we would’ve liked to fill to be quite honest. We felt like we were getting into chase mode or whatever reason, a guy signed back with his team or already had something going with another team that was too far down the road for us to get in. Again, I go back [to the fact that] we wanted to be strong up front and I think we’ve taken another step. We’re not there; we’re still building it.
Q: And it’s not a negative for Jerry Hughes or Shaq Lawson that you got Trent Murphy. You see it as one thing. Those two guys - no one should read into -
A: No. I would love to have eight guys that were all Pro Bowlers on that front. I know that’s not really possibly, but I believe in waves of those d-line and Sean does as well. That’s the concept of these signings.
Q: Brandon, are you comfortable at wide receiver when you said you kind of exhausted free agency? Are you comfortable at what you’ve got at wide receiver? Some thought that might be something you’d address in free agency.
A: I never say I’m comfortable. Again, I could walk out with a Pro Bowl roster and I’m not comfortable. I’m always looking for ways for us to get better. Twelve months, all 12 months we’re looking. We’ll continue to look in a lot of areas, including wide receiver. Again, we’re always looking for what makes sense for fit and value, and we didn’t find that. We still have the draft and if you remember, that position specifically, a couple guys came open in May last year. You never know; we’ll still look to build on a lot of spots, including wide receiver.
Q: No matter what happens on who might end up liking I your interviews at quarterback, is quarterback a position you’d prefer addressing, one that you feel you need to address in the draft at this moment as you stand here, no matter who that guy might be?
A: That’s a complex question. Listen, I’m looking for good football players. If we find a quarterback that’s a guy that we think is undeniably a franchise quarterback and he falls in our lap, yes, we’d take him. If we’re sitting there at 12 and there’s a guy that falls to us that we’re like, ‘wow, we thought this guy was going top five and he’s a game changer’, we’d be happy to take him, too.
Q: Are you comfortable with just AJ and Nathan then at this point?
A: You missed my last [answer]: you’re never going to hear me say [that] I’m comfortable. I’m always looking; that’s really as deep as I can go. In the area, anytime, if you call me in July, I may be on vacation, but I’m still - I’m not comfortable.
Q: Brandon, you’re talking about guys falling to you, but you’re obviously in a position to make a move up. I mean, how much are you entertaining thoughts of [doing] that? It seems pretty clear to everyone that you’ve put yourself in a strong position to make that move and is there a quarterback out there that you think would warrant that?
A: Well, again, there’s a few of these guys, thinking of quarterbacks, that I’ve only spent 15 minutes with. I wouldn’t even take them at 12 without spending more time, if that makes sense. I’m not there yet. Free agency is pretty much done. I’ve got six weeks left to figure that part out, which is where I’m at. I’m going to be methodical about it, and I know everybody is ready to race to the answer. I’m excited I’ve got six weeks; I’m looking forward to it, believe it or not.
Q: Brandon, along those same lines, with only spending 15 minutes with some of these guys face to face, how long does it take, in your experience, to get comfortable with finding out who these people are and if they’re right for you?
A: Well, it’s limited experience, going back to when we got Cam [Newton] and I wasn’t in this position. A lot of what we did was, I wasn’t necessarily in everything, hearing some of it, so I understood what we did, but I was touching everything that we did. This is the first time [that I will] through run in every single piece of it. I’ll visit will all the quarterbacks, most of the people that you guys know about that would be considered, and I’ll make sure that, by the time I’m done visiting, I’ll have a good enough feel of if this person fits what we’re looking for wherever in the draft.
Q: On the offensive line, what went into keeping Richie [Incognito] around this season and also what is the lasted on Eric Wood?
A: We’re glad that Richie is still going to be here and [he] came off a Pro Bowl year. He’ll bring some leadership for us with Wood’s departure. We’re still leaving him in that category; [he’s] still on the roster. It’s on my back burner right now, still. That’s pretty much where it’s at.
Q: Could that last until June?
A: It could; I don’t have a time table yet. I’m focused on the draft.