The annual pre-draft press conference held by the Buffalo Bills (and every other NFL team) is one of my favorite days of the year on the beat.
Watching how many different ways General Manager Brandon Beane – and before him Doug Whaley – can come up with ways to avoid answering questions is endlessly entertaining. Trying to decipher any clues by what is said, or even by looking at things like body language and facial expressions, is like playing detective for a day.
The big takeaway for me from this year's press conference is just how careful Beane was to not tip his hand in any way. Normally, the Bills' GM is great in interviews. He usually has thoughtful answers and rarely passes on a question. It was clear watching and listening to him Monday that Beane is fully aware of how much is at stake for the team this coming weekend.
Let's get to this week's mailbag ...
Rick McGuire asks: I’m hearing from a few sources that the Bills already have a trade in place with the Giants for the No. 2 overall pick. Do you think there’s any truth to that and if so, why wouldn’t they pull the trigger on the deal now instead of draft night? Could it depend on who Cleveland picks?
Jay: Absolutely it could. Let’s say the Giants love Southern California quarterback Sam Darnold. If the Browns take Wyoming’s Josh Allen at No. 1, then New York gets its potential quarterback at No. 2. If Cleveland takes Darnold, then maybe the Giants are comfortable trading down. Those two decisions will go a long way toward determining what happens with the Bills in their pursuit of a quarterback. Also, who are these sources?
Nick Spodaddy asks: What are the chances they look to address the tight end position?
Jay: Not great on the first two days of the draft. There are simply bigger positional needs on the roster. If the Bills trade up for a quarterback, that will significantly reduce the amount of draft capital they have. Even if they don’t, there are still other positions I would prioritize over tight end. It’s worth noting here that Beane will likely say at some point over the next week how he wanted to draft the “best player available.” That’s what every GM says. The reality is, teams have to draft for need at some point.
If I’m ranking those for the Bills this year, it goes quarterback, middle linebacker, wide receiver, cornerback, offensive line. If Beane was to use a draft pick on a tight end, he shouldn’t do it until the later rounds. With Charles Clay still on the roster, the Bills have their starter for next year. It would be nice to upgrade from Nick O’Leary as the No. 2 tight end, but that’s something the team can look at next offseason.
Rick McGuire asks: One more … let’s say the Bills do trade up with the Colts for the No. 6 pick, but they see the top four quarterbacks (Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen) all get drafted in the top five picks. If Saquon Barkley is still available at No. 6, is he too good to pass up, or would they draft Lamar Jackson or a linebacker?
Jay: The Bills shouldn’t make that trade unless they know exactly who they are moving up for. That’s why such a deal is unlikely until the night of the draft, when Beane can see who is still on the board. The case would be different moving up to No. 2. If he loves two quarterbacks, you can make that deal and just take whichever one is there.
Regarding Barkley, there is little question he will be a terrific player, but he wouldn’t make a lot of sense for the Bills with LeSean McCoy still playing at a high level.
David Burke asks: See a good possibility for 1-7 the first eight weeks?
Jay: When I did my game-by-game predictions after the schedule came out, I had the Bills starting 0-6. I didn’t think that was realistic, so I flipped it the home opener against the Chargers to a win. So I still have them getting off to a 1-5 start, so yes, 1-7 would not be a crazy prediction to me.
Side note: Please, don’t get overly worked up about record predctions at this point. Obviously, what happens at the draft will have an impact, as will the other moves Beane makes before the season starts. Like mock drafts, consider game-by-game predictions at this point to be for entertainment purposes only.
Dean Kindig asks: Right now, do the Bills most likely have a quarterback, left guard, right tackle or inside linebacker?
Jay: In order: Right tackle, left guard, quarterback, inside linebacker. Jordan Mills isn’t likely to make the Pro Bowl, but he was serviceable at right tackle last season. He’s got one year left on his contract.
I’m more confident than I guess a lot of other people are about Ryan Groy or John Miller being able to replace Richie Incognito at left guard. Both of them have plenty of experience.
AJ McCarron can start at quarterback while the Bills bring along a rookie, if that’s the plan. The coaching staff also hasn’t given up on Nathan Peterman, even if the fan base has.
Inside linebacker to me is the biggest hole on the roster in terms of not knowing who is going to start there. Tanner Vallejo, a sixth-round pick in 2017, is penciled in as the starter at the moment, but it would make plenty of sense for the Bills to use one of their two first-round picks – assuming they keep both of them – on a linebacker to run Sean McDermott’s defense.
Mike Canfield asks: Do you think there’s a bona fide chance that the Bills won’t draft a quarterback in the first round?
Jay: Yes, there’s a chance, but something will have had to go wrong. Let’s say the top four quarterbacks go off the board in the first five picks and the Bills don’t like Lamar Jackson. That means they’re probably taking a defensive player at No. 12, and banking on getting a quarterback like Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph – who they have scouted heavily – at No. 22. The problem with that plan is that the quarterback-needy teams aren’t only at the top of the draft. Take a look at all these teams that can justify taking a quarterback in the first round and pick after the Bills at No. 12: Arizona, Baltimore, Los Angeles Chargers, New England, New Orleans and Pittsburgh. All it takes is one of those teams to want Rudolph and the Bills could easily be left out in the cold.
The way to protect against that is to simply take Rudolph at No. 12. Only Beane, who has said he will stay true to his draft board and not chase a player or position, can answer whether Rudolph is that high on Buffalo’s draft board.
Bill Perry asks: Gut feel, who has final say on trading up high for quarterback? McDermott, Beane or the Pegulas? I think ending the drought buys some autonomy on this.
Jay: The Pegulas have the final say on everything. That doesn’t mean they should involve themselves in making those decisions. That’s why they have a football department.
If we remove the owners from the question, my gut feeling is that Beane would have the final say on making a trade, but that McDermott would get his way if there was a debate on a player.
Justin Bova asks: What are the chances we land Sam Darnold in the draft?
Jay: Not great. Let’s say 25 percent. The Browns could take Darnold at No. 1, but if they don’t, the Giants at No. 2 may decide he’s too good to pass on. That would be bad news for the Bills, because it would mean quarterbacks are picked 1-2-3.
If Darnold is the quarterback the Bills want, trying to swing a trade with the Giants would figure to be on the agenda. They wouldn’t want the Jets the chance to take him at No. 3. The only way Darnold would slip out of the top three would be if the Browns went with Josh Allen, the Giants went with Saquan Barkley and the Jets took Baker Mayfield.
“Fitzmagic” asks: What is the scoop with Richie Incognito and if he wants to come back do you the Bills should take him back?
Jay: Beane had very little to say about Incognito on Monday, making it clear he’s not a part of the active roster. After his recent Twitter barrage, Incognito has been quiet on social media for the past week. He has not made any public statements about his desire to play again, but at this point the Bills should say “no thanks” if he did.
Incognito was heading into the final year of his contract anyway, so the team needed to find a long-term replacement. The timeline of that decision has simply moved up.
Paul Catalano asks: Who do you believe the Bills are truly coveting quarterback wise in this draft?
Jay: Beane and Co. have done a good job keeping their desires in this regard in house. The GM even joked that he hasn’t even told his wife which quarterback he wants most.
My best guess is Darnold is No. 1 on their draft board. He strikes me as a perfect match with McDermott in terms of personality.