Brandon Beane admits he has experienced some sleepless nights in recent weeks, as he anxiously weighs the countless scenarios in his head while preparing for his first draft as an NFL general manager.
"You think about it all the time, even when you don't want to think about it," Beane said at the Bills' recent pre-draft luncheon. "We're competitors. We want to win every pick. We want to feel like, 'Man, we got a steal in the first round.' That's natural."
Beane would be more restless if he obsessed over the historical significance of this year's draft, which is likely the most important since the Bills took Jim Kelly in the celebrated quarterback class of 1983.
"I hadn't heard that 'til you just said it," Beane said with a smile then. "Thanks, I won't be sleeping for the next 10 days."
Certainly, Beane understands the gravity of the occasion. He conceded that getting a franchise quarterback is a big part of any GM's job. The Bills have been searching for one since Kelly retired after the 1996 season. They have six picks in the first three rounds of a quarterback-rich draft.
The raging question, of course, is how much it will cost the Bills to move up for one of the acknowledged fabulous four QBs – Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen. Beane has been playing it coy all along, saying there's no guarantee he will move up to get one on Thursday night, or take any franchise quarterback.
But that's the typical posturing that comes with the NFL's annual "selection meeting." GMs are reluctant to show their hand, to seem desperate about the need to get one of the top guys. Opposing personnel guys will be looking to prey on Beane in his first draft and get him to pay through the nose to move up.
There's a great sense of unease among fans, many of whom are afraid the Bills will overpay and wind up with a quarterback who doesn't justify the investment. Others insist it's time to take a shot. All over town, in restaurants, gyms and bars, people are having the debate.
I can see the merits of both sides. But it's time to be bold, to make a move that could set the Bills up for success for the next 10-15 years. They built up all that draft capital for one clear reason: To go after a franchise quarterback in a class that some feel is the most talented since that famous group from 1983.
They can't afford to be timid, not after two decades of waiting for Kelly's successor. Keep in mind, they lost ground last year, when Doug Whaley was a lame-duck GM and Sean McDermott was in charge. They decided to move out of the 10th overall pick, passing on Deshaun Watson, who might turn out to be better than anyone in this year's class.
McDermott was praised for trading back at the time. The assumption was that the Bills would have extra currency for the QB this year. But you know how these things go: Given a year of incessant analysis, the "experts" poke holes in all the prospects. They dwell on their shortcomings, rather than their strengths. Now, the fear is giving away too much for one of them.
They poked holes in Watson, too. He slipped to the Texans at 12th overall and was having one of the best seasons ever by a rookie QB before hurting his knee midseason. Yes, the draft is an inexact science. There's risk involved. Even the guys making millions to be right whiff on picks.
But for Beane, the biggest risk is not trying at all. If you don't take a shot, you don't have a chance at the big payoff. I get the argument about filling other needs in the draft. Heaven knows, they have a lot of needs.
The quarterback is everything in the NFL. Bills fans know better than anybody how hard it is to win big with inferior play at the most vital position. They idea isn't to go 7-9, or 9-7. It's to win the Super Bowl, and history shows you generally have to have the top QBs to do it.
There have been 52 Super Bowls. In all but seven of them, one or both teams had a quarterback who is currently in the Top 10 all-time in QB rating or in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 20 Super Bowls, both teams had such a star at QB.
So spare me the talk of Trent Dilfer. Sure, every now and then a team builds an elite defense and makes a title run with an average quarterback. There are always outliers. Give me the team with a Hall of Fame quarterback and I'll take my chances for a decade or so.
Holes to fill? The Bills have filled a lot of holes over the years. They've drafted a lot of good cornerbacks, running backs and linebackers over the last 20 years. Where did it get them? They've ranked higher in the NFL in rushing than passing in 14 of the last 15 seasons. You think there's a connection?
The drought was one long, sorry chronicle of dubious quarterback decisions, going back to drafting Todd Collins in the second round as Kelly's successor in 1995. When Collins faltered, they panicked and gave a five-year, $25 million contract (big money in those days) to Rob Johnson, based on one NFL game. Johnson failed, giving us the infamous Flutie-Johnson controversy.
Tom Donahoe took over and, desperate to appease the fan base, gave the Patriots a first-rounder for a declining Drew Bledsoe in 2002. In the 2004 draft, he panicked when the Bills couldn't land any of the top quarterback prospects and traded a first-rounder to Dallas so they could draft J.P. Losman, another bust.
They've been chasing their tail ever since. Who knows what might have happened if Donahoe had traded up for Ben Roethlisberger in the '04 draft? The Bills were picking 13th, the Steelers 11th. They had to move up three spots. They stayed put and took Lee Evans. Donahoe said he couldn't find a dance partner.
Beane used that expression at the draft luncheon. He reminded us that you need to find a partner to make a deal. That's true. It's also the customary excuse when you fail to get a deal done in a pinch. It can be cover for the fact that you weren't willing to pay the price to move up for your guy. Keep it in mind Thursday.
If Donahoe had paid dearly to get Roethlisberger in 2004, I doubt anyone would have regretted the price later. Big Ben has won two Super Bowls and is likely headed to the Hall of Fame. When you're right, it's worth it. The Eagles paid a ransom to get Carson Wentz. They're not complaining.
They pay Beane to get it right. He says he's a competitor. He doesn't strike me as a guy who plays it safe. If he loves one or more of the top quarterbacks – and I get the impression he does – he has to go get him. I'm partial to Josh Rosen, but I'm not the one who's been studying these QBs for a year or more.
On Thursday, Beane will make the biggest decision of his professional life, and the biggest the Bills have made in decades. It's not a time for hesitation, but bold conviction. Shoot for the moon. Then you can sleep.