Brandon Beane thought he had prepared for every possible scenario in last week’s NFL Draft.
The Buffalo Bills’ general manager ran through situations where the team made both its first-round draft picks. He mapped out what it would look like to trade away one of those picks. He ran through hypotheticals that saw the Bills trade both second-round picks, keep them both or just keep one.
The one scenario Beane didn’t envision, however, is the one that played out. Seeing Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds slip down the board meant all of Beane’s planning went out the window.
“I can’t lie. I'd love to tell you that I planned that out, and I'm that good, but I didn't,” Beane said. “I thought I had every scenario, but I didn't have that one.”
In a wide-ranging interview with The Buffalo News, Beane methodically detailed the team’s approach to the draft, from working the phones in an effort to trade up to the nervous moments when he thought his quarterback might be getting away from him and then the jubilation in the war room after landing Edmunds.
When it was all over, the Bills had potential franchise cornerstones for their offense and defense.
Here’s how it happened.
The Bills learned what they were up against in the race for a quarterback on March 17. That’s the day the New York Jets traded the No. 6 overall draft pick and three second-rounders to the Indianapolis Colts for the third overall selection.
“You always know things can happen whenever, so nothing shocks me,” Beane said. “You’re like, ‘Oh, OK.’ ”
When the Jets made their trade, Beane had spent only 15 minutes in a group setting with two of the draft’s top quarterbacks. The Jets-Colts deal came only five days after the Bills had moved from No. 21 to No. 12 in a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals involving tackle Cordy Glenn.
“I didn't really know them,” he said. “We had just gotten to 12 a couple days before that. But still don't know, are we going to stay at 12? How aggressive are we going to be? Do we like one? Do we like two? I didn't know. I couldn't tell you on that day I liked three, to go up to three. If I'm going to give up the assets to do that, I had to know I liked three. If I'm going to do it before the draft, you have to. I'm not doing it on 15 minutes, you know what I'm saying? That's a major risk that I wasn't willing to do.”
The trade ended up working out for New York, which was able to select Southern California’s Sam Darnold at No. 3. At worst, he was New York’s second-ranked quarterback, and was available to them after the Giants passed on a quarterback at No. 2.
Beane inquired about moving up to the second overall pick.
“Had conversations with everybody,” he said. "(Picks) two, four and five were the main people that I talked to before the draft, just feeling them out. You know, the only move I would have made before the draft is to two, because I had to see how it unfolded.”
The Bills finalized their quarterback rankings April 13 after holding a private workout with Darnold in California. While some took that workout so close to the draft as a sign the Bills had late interest in Darnold, the reality is they had intended to have a workout with him all along. The date of Darnold's pro day prevented the Bills from having a workout with him at that time so it was rescheduled.
“On the plane ride back, I said I know my order now,” Beane said. “I didn't know at that point what the Giants were doing. I knew one and three were going to be quarterbacks. That's all I could answer at that point.”
Trade talks were quiet in the two weeks leading up to the draft.
“Because nobody was really going to move at that point without me giving up the farm,” Beane said. “And think about it: If I got to five, who am I left with? Even if I got to four, who am I left with? I didn't know what the Giants were doing at the time. I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't see what it would cost to go to two, pre-draft. In my mind, that was really the only spot I would go to before the clock started.”
Two days before the draft started, Beane realized getting to No. 2 wasn’t going to be an option.
“It was based on my knowledge – that I felt like they weren't taking a quarterback – and also what it was going to take to get there,” he said. “Now, listen, they can call me right before the draft and say, 'Hey, you know what? We want to do this. We're willing to move back for this price.' If it made sense, I would have reconsidered it.”
That call never came, and the Giants stayed put to take Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. On the day of the draft, Beane informed his staff what he expected to happen with the first three picks, all of which he had right. That meant Cleveland’s No. 4 pick was in play.
“I probably talked to John Dorsey more than anybody through the process, but we could not come to an agreement on what was fair,” Beane said.
A deal is in place
With the No. 4 pick not an option, Beane turned his attention to No. 5. He spoke three times on draft day with Broncos boss John Elway.
“I felt like, what I shared with (team owners) Terry and Kim (Pegula), is Denver's our best landing spot,” Beane said. “We were closing in on what it would cost. I was good with that.”
The Bills would trade No. 12 and No. 22 in the first round to the Broncos, along with one of their second-round picks, and get the No. 5 selection along with one of Denver’s third rounders.
“Literally about 8 o'clock, John calls me and says all right, here's what we'll do,” Beane said. “We finalized the deal, but it's contingent on his guy not being there.”
Beane had a suspicion the guy whom Elway wanted was North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb.
“But I didn't know. You never know,” he said. “Some people had said they really liked a corner, which I assume would have been (Ohio State’s Denzel) Ward if it was that, but it was Chubb.”
The Bills’ entire draft changed when the Browns selected Ward with the No. 4 pick. At first, Beane thought that was a bad thing.
“I was really nervous when Cleveland got on the clock. You've got your channels where you're getting information outside of the draft room. Somebody told me, it's down to Ward or Chubb,” he said. “Earlier in the day, people felt like they were probably going to go Chubb. That was my first four. I did say it was going to be Chubb, and we'll go to Denver. I was wrong.
“Not until they were on the clock did I get the text from somebody that said, 'Hey, Ward may go here.' I said (expletive).”
With Chubb still on the board, the trade with Denver fell through.
“I was a little bummed when Elway told me, 'Hey, this is our guy,’ ” Beane said. “I felt like what I had to offer John was better than anybody else could offer. I felt like I was bidding against myself, basically.”
Beane was convinced he needed to move ahead of Miami, which picked at No. 11, but was running out of options.
“I had already been told by Indianapolis that they're not moving. Tampa had said they really liked a guy, and they didn't think they were going to move. Chicago had told us they're probably not moving. Now we're down to San Francisco, then Oakland.
“I thought at 7, I'm getting in that gray zone. Miami can get there, Arizona now can get there. I don't want to lose him here.”
While the Broncos and then Colts were on the clock, Beane and assistant GM Joe Schoen were burning up the phone lines.
“Joe would say, ‘(the Buccaneers) want this and this,' and it included 22, and I said no,” Beane said. “It was just too much. I would have done 22 at five. I wasn't doing it there. Because I knew nobody could be offering that.”
Beane was adamant that any trade would not involve Buffalo’s first-round pick in 2019.
“That was the biggest obstacle I faced during the whole thing,” he said. “Everybody wanted next year's one leading up to the draft, and I wasn't doing it.”
With the Buccaneers still insisting on getting pick No. 22 while Indianapolis was on the clock, Beane’s attention turned to San Francisco’s pick at No. 9.
“I had just talked to John Lynch with San Francisco. He said, ‘We've got a guy, Brandon. I don't know, it would have to be pretty good to talk us out of that, unless he's gone,’ ” Beane said. “So I'm like, 'Let me see what this pick is. I was going to call him back as soon as Tampa put their pick in.' ”
Instead, the Bills’ phone rang 30 seconds after the Bucs went on the clock. Tampa General Manager Jason Licht was on the line.
“He said, ‘I'll do it for the twos, but we've got to do it right now,’ ” Beane said. “I said alright, I need another pick, though. I need a player. I don't care what it is, just give me your last pick, whatever it is. He said, ‘Alright, done.’ ”
The last pick ended up being No. 255, the penultimate selection in the entire draft.
The Bills had their guy, drafting Wyoming’s Josh Allen with the seventh pick. The team also kept No. 22, all because the Browns selected Ward.
“That was a blessing in disguise,” Beane said. “I was tight after Denver’s pick. I was trying not to show it to the room, but I was tight. Joe and I, we were very tight. I basically told everybody, ‘Just stay tuned, stay right here, and as soon as I get something, we'll act.’ We just kept working it back and forth between the two of us, ‘OK, you call them now, I'm calling them.’ ”
Past experiences had taught Beane that the unexpected could happen at any time.
“Just like last year. Nobody saw Kansas City coming up. Nobody was talking about that until about two hours before the draft,” he said. “We were at eight in Carolina last year and they were calling us. We said no, but I'm like, 'Who the heck are they trying to get?' We weren't in the quarterback market down there, so I didn't know where people had Patrick Mahomes. I mean, we had our grade on him, but we didn't do enough research on him.
“You don't know who's out there laying in the weeds that's going to make a big jump. You've got to be wary of that, because if they jump you, you lose out.”
As it turned out, the Chiefs traded with the Bills for the 10th pick, with the deal including the Chiefs' first-round pick this year.
Worth the price
The one thing Beane is hesitant to talk about is how he had the quarterbacks ranked. Asked where Allen was on that list, the GM smiles widely and says simply, “I really like him.”
That’s why he was fine with overpaying when weighed against commonly referenced draft pick trade value charts.
“Can I ask you a question? What did Philly pay for Carson Wentz,” Beane asked. “The point is, if you get your guy, then nobody will ever care. It's about getting the guy. You can't worry about that stuff.”
That’s particularly true, Beane says, when it comes to a first-round quarterback.
The charts are “a starting point. There's so many variables. Every team has variations of their own chart,” Beane said. “Nowadays, there's so many websites out there, footballjunkie.com – and I'm just making that up – but there could be just some guy who really doesn't know anything, who's writing it. What did they put into that chart that says it's legit value?
“I'm obviously biased because I made the move, but for us to get a quarterback in Round One, move up, and still save 22 – I didn't see that scenario happening with all the teams that were hungry for a quarterback. I thought it was a good win for us. Would I have liked to keep my twos? Hell yeah, but you don't want to outsmart yourself. If teams had bid up and jumped me, and you don't get one, I probably wouldn't have slept from that night until now.”
The selection of Allen was the culmination of a year’s worth of work.
“We put in a lot of time, energy, effort, sleepless nights,” Beane said. “I can't tell you how many times I've watched these guys. You see their highlights, and I go, ‘I know what's happening here. It doesn't matter, what team, what the score was, whatever, I've seen it over and over and over.’ There's a lot of emotion invested in that. So we thought that was the right move for our team.”
That’s why Beane doesn’t concern himself with the negative reaction among some of the team’s fans to Allen’s selection.
“I think what's come with social media and all the draft coverage is that all the stats get plastered out there,” he said. “I said it on the radio show the other day ... one of the guys said something about Josh Allen being raw. I went into a thing like, raw came from a national pundit. They labeled these guys as different things. Some of them I agreed with, some of them I did not.”
Another move up
With Allen in the fold, the Bills watched – and watched – as Edmunds slid down the board. By the time it got to pick No. 14, Beane made his move.
“As soon as 13 picked and it wasn't him, we did call Green Bay,” he said. “What's it going to take? I didn't make that call, because I didn't want to get people's hopes up.”
The Packers did make a trade, but it was with New Orleans, which sent its 2019 first-round pick to Green Bay. The Saints chose Texas-San Antonio defensive end Marcus Davenport.
Oakland wasn’t willing to move the 15th pick, which led Beane to Baltimore. With his second-round picks gone, the Bills’ GM didn’t have a lot of bargaining power when he made the call to Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome.
“I said, ‘Ozzie, this is what it would be. I can't forfeit any more picks, but I'll do it if my guy's there,’ ” Beane said. “He called back, and there was no negotiating. He said, ‘We'll do it.’ ”
Once the Raiders took offensive tackle Kolton Miller at No. 15, the Bills made their move for Edmunds, trading the No. 22 selection in the first round and the first pick of the third round, No. 65 overall, to Baltimore for the 16th overall pick and a fifth-rounder, No. 154.
"He was sticking out on our board, and it's a need,” Beane said. “If a guy is sticking out on our board, and it's really not a need, you might not do it. But with the hole we had there, and where he was on our board, it was a no-brainer. Even if we could have got to 14, we would have done it.”
After the card with Edmunds’ name was turned in, Beane could finally take a deep breath and reflect on what had gone down.
“It was funny. I was very excited about getting Josh at 7. I was fine with what we gave up. We got a guy that we believe in that warranted that pick,” he said. “So you get over that, and I thought the room was very professional, calculated.
“We got our guy, but let's get back to business. We've got another pick here. Let's focus. When we got Edmunds, man, what just happened in the last hour? Listen, he'll have to define his career and all that, but from where we had him on our board, to filling a need, it couldn't have fell any better."