Brandon Beane's competitive nature is well known.
The Buffalo Bills' general manager hates to lose — which means he's been in a rather sour mood the last two months. A 2-6 start to the season has featured hard-to-watch offense, a couple terrible performances by the defense (along with plenty of good) and an injury to rookie quarterback Josh Allen. The faith of the Bills Mafia has been shaken as the team struggles to find its way in an era that offense has never been more important.
In a wide-ranging, exclusive interview with The Buffalo News, Beane shed light on his approach to the trade deadline, LeSean McCoy’s future and Allen’s season thus far. He also gave his assessment of where he sees the franchise through the midway point of his second season.
The Buffalo News: Why did you decide to stand pat at the trade deadline?
Brandon Beane: Just like last year, we fielded calls on some of our players, and it probably picked up mid last week as it was approaching. ... We were definitely looking at avenues at different positions as we were hearing names. We kind of split up, just like we do at the 53 cut, we split up teams and call guys that we have contacts with, and ask them about certain positions, certain players. … We did our due diligence on that all the way until probably 2 o'clock on Tuesday. At that point, we decided that there was no one that we were going to give up what they were asking for that player. You've got to consider what they're asking for, the price, and what contract are you taking on.
A lot of what we were being offered is guys in their last year. I don't want to give up too much for a guy I don't know I can re-sign. With our guys, we didn't shop anyone. Any of the guys that we were asked about, I spoke to those players directly and told them why we didn't move them."
BN: How would you characterize the interest in your players?
BB: There was definitely interest out there. I think there's naturally going to be interest in players on teams that are not doing as well as they hoped. At the end of the day, you have to listen — that's my job, to listen — but at the same time, we're trying to win here, not only now, but win in the future. The guys that they were asking about I felt were part of what we're still going to be doing as we build into 2019.
BN: How much of that is weighing the return another team is offering versus what that player can give you now and in the future?
BB: Yeah, you have to say, "OK, what are you going to give me for a really good player?" If it’s, "You're only going to give me a fourth-, fifth-round pick" (is it worth it). ... Guys that I would be most willing to deal would be like guys that you saw dealt, guys that were in the last year of their deal, and I'm concerned either they wouldn't be a part of the future or I don't feel like we're going to be able to get anything done after the season to extend him.
BN: You hear of "buyers" and "sellers" at the trade deadline in other professional sports. So you at least explored the possibility of bringing players in, too? The traditional buyer's role, and not seller's role, is that right?
BB: Definitely. The way I looked at it was this can be an early start on free agency. I didn't look for anyone who had an expiring contract. I think in those other sports, especially, you find it where a team's willing to do it, because, "Hey, we're not looking good for the postseason, his contract's expiring, he's not part of what we're doing moving forward." I looked at some guys that maybe teams would move that still had either another year or multiple years to be an early start to free agency, so to speak. Those were the guys we targeted. We had some conversations, but we felt like what they were asking for was too much.
BN: I want to address LeSean McCoy in particular, because of the nature of his status in the league and your roster. There have been reports that multiple teams reached out about him. Why did you feel like it was in the organization's best interest to keep LeSean, and does that mean you see him being part of your 2019 plans, as well?
BB: Definitely. That's the whole key. LeSean is still a very good player in this league. Our offense is not where we want it, but LeSean is still playing well. He's a talented player. We like what he brings, to the point we'll have him back in 2019. He'll definitely be a part of that.
BN: In regards to the quarterback position, hindsight is 20/20, but do you regret trading AJ McCarron?
BB: I don't regret (it). You don't have a crystal ball for everything. If I knew we were going to have these injuries, yeah, because he was a guy that was here for the offseason. But you can't predict (injuries) when you put the roster together. We could have a run of injuries at another position that we let a guy go who had talent, and you say, "Man, I wish we had that guy that we let go, because who we're at now in October and November is not as talented as the guy we let go then.
BN: Did AJ give you any indication that he would be either unwilling or unhappy to serve in a third quarterback role?
BB: No. At the end of the day, AJ was a pro about everything. We were in a tough spot of trying to get in the battle, so to speak. We did the best we could do to have a fair (quarterback competition). It's not easy to have a three-man quarterback battle. I don't know that we did it the best. I'm still trying to figure out what the best way to do that is, other than not have a three-way quarterback battle. The goal is to not have a three-way competition, because it's hard with the limited time. Practice is practice, games are games, but even preseason games are not regular-season games, you know what I'm saying? We didn't want to be still having a quarterback battle in the season, when it matters. You want to go with your guy, whoever wins it, and not have people looking over their shoulder.
Again, if you have a crystal ball, maybe you don't do it from an injury standpoint or things like that, but there's only so much you can replicate in a battle in preseason, not only at quarterback, but at other positions, too.
It's not easy. There are no excuses. We're not happy where we're at offensively; I think that's not a secret. But we're going to continue to work on it and try and improve the second half of the season, and then obviously in the offseason make moves to make our offense stronger.
BN: Why not make the move to bring a guy like Derek Anderson in earlier?
BB: In hindsight, I made a mistake. I should have got Derek here as quick as possible, once we let AJ go. We (traded McCarron) right as we're putting that roster together, the final 53, and you're trying to protect as many guys as you can. Some guys are not going to help you immediately at the beginning of the year. They're young players that aren't necessarily ready to play, but there is a talent there and you feel like someone else would take them from you if you exposed them. So you're weighing that balance of who you can let go. It's probably close to split, I don't know the numbers this year, but in the past of teams that keep two quarterbacks and teams that keep three. So we're trying to wait a week or two in to get Derek. We had a couple injuries, but again, I erred. I shouldn't have worried about it. I should have just got him here. I'm glad I got him here when I did, but at the same time, I'm mad at myself that I didn't get him here immediately.
BN: What have you thought of what you've seen so far on the field from Josh Allen?
BB: You know, Josh is a rookie. At the end of the day, there's plays that you really go, "Wow, that's what you want to see." And then there's plays, you go, "That's what a rookie does." We love who Josh is, his work ethic, his leadership and all those things. He's been everything we thought he would be on and off the field. It's just you can't predict how games are going to happen. There's going to be games like the Minnesota game where you saw a lot of his talent. And then there's going to be games that you see some of these other rookies face — it's the first time he's seen this kind of blitz or this coverage disguise. It looked like it was cover three and really it was quarter-quarter-half or something like that. Again, you play preseason, and people are not exotic with the blitzes and the coverages and all that stuff, so there's a lot of things that he hasn't seen.
BN: Are you confident that he'll play again this season and his injury is not going to require a surgery?
BB: Yeah, our plan is for him to play. He's progressing along, but until he's out there, you know, we can't rule anything out. But he's progressing along, and the plan right now is he will play as soon as our doctors say he's ready to go. But we also have to keep in mind, it's his right arm. That's why he's here. We can't do anything to set him back for the future, so we have to make sure we're very smart when we do put him out there that everyone feels good that he's ready to roll.
BN: For the record, is surgery off the table? Is that something that isn't being considered?
BB: It's not in the plan, but you know, there have been guys who have had to have surgery. It happens more in baseball with this injury, but there are guys in football that have had surgery, too. Again, that's not the plan. Generally, you don't have to have it, but we'll see.
BN: With Terrelle Pryor, is this a situation where you use these last eight games to see if it's a good fit for both sides moving forward?
BB: Yeah, I mean, Terrelle is a very talented athlete, a very talented player. It's not easy to go from quarterback to wide receiver at this level. You see his talent, but obviously he hasn't stuck anywhere, I'm sure, for various reasons. But we brought him in, he did well in his workout, and he's very smart. We were very impressed with his football acumen. So this gives him a chance. We're always trying to improve any position we can. Our wide receivers would be the first to tell you they're disappointed in their production, where they're at. Competition is sometimes the best thing, so I think he'll add healthy competition to the room and we'll see what it brings.
BN: Sean McDermott said this week that he's realistic about where this team is right now as it tries to get things turned around. What's your view of where this franchise is halfway through this year?
BB: We don't like our record. We wanted to win more games at the halfway point. At the same time, we've got some young guys that are getting some good experience. When you play a lot of young guys like we're playing, sometimes you do a little bit of the up and down. You're not as consistent as you want to be, but it's one of those things.
Individually, there's some guys doing some really good things. We haven't done it together all as a team to win enough. We still have a plan. We understood it was not going to be easy with the $50-plus million of dead space. That was a calculated move. ... You hope you can still win and overcome that, but at the same time, we couldn't be as aggressive in free agency or other areas to add certain players. You can't afford those contracts.
We're aware of where we're deficient. It's not a secret. But when it was the offseason, there's only so many holes you can fill as you lose players, or where you're not good enough. There's only so many draft picks we had. We couldn't sit there and just draft for need. I'm never going to do that. I don't believe in that style. We didn't walk away from the draft and free agency and say, "Man, we answered every question." We knew it was going to be hard to answer every question with all that dead money.”
BN: I sense a nervousness or an uneasiness among the fan base, maybe even an impatience, seeing where things are at the moment. How do you navigate through that? With the offense struggling the way it has, how do you keep your view on the big picture that there's going to be a light at the end of this tunnel?
BB: If you look at the teams that are playing rookie quarterbacks — and unfortunately Josh has missed the last couple weeks — but those teams are in similar boats. The positive is, these guys are getting experience. The negative is, these teams are not going to be as consistent. It's hard to play quarterback. It's the hardest position ever. It's to be expected that you're not going to be at the top echelon with a rookie quarterback. It's not that it never happens, but it rarely happens. The positive is, we've got guys getting good experience that will bode well for us in the future.
We want to win, just like they want to win, I promise you. We're putting every ounce into it. But you can't abort the plan, just because you're not winning games. You have to have a plan, and you have to stick with it. It's not all going to be good. You're going to go through tough times. That's part of what hardens you for those moments in the future that you'll look back on.
There's nothing that's happened, you know, that's shocked me or anything like that. We can't change our plan because we're 2-6. That would not make sense. It takes time. Nothing's that built to last happens quick.
BN: The NFL is an impatient league. It's been true in this organization. Front offices, coaching staffs — they don't always get a lot of time. Is that something that concerns you?
BB: No. That's part of the reason I chose to come here. Kim and Terry had a vision and they understood where this team was. Although I couldn't lay out every move that would happen, I laid out some of the things like where we were with the cap. We had some contracts we had to get out of. This team doesn't have a lot of draft picks on it in what would now be years three and four. You have to build through the draft, and it takes time. ... You can't build up a nucleus just through free agency. You've got to grow them. As much as we're in an impatient world, if you want something to last, you have to build it the right way.