PHOENIX – The Buffalo Bills have had an exceptionally busy offseason addressing numerous holes, with several new additions likely to be starters.
How much better does General Manager Brandon Beane feel his team became after signing 15 unrestricted free agents, 12 for an offense that struggled badly last year?
"You feel better that we answered some holes, but my nature is that I don't rest easy,” Beane told reporters Monday at the NFL meetings at the Arizona Biltmore. “And I'm still looking for ways for us to add more competition, however it be.
"Again, I say it all the time, we have conversations, this is a great spot for trades to happen. I'm not saying there's anything brewing, there's not. But if a GM approached us now that there's a guy that we thought, ‘Hey, trade this to get this player that we think is an upgrade or an added competition,’ we would still look to make that move. So I feel better, but I still think we have a ways to go.”
Although the major part of the Bills’ free-agent shopping is finished – the latest addition came with Monday’s re-signing of cornerback E.J. Gaines – Beane still has the checkbook handy.
"You never stop looking,” he said. “So if there's a guy out there that we think is a good deal and maybe was a guy that thought he was going to get a higher deal and didn't get it, and we think he fits us schematically, and obviously our culture, then we would still look to add players if it's a spot of need.”
Beane addressed a number of topics. Here are the highlights:
On whether he envisioned signing 12 free agents on offense and three on defense. “We didn't say we were going to add x-number of players, but we knew, as I said in the press conference last week, that offensively our statistics were not where you want to be and that affected our win-loss record. So we wanted to really focus on that so that when we go into the draft, we're not drafting for need, we're drafting best player available.”
On how the Bills’ free-agent moves will impact their draft strategy. “You definitely look at the draft board and see where there's areas that you go, there's a lot of depth at this position on both sides of the ball, maybe we don't need to be as aggressive in free agency. I think we were aggressive in a couple of areas and maybe we were nervous that there wasn't a lot of depth there (and said), 'Let's go ahead and handle that now so that it doesn't put the onus, if you miss those top two or three guys at a certain position, that now you're really getting down to guys that you're really not sure what kind of upgrade it is.’ ”
On re-signing Gaines. "He's an instinctual player. We lost him in free agency last year (to the Cleveland Browns), but it's good to have him back. He had a little injury in Cleveland. He was out there and we just stayed in touch with his agents and kind of worked it out for him. ... It's kind of a chance for him to show he can stay healthy and try and fight to win a starting job.”
On whether the additions of Gaines and Kevin Johnson speak to how wide open the competition is at the cornerback spot opposite Tre’Davious White. “At the end of the day, Levi (Wallace) ended the year in that spot and he did a solid job, but we're not handing jobs out. It's an open competition with all these guys and, listen, we still have the draft. We could add someone there to throw in the mix. But we feel like we've got some competent guys that have shown they can do it and I think competition is the best for everybody.”
On how difficult is it to be patient entering his third season as the Bills’ GM. “Yeah, it's hard at times because you're competitive and you want to win. But if you put a plan together, and everybody's on the same page. And I think Sean (McDermott), myself, and the Pegulas, we all are in agreement on what this plan looks like from, at least when I got here, until where we are at now. We've tried to methodically execute it. And, listen, I've made mistakes along the way and I'm probably going to make more and I appreciate Terry and Kim. That’s one of the things Terry said: ‘I can live with honest mistakes and they’re going to happen.’ And it's freeing to know that you don't have to feel like you're being judged every time you make a move and it's doesn't work out exactly the way you thought. And that's why I'm going to continue at times to be aggressive when it means to be aggressive. But we’ll follow the plan as strict as we can and, hopefully, it ends up you know where we see it trending.”
On whether the focus in free agency was to add enough talent to fuel competition in offseason workouts and training camp. “If you've got somebody that's pushing you, you're naturally going to do a little extra. We're trying to add as much competition across the board whether it was a need area or not. And that's the great thing: we've still got the draft, we've still got those picks. And even undrafted. We had guys that played that didn't even get drafted, speaking of Levi and Robert Foster. They're probably the two bigger names, but (linebacker) Corey Thompson late in the year. We'll try and add as much competition between now and the spring and, shoot, training camp, we could find a trade or something else. But we will continue to try to add at all spots.”
On the Bills’ general feelings about the NFL possibly expanding replay for officiating and changing the rules for overtime. “We’re still listening ... to the different viewpoints of coaches and GMs. We haven't had any sessions with owners yet, so I haven't heard their feelings on it. But there's a lot of debates. Everybody's trying to get it right. The problem is you fix this, but then there's the unintended consequences of this happening, pace of play games. … There's even talk about replays of maybe a personal foul should have been called. And it wasn't called, but can you replay it or not? So I don't know what the best solution is going to be. I have my thoughts and ideas, but I think there's still a lot to be worked out over the next couple days. And it could even be that maybe there's a couple of resolutions that they want to talk about and then will get voted on in May as well.”
On not addressing the defensive line in free agency outside of re-signing Jordan Phillips. “Yeah, I mean, we got some guys that are competing in there. Obviously, we brought Jordan back. And, again, there are still free agents out there that we could add. We've talked to some, but again, we're not going to sign guys that we don't think fit or really add above what we've got on the roster. So, again, we'll continue to look and we’ve got the draft as well. So that's another spot that at the right place, if there was a guy there, maybe we select him.”
On the retirement of New England Patriots tight end and Western New York native Rob Gronkowski. “If he could take (Tom) Brady with him, that’ll help. No, I mean Rob has had a heck of a career. He’s obviously been a thorn in the whole league’s side, in the AFC East and the Bills even before I got there. He's a really good player. He’s been a big part of the success that that team has had on such a run since he got there. And so you appreciate what he's done. At the same time, am I sad that he's retiring? No. We’ll welcome him back to Buffalo. We’ll have some wings for him if he wants to come watch the game.”