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Inside the Bills

'I'm always looking:' Brandon Beane in the spotlight as trade deadline approaches

General managers around the NFL apparently didn’t get the memo that the league’s trade deadline this year doesn’t arrive until 4 p.m. Oct. 29.

There have been deals aplenty dating back to the start of the regular season, with the most recent coming Tuesday when the Jacksonville Jaguars sent cornerback Jalen Ramsey to the Los Angeles Rams for a pair of first-round draft picks.

Somewhat amazingly, that’s the third trade in the last 14 months to involve multiple first-round draft picks changing hands, joining the Bears’ acquisition of Khalil Mack from the Raiders last summer and the Texans sending two top-32 picks (as well as a second-rounder) to the Miami Dolphins on the last day of August in exchange for left tackle Laremy Tunsil.

Previously, it had been highly unusual to see a trade involving multiple first-round picks be made without a quarterback being involved. Mack’s impact on the Bears – Chicago went 12-4 to run away with the NFC North last year after he arrived – might have been the impetus for GMs to start being more aggressive.

“I think people decided, ‘OK, maybe there are some players out there that I would be willing to give more than a ‘one’ for,” Bills General Manager Brandon Beane said in a phone conversation with The Buffalo News on Thursday. “Jalen Ramsey was very good in college. Drafted high and has been a very good pro player. When you're in a seat like mine and you see some of these players that are that talented, you do have to look and say, ‘Do we have a need?’ The Rams were in the Super Bowl last year. They probably feel like they want to strike now, and I think you see that on some of these teams, they feel a player here or there of that caliber could make a big impact for them.”

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So far, Beane has resisted the temptation to really jump into the mix. The Bills did trade wide receiver Zay Jones to the Raiders last week in exchange for a 2021 fifth-round draft pick, but that was a deal that had more to do with a player who had fallen down the depth chart than anything deadline-inspired.

At 4-1, though, and with a future schedule that shows plenty of games in which they will be the favorites – starting Sunday against the Miami Dolphins – the Bills are undoubtedly a team to watch closely as said deadline approaches. If the Bills handle business against the Dolphins, they’ll head into the deadline at worst 5-2 and in a playoff spot. That’s the same record the team had in 2017 when Beane swung a deal with the Carolina Panthers for wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, sending away third- and seventh-round draft choices.

“Your record does matter,” Beane said of his approach to the deadline. “I think you saw that two years ago. … We were looking for receiver help at the time, and so we took a shot there. Sometimes you're going to take a shot and it's going to work out great, sometimes they don't all work out as you planned.

“You have to assess, can you make a run? And if you can make a run, what would hold you back? Is there a position or positions? What's out there?”

That’s what Beane and his staff are in the process of sorting out right now. Sometimes, a player’s availability reaches teams through media reports. Those reports may not always be accurate, however, meaning the player isn’t really available.

“We've been checking and talking to guys,” Beane said. “People call us about guys, whether it's on our team or guys that they're shopping. We constantly talk. We have a little thing in our computer of guys we're tracking. Certain members of our scouting staff have access to that. … You try to do a lot of this stuff under the table so it's not being leaked out on both ends, on that team's end or our end, because that could compromise that team if they're trying to win with this player right now.”

The Bills elected to stand pat at last year’s deadline, most notably choosing to hang onto running back LeSean McCoy despite a 2-6 record that all but guaranteed a second straight playoff berth wouldn’t happen. After last year’s deadline, Beane indicated that he would be hesitant to acquire a player in the final year of his contract if he wasn’t sure he could re-sign that player.

“It's not that I wouldn't do it, it's just I don't know that I'd give up a huge amount for that type of player,” Beane said Thursday when asked if his stance had changed on that in a year. “Maybe some of those discussions have happened with some of these teams (that have made trades), but for me, I would hate to give up multiple 'ones' unless I had assurance that I'm going to have the player for longer than the rest of that year.”

The acquisition of Benjamin is a good example. The Bills acquired him in the final year of his rookie contract, but as a former first-round pick, they had a team option for a fifth season.

“We gave a third in hopes that this guy was a first-round pick who was a 1,000-yard receiver his rookie year, and could we get him back to that?” Beane said. “The thought process was if he's really good and we can't afford him after his fifth-year option or he wants to choose to sign somewhere else, then we could potentially get a third- or fourth- compensatory pick back. That's part of how I looked at it.”

That never happened, of course, as Benjamin was released before the 2018 season ended. While that trade did not work out in the Bills’ favor, it hasn’t made Beane gun-shy.

“I'm always looking,” he said. “You guys know me by now. I'm aggressive by nature when I think it makes sense. We've had talks about players well before now, even though it's coming to a head with teams. I think that's part of it. I'm sure some of these deals have been talked about for weeks maybe, but as the deadline gets closer, teams feel like now is their time to strike.”

As for trading Jones, Beane called the decision to move on from a player who was a second-round draft pick in 2017 “tough.”

“Sometimes it just doesn’t work out,” Beane said. “We brought in Cole Beasley and John Brown and obviously Robert Foster had his success last year. Long story short, I just think it was one of those things where Zay wasn't getting the opportunities. I don't think it worked out for him or for us this season.

“We just felt like he would be able to, if he found a spot like with Oakland, a team that needed a receiver, that would probably be best for him and best for us. ... It's hard, it really is, because Zay's such a good kid. He put everything into it. It's not like we shipped him out of here because he wasn't our type of person or player. For whatever reason, it didn't mesh this year.”

Last year, wide receivers Amari Cooper, Josh Gordon, Golden Tate and Demaryius Thomas all moved in season, as did cornerback Eli Apple, defensive linemen Dante Fowler Jr. and Damon Harrison and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

This year, in addition to Ramsey and Tunsil, linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and cornerback Marcus Peters are some of the more noteworthy names who have already moved places.

“There's already been a lot of action,” Beane said, “Before, a lot more of these would come up to the 23rd hour, where as now, I think teams, if there is a position or a player that they're after, you're seeing them be more aggressive. Especially some of these teams that have been close or feel they are close.”

Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, Chargers running back Melvin Gordon and Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs are just some of the high-profile players who continue to be mentioned as possible trade candidates. The Bills have been mentioned as a potential landing spot for each. Less than two weeks ago, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell wrote an article with mock trades involving 10 different targets. In it, he had the Bills sending a 2020 third-round pick and running back T.J. Yeldon to the Chargers for Gordon and a 2020 fifth-round pick.

It remains to be seen if a deal like that comes to be, but some shrewd moves by Beane at the end of the summer has the team in a better position with the deadline approaching. Beane acquired three draft picks – one in the fifth round and two in the sixth – for offensive linemen Wyatt Teller and Russell Bodine before setting their 53-man roster. That gave the Bills nine picks in the upcoming draft instead of just six. Those players were likely not going to make the team anyway, so getting any sort of draft capital in return was a coup. On their own, those day-three picks won’t pry a big fish out of the trade pond, but they could be used as bait to strengthen the Bills’ offer.

“It's currency, and we're looking to acquire it when it makes sense for us,” Beane said. “You're taking into consideration when you give picks, what the value is. Then you've got to look at the types of players you can get in that round, or rounds if you're giving away multiple picks. Sometimes you do have to make the decision that this short-term gain, we really think it brings a lot of value to our team right now and can help us now and potentially later if we do re-sign him. Sometimes the difficult situation is to walk away, that this is not the right time or the right value. It’s hard.”

In 11 days (or less), we’ll know what Beane decides.



The Bills welcomed wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud back to the organization Thursday, signing him to the practice squad. McCloud, a sixth-round draft pick in 2018, was released at final cuts and claimed off waivers by Carolina.

The Panthers waived him this week, and upon clearing waivers the Bills made the move to bring McCloud back, making room on the practice squad by releasing fellow receiver Jordan Veasy.

“We’re fortunate to have him back,” coach Sean McDermott said. “He’s a guy I pulled for, even though he left here a few months ago. … We know him, he knows us. He knows the standard by which we try to do things here.”

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