Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott met with the media on Monday on the first day of the team’s OTAs to discuss the returning players and answer questions about the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft. Richie Incognito’s sudden retirement, Zay Jones’ bizarre altercation with his brother and himself, and other topics make it into the transcript, as well.
Below is the transcript of the press conference but you can see the full half hour back and forth here.
Q: Before we get to the draft, can you guys comment on just the last week with Richie [Incognito] and that situation?
Beane: You know, [I’m] not really going to get into details. Richie is on the reserved/retired list, which is not a part of our 90-man roster. That’s really where we’re at.
Q: For any player, not just Richie, if someone is on the reserved list and they decided they wanted to come back to football, what would be that process?
Beane: They have to request through the commissioner to be reinstated. It’s kind of like the Anquan Boldin thing, if you guys remember; he was on the reserved/retired list. He would have to be reinstated.
Q: He said he contacted you and Sean and [Bills owner] Terry [Pegula] about his retirement. What do you just make of the tweets and the social media stuff that has come out?
Beane: I don’t think it’s really the time to get into it; let’s leave it as is and, really, Sean and I would like to focus on ... any draft questions that you’ve got or the players that are here on the 90-man [roster].
Q: Sean, can you tell me what your message was to this team? I remember late last year, shortly after the regular season, you had discussed about [how] there’s a lot of holes that needed to be filled here. You guys were by no means there, so to speak.
McDermott: Yeah, I think really the biggest thing we tried to cover was, other than normal logistics and what-not the first day, was just really, the reality of our situation is such that eight of the twelve teams that made the playoffs in 2016 didn’t make the playoffs in 2017. We have to turn the page from what happened last year and understand that this is a new team; it’s a new year, new personalities, and so we’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ve got a long way to go; that really hasn’t changed. We’re excited about the guys that we’ve added to the roster and the work that, apparently, has been put in since the players have left us X amount of months ago. Really, we’ve got to earn the right, and that starts today.
Q: There’s also a new set of problems or holes, whatever, because you’ve had some players leave that maybe weren’t as expected when you ended last season. Obviously Richie, Eric Wood, you made a trade at quarterback, so there’s a different set of circumstances than when you walked in.
McDermott: Yeah, every year’s different in the NFL - that’s our league, right? Every team is different, so you’ve really got to start over day one, and that’s what we’re here to do today. Our players worked extremely hard, it appeared, in and out of the meeting rooms and the coaches were prepared and the staff was ready to go all the way up and down the board. My hat goes off to the team, here, and that’s not just the players and coaches, but everyone in this building that was ready to go from the first minute that the players walked in this morning.
Q: Brandon, is your draft board set pretty much at this point and how much wiggle room is there between now and then, and in particular at quarterback?
Beane: Yeah, I mean, we haven’t finalized every position, but we’re pretty close. I’d say we have it down to some clumps, maybe you’ve got several DBs in the third round, I’m just making this up but, that were ‘okay, if we got into the third round and you’ve got these three corners and they’re all close’, anybody like that, we’re just kind of going back and watching film. If they were all three there and they were the best players on the board, which one would you go first, which one would you go second, which one would you go third? So we’ve got them close to where their final resting place will be, so to speak, but that’s kind of what we’re doing now. Scouts are here, and we’re basically going around [and] trying to settle some arguments in the room of how each of us sees these guys.
Q: Quarterback holds true to what you’re talking about?
Beane: Yeah, I mean, were pretty close there, but nothing’s finalized at this point.
Q: How important is it to get your franchise quarterback now?
Beane: You’ve got to have a franchise quarterback. That’s one of the main jobs of a GM is to find a franchise quarterback, it’s a quarterback league, I’ll say it every single time. You have to have one.
Q: How often do you field that question? At Wegmans, the grocery store, how often are you asked [about] drafting a quarterback and who’s it going to be? How often do you field that?
Beane: When I go home, every day.
McDermott: Did I hear you say Wegmans? Is that what you said? [laughing]
Beane: Yeah, I mean, that’s why you love this fan-base is the passion. I get it, I respect it. Some of the conversations, some of the comments, they’re not even necessarily asking for my opinion, they’re just giving me there’s. I know Sean gets it, [Bills VP of Communications Derek] Boyko gets it, he’s a PR guy. Everybody gets it, and I like that. People care, that’s all you can ask for. I get the question; it’s fair and until we can stand here and say it’s somebody that we currently have on our roster or somebody who’s not on our roster, we’re going to get that question, and that’s fair.
Q: Could you deem this draft a success if you did not come out with a franchise quarterback?
Beane: There’s a lot of good players in this draft and that was the big thing from moving from 21 to 12. The natural assumption, I get it, is ‘they’re moving up to get a quarterback,’ yada-yada. No, we improved our draft position. That was a second-round value jump to go from 21 to 12. We’re excited about where that moves us on our draft board, the players that we see would be available there.
Q: Brandon and Sean, given what’s happened on your offensive line, you’ve lost three really good players, two by retirement and you traded Cordy [Glenn], did that, what’s happened the last two months at that position, alter any of the thinking as you go into the draft? In January, you weren’t thinking that you’d have to replace three starting offensive linemen. Did that change anything in regards to your draft strategy?
Beane: Not to our draft strategy, no. There’s all sorts of surprises that happen. I can’t say that Sean or I had an idea that those three changes would all happen when we walked off the field in Jacksonville, but you’re constantly having to adapt and adjust. I kind of categorize it, maybe crazy like, okay, we lost that player, it’s like a guy going down for injury, what’s our next best avenue? Who’s out there? We’re always going to continue to try and fill those roles. We tried to do some things in the draft, we brought in Marshall Newhouse and Russell Bodine, so we did fill a couple of those. We got some guys on the roster that we’re happy with, and we’ve got the draft, and, I think I mentioned this before, there will be guys that will come after the draft. Teams will draft players and say, ‘you know what, I feel better about this position, I’m going to go with this young guy, and I’m going to let a veteran go’. We don’t play meaningful football until September, and our job is to make sure we have the best 53-man roster after the last preseason game.
Q: When it comes to a guy like Josh Allen specifically, but even players like him, when you look at completion percentage when comparing the guys he had around him, how do you weigh that? You want to make sure you get it right, but it wasn’t at the same level, wasn’t necessarily thrown to the right talent. Just kind of how do you weigh that, particularly the numbers and things like that with the talent around him?
Beane: Yeah, I don’t want to get into specifics about each person, because I think that’s a dangerous road, but, to your point, there’s a lot that goes into evaluating college quarterbacks. It is a much harder job than evaluating pro quarterbacks with the systems, the talent level. You’ve got some teams that are all spreads, some conferences play great defense, some don’t. You’ve got all sorts of things that you have to weigh in there. Those are all part of it, but there’s no one factor or anything like that that’s more important.
Q: Last year, you guys were confident about the big picture, building the right way. It was a general thing, not necessarily looking at the record. Do you subscribe to the idea, that sometimes perhaps, you might have to take a step back in order to move forward, or is it- it doesn’t seem like it’s always a straight, linear line so to speak?
Beane: I’d love for it to be that, but it doesn’t always happen that way. The thing we’re trying to do, we’re trying to get better every year. We had nine wins this year, [and] we’re trying to get more, but it doesn’t always happen for various reasons. It’s a competitive league. Sean said it earlier: this is a new team, we’re zero and zero. We haven’t had the draft yet, [and] we’ve got nine picks, which I’m excited about. I think he is, hopefully he’s still excited about the draft. That’s kind of our mindset is [that] we’re always looking to get the right type of fit. Nothing’s changed from even before I got here to what Sean said; that’s where we’re so aligned. We want talented players, but it’s got to be a fit for the team. That still holds true as we sit here today.
Q: Sean, what about your voice when it comes to this defense, which needs a lot of work, and a lot of improvement? How much of that is being heard, or at least you’re voicing it in pre-draft meetings about how you need to fix a lot of those defensive spots?
McDermott: I think we’ve added some players on the defensive side of the ball: Star [Lotulelei], to name one, and then the other guys we’ve added as well. You look at our cornerback situation, what it was versus what it is now. What it was before free agency versus what it is now, even before Vontae [Davis] and everything. We’ve added some pieces; we’ve certainly lost some pieces, too. That’s natural in this league, as I mentioned earlier. Brandon and his staff has done a really good job of staying on top of who’s available out there. We added Tenny [Palepoi] just today, or the end of the weekend last week. We’re always looking to improve our roster every way we can, and that’s the great part of Brandon; he knows it’s not where it needs to be. He’s always trying to find a way to improve it, him and his staff, and I think they’ve done a phenomenal job to this point. Our defensive staff, I really like the work they put in this offseason and also the offensive staff and special teams. The coaches have been hard at work finding out and building on what worked and didn’t work and then trying to improve what we’re doing systematically and schematically as well.
Q: So are you satisfied that free agency has addressed enough of those needs that, I’m not saying that you’re not going to draft defensive players, but it’s less of a priority in your mind?
McDermott: Well, I don’t think we look at it that way. We look at it as adding players that can help our football team in different ways and certain guys will hold different roles and those roles will be defined as we move forward at the right time. Right now, it’s about these guys competing and competing at a high level with one another. It’s not about other teams; it’s about us getting better and our building every day. The work that our players, our coaching staff, our strength staff, our medical staff, our equipment staff, the work that those guys have put in to prepare ourselves for today, again, I can’t say how much I appreciate it, how much we appreciate it. It’s going to position us to put the work in moving forward at the same time. We’ve got a lot of work to do, this is a process as you’ve heard me say before. We started a year ago, or just over a year ago, and you saw us build a team. We’re back in the market of building the team again, and certainly we want to continue to add talent. I’m not one that’s going to turn down good football players.
Q: Are you satisfied with the Zay Jones situation? I’m sure you talked to him when you got back, but are you satisfied with what where that situation is right now?
McDermott: Yeah, we did have some communication with Zay when we got back and to this point, we are satisfied with where that is. The biggest thing right now is where we go moving forward and how we handle our business moving forward. Listen, people go through situations and, like I said before, I was disappointed. The biggest thing is that we were able to talk about it and come to a point where we all agree we need to move forward. I’m excited about the future for Zay.
Q: Brandon, how much do you and your staff do mock draft exercises essentially, with different scenarios and stuff like that?
Beane: Yeah, we do do that and what we’ll try to do... that’ll probably be Monday before the draft next week. We’ll sit there and just go through it, and that’ll be each other’s job to throw up scenarios that are legit and real and we’ll debate them in the room, you know, ‘which way are you going’? We’ll actually do some actual mocks; I’ll assign some guys, ‘hey, you’re the Browns, you’re the Giants, you’re the Jets [and] down the line’. Who would you choose based on their needs and what you’re hearing out there, the ‘chatter’ so to speak, just to basically give yourself those scenarios. We’ll do that through the first couple rounds, so 12, 22, 53, 56….
Q: Brandon, did you say that you’re close on a quarterback? Could you elaborate on that? Does that mean you’re close to separating one guy?
Beane: I think just ordering them. When I say close, just ordering them how we would select them if all of them were there; if we were the Cleveland Browns at one, what the order would be.
Q: Coach, Jeremy Kerley, what attracted you to making an addition, number one, and then is it a good bill of health for Kelvin Benjamin coming in today?
McDermott: Yeah, with Jeremy we were able to add Jeremy over the weekend. He came in and worked out Friday, I believe it was, Thursday or Friday; Thursday, maybe. So, did a good job and we were able to add him. He’s a guy that I’ve gone up against in terms of coaching against him. I know what he brought to the table from a wide receiver position. He’s a veteran player, also adds some return ability. [I] thought it was a good signing for us, and again, my hat goes off to Brandon and his staff identifying Jeremy out there. Then Kelvin, yeah, he came in and he looks like he’s ready to go. Like the rest of our offensive players, getting familiar with a new scheme, the new system, so that was exciting. It was good to see today as we move forward as an offense, too.
Q: Is Zay 100%?
McDermott: Not quite 100%, but he’s working like some of the other players. We do have some guys that are still working, rehabbing, Zay being one of them.
Q: For Brandon, in regards to Kelvin, what kinds of discussions are you having in terms of a new contract with him?
Beane: Well, we don’t really get into discussions or anything. Right now, we’re happy he’s here and showed up and was out there working with everybody else. That’s really where it’s at. The focus right now is on the draft.
Q: Brandon, what’s the process for actually making a trade on draft day? Do you have certain teams on speed dial? Is it a text message, phone call to the GMs? What do you actually do to trade up?
Beane: It varies. If I have a really good relationship with the GM or somebody high up there, I might text or call them directly. If Sean does, or Joe Schoen or Terrance Gray, one of the guys that’s done a lot of the work and the leadership in the room, if he’s really, ‘hey check with him, tell him we’re interested in this or see if they’re interested in that’, that’s generally how it would start. Then if it leads to, ‘hey, there is an interest’, then I would get on with the GM.
Q: Brandon, this is your first draft. Are there anxious moments? I have this vision of a boxer inching towards his fight. Have you lost sleep? You’ve probably played a million different scenarios in your head. All it takes is one trade or something to blow the whole thing to smithereens, anyway.
Beane: No, you’re spot on. You think about it all the time, even when you don’t want to think about it. We’re competitors, and you want to win every pick. You want to feel like, ‘man, we got a steal in the first round’. That’s natural. Can’t always say that it happens that way. There’s different things that have been in my head. I’m sure he [McDermott] has probably the same thing in his head; guys that he’s looked at... ‘man, that would be a great fit for us’.
Q: In your situation, this is your first time really as the head guy.
Beane: Yeah, you’re right. That’s spot on, that’s very accurate. Until it gets here, you’re right, all you can do is be anxious, do the work. I feel good about the work and if you do the work, generally, it should fall in place.
Q: How much fun is that for you though? I think there’s a million, or I’m sure, people out there that would say, ‘man, if I was running that draft, here’s what I would do’. You actually get to be the guy to do that.
Beane: Yeah, I mean, listen, I’m a competitor. I love it. I love my job. I love everything about it. This is huge. This is where my staff and I show that we’ve done the work and we’re competent people. Our job, my job at the end of the day is to give this guy [McDermott] the resources to lead the team and his coaches to produce on the field. If I do my job, it helps him do his. If I don’t, that’s when I lose sleep; I feel like I’ve let him down.
Q: Sean, knowing how critical continuity is to an offensive line, just given the situation where there is a lot of people, how can you, at this stage of the offseason, sort of plotting for that? The conversations that you’ve had with Ryan [Groy], with Juan [Castillo] and the approach knowing that it’s a very different set of circumstances-
McDermott: There is something to be said for continuity, I just know that’s hard to say every year at every position. It just so happens we’ve had some guys come and go at the offensive line position, to name one. That said, you mentioned one of them, Ryan Groy, the leadership he has shown, and we haven’t been together very long now, it’s been a day, but even previous to today, the leadership he’s shown, the leadership Jordan Mills has shown, Dion Dawkins, even for a young guy. These guys are stepping up, and that’s what you want to see. They understand what’s at stake; they understand [that] there’s an opportunity, as well, for them to step up, and increase their leadership influence. I’ve been nothing but impressed with how they’ve handled things.
Q: Brandon, how do you take into account, and this is just wild speculation, how it changes from week to week and even day to day, one day you’re trading with the Giants and it’s a lock, next day you’re trading into the sixth spot. One day you’re picking this guy. Have you paid attention at all to the speculation, the wild speculation that’s out there and what do you make of it?
Beane: Yeah, I mean that’s a fair question, but you can’t. There’s so much chatter out there. The last thing I want to do is be swayed by anything from the outside. Again, I get it, fair question, but no, I don’t listen to it.
Q: Brandon, in terms of finding a middle linebacker in this particular class, have you found it might not be a great draft for that specific position, because you have that need, it looks like, on your roster? When you look at the draft class, is that going to be a tough one to fill, maybe?
Beane: You know, I don’t know. That’s a tough question without giving up competitively what I think of that position group in the draft. We do understand and do realize that Preston [Brown] was our starter all year and is not here. I get it. You’d love to come out of here with a guy you felt good with that can do that, but even if we don’t, I mentioned earlier, we don’t play meaningful football until September. We’ll find an answer.
Q: Brandon, how much sleep do you lose when you hear people say that this is the Bills most important draft since they took Jim Kelly?
Beane: I hadn’t heard that until you just said it.
Q: I just made it up.
McDermott: [Laughs] That’s on the record.
Beane: [Laughing] Thanks, I won’t be sleeping for the next ten days. No, I mean, listen, every draft, I take this as no different. I get it. I really do, but we’re at 12, and I don’t know what’s going to be there at 12. I don’t know what quarterback will be there, I don’t know if we’re going up, going down. That’s really how it is as I sit there. I know everybody assumes we’re trading up. First of all, I said it before, even if I wanted to trade up right now, even if I said ‘I know the guy I want to get, and I need to get to this spot’, it takes a partner to do it and be willing to move out. Again, I think I’ll lose sleep every year going into the draft because you’re always going to have holes, you’re always going to want to make your roster more competitive and better. That’s the thing; we want to find the best football players we can to help us in 2018 and beyond. That’s the vision.
Q: It’s draft day, your board’s set, you probably know X amount of guys you that you’d be willing to move up for. How tight do you keep the circle in terms of people who know how you really feel about the quarterbacks? Do you tell friends, do you tell your wife? How tight is that circle?
Beane: Yeah, it doesn’t leave this building, so no, my wife doesn’t know. No, it’s very tight. Listen, I’m not talking about guys in the second round, either, the third round, or whoever, at any position. I think it’s bad form. I think you’re competitively hurting yourself. Anything that you can do to competitively hurt yourself is bad. We keep it pretty close to the vest what we’re doing.
Q: What was the thing that you learned, maybe, the most, what’s the most significant thing you’ve learned from last year in your first year as a head coach in the draft to this year?
McDermott: In terms of the draft?
Q: In terms of the draft, yes.
McDermott: Well, I just think that we learned a lot last year. I think we came out with some good players and I don’t know if it’s as much the biggest thing I learned, but probably the biggest thing that was affirmed or verified for me was that you want to find guys that are good off the field and on the field. There’s a lot of good players out there that don’t have maybe their act together off the field and you’re tempted to take those players. I was reminded of how important that is as we went through our process last year.
Q: Brandon, have you met privately with all the quarterbacks on your radar and how do those meetings maybe shift things on your board?
Beane: It’s part of the process. Yes, we have met with them all. At this point, we know them pretty well and as I was alluding to back in Senior Bowl and Combine, it’s a big part of the process. All I really would say is that they’re all great young men and there’s a reason they’re all being talked about.
Q: When do the conversations begin about trading? Is it really something as early as combine, owners’ meetings, or is it something that doesn’t start happening until the week of or maybe 24 hours before the draft?
Beane: You know, it happens all over the place. Most of it happens close to the draft, but the Colts and Jets worked something out weeks ago. That was before the owner’s meetings. I would say that that doesn’t happen very often, but it did. Most of it, I would say, happens closer.
Q: How much pressure is there given that you don’t always have six picks in the first three rounds? You’re not always looking at a quarterback class like this one, so how much does this kind of add to the pressure of finding the guy in this draft?
BB: You know, I don’t really, again, it’s my first one going through it, so I can’t compare it to another year as the GM, but I think I’ll feel this weight in a year from now no matter what we’re after or what our so-called needs are. I just feel like the competitive nature, you want to get it right. I know the work’s been done by our whole staff, and that’s coaches included. A lot of these coaches have gone on the road, that we’ve identified as guys, ‘hey, go find out a bit more about this guy, how does he learn, how does he fit what you do, can he learn our system and do you think he’s going to fit in your position meeting room’? Again, I think we’ve now almost finished all those, which helps, but it’s a total team effort. Sean and I are sitting up here pointing out all the answers. We don’t get to the answers without all that work, and I think it’ll be... we’re competitors. I think I’ll be anxious every year until draft day. We do our job and do it right, it should unfold the way we want.