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Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane explains how trades come together in the NFL

Take an insightful peek into Beane’s methodology when working trades

On Wednesday’s edition of The Tim Graham Show and podcast, Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane joined Graham, Matthew Fairburn and Jonah Bronstein in a discussion about the ins and outs of trading in the NFL.

With the Bills rumored to be in the market for a wide receiver, the discussion is certainly a worthwhile listen and Beane shares some very, very interesting nuggets about the process behind the scenes.

Below is the full transcript. If you’d like to listen to the interview, it begins at the 55:14 mark of the embedded podcast.

Tim Graham: Brandon your team’s five and one. I don’t—want to get into expectations with you because even if I were to ask you about that I’m quite sure that you would tell me that you expect to win every game or else—or hey every game gets your best effort. But, being five and one is something that doesn’t happen too often. How—heh, alright. Strange question, I guess. I guess how would you explain to the average fan who has their own feeling of five and one as someone who follows the team what it’s like inside the building at five and one.

Brandon Beane: You know our guys are hungry and it’s—I don’t see anybody you know whether it’s the players or coaches, sports staff, whatever—you know walking down the hall puttin’ banners up or anything like that—it’s been a humble and hungry approach here honestly through the preseason and really nothing’s changed. I don’t think if you were an outsider walking in and didn’t know our record, I don’t think you would know it any different than you would a month ago…to be honest, and that’s the way you know Sean does a great job of getting that message to our team and I think he and I relay that to our building—to the sports staff, scouts, and beyond.

TG: What should people make of the fact that your players by and large felt disappointed in their performance Sunday in a victory over the Miami Dolphins?

BB: Yeah, I mean like anything there’s not a game that we’ve played honestly that we’ve walked out of here and said “Man, we can move on to the next game. You know we really checked all the boxes and clicked.” You know we’ve had some games that we’ve played better on one side of the ball than the other or something like that, but I think it says to the professionalism and how serious this group of guys is. They’re competitive. I was talking to our safeties’ coach Bobby Babich yesterday. He was telling me a couple things that Micah Hyde had called him Sunday night or texted him (I don’t remember) then Jordan Poyer some of the things he saw, just—self reflection, self—critical stuff, just things that maybe even the coaches hadn’t even realized watching the film yet—things that these guys wanna do and I think that permeates through the defense and even through the locker room.

Matthew Fairburn: Brandon how would you assess, I guess, the balance that you have to strike here with the trade deadline on the horizon of, you know, there’s certainly an element of, you know, if you make a trade you’re showing the guys that you’re kinda going for it, but, I guess even if you don’t make a trade you’re showing them that you believe in the guys that are in the room so—do you factor that in at all or do you have to kinda keep a little bit of tunnel vision and just focus on what’s best for the roster?

BB: Yeah, I mean you do, you have to measure—alright what player are you gonna add and what are they gonna bring to whatever position it is. And then, what player are you gonna replace and how does that affect, and this player—obviously you think skill-wise they’re probably a little bit better, but do they not have something that the guy that you have to release or send somewhere else in another trade have. So, you’ve got the skill factor, Matt, which is a great question, but it’s also the fit and you know how we are here with fit and culture and back to some of the things I said in free agency: You know we like good players but they also have to be good fits for how we do things for whatever the system we’re running, the fit in the locker room, pros, all those things that we look for in guys. So, all that is taken into account as we…you know, as you hear all these rumors out there and who’s up for trade and who’s not, and probably two-thirds of the guys that are mentioned in the media or social media I bet are really not (available) it’s just people hypothesizing based on a team’s record or a guy going into his last year.

TG: Brandon can you take us into how a trade happens? Meaning the very beginning of it, because I think fans wonder who makes the first call, is a fax sent out to everyone—alright I’m dating myself. Matt just looked at me funny for saying the word fax. Is an email sent out to everyone, are holograms sent out to everyone that says this player is available give us your best offer. Is it calling on a guy who—and you really are blind in terms of whether this player is available or not. Do you have to talk another general manager into making a player available, say: Hey look, you’re not going anywhere this year—give us this guy, or do you take the—how does it—how do they happen?

BB: It happens all different ways—hold on my fax is going off here. Let me accept this—it’s kinda loud. In all seriousness, it can come from different ways. You know, sometimes you’ll have a team that has given an agent permission to: “Hey, you can check around, don’t put it out in public. You can’t call anybody in our division, or you can’t call anybody that’s on our remaining schedule.” You know, you can put parameters—so sometimes an agent might connect with you. Most of the time I would say the team’s gonna call and if I’m close with the GM that’s probably how it’s gonna happen. Sometimes, you know, somebody’s close to a Joe Schoen or a Dan Morgan or Malik Boyd—you know, one of our top personnel guys and they may shoot ‘em a text: “Hey would you guys have any interest in this player or are you guys looking—sometimes it starts as: “We’re heavy at whatever…we’re heavy at defensive tackle. Do you guys have a need there?” And then vice versa: “We’re looking for offensive line help—would you guys be willing to part with one of those?” So it happens in various forms like that and if it get serious if it started with one of the other guys and not me directly to the GM then, if it’s serious on their end or our end then I’m gonna—we’ll get on the phone with each other and talk through parameters if both of us are serious about potentially making that move.

TG: Okay, now on the next step—once a tentative deal or at least you get to a place where you’re thinkin’: “Okay, this is something that could work. This is acceptable. You figure out what you wanna do on our end. We’ll see if we’re totally okay with it on our end, we’ll run everything through our computers and check contracts and everything.” Is it considered bad form or is it expected that the other team is going to then use you offer to try to find a better offer?

BB: Well I think it’s how you leave it. If you agree on a deal, like a team may say: “Hey, we’ll do it for a fourth-round pick.” And maybe you’re at a fifth right now. If you’re still not offering what they’re saying it would take, then obviously—they may not have anything at that point. They may be askin’ for a fourth and maybe the fifth that you said: ”Hey I’ll give you a fifth.” Then maybe they now say: “Well I’m not doing it for a fifth, but maybe there’s another team that’s interested.” Say: “Listen, i’m gonna do this for a fifth probably in the next couple hours if you don’t make a move.” And maybe they haven’t told me that but they’re telling that other team hoping that other team is—you know if you’re the seller then you’re hoping that you’ve got more than one team of interest ‘cause it gives you a little leverage. If you really are trying to move a guy and you’re just trying to find a home and it’s as beneficial to you as it is to them, you don’t have a lot of leverage and you’re probably not gonna have many interested parties. But once you agree verbally on the phone: “Alright we met that team’s demand of a fourth-round pick” or they said they would take our fifth. Then at that point we agree either their contract guy or our contract guy is gonna write up the language. There’s an actual trade agreement, and then they’ll send that to each other. I’ll review it. Their GM will review it. And once we’ve all reviewed it and agreed on the terms of this trade, which, in there is how quick the guy has to pass a physical. Sometimes you give ‘em—if it’s the West Coast—you’ll give ‘em 24 hours due to travel concerns, cause if they don’t pass a physical within that time then the trade’s null and void. So, anything like that—conditional picks, if it’s gonna start as a fifth but if the team makes the playoffs it goes to the fourth—like that was in our Marcell Dareus trade if Jacksonville made the playoffs and he was on their roster, you know their 53 the rest of the year—it went from a sixth to a fifth. So, we have to agree on (all) that. Once that’s done we both sign the document and then it’s sent to the league and it’s official.

TG: Brandon, six days before the trade deadline are you buyers or are you sellers?

BB: You know, I wouldn’t call us either one. I mean, we’re—again it’s a deadline but we’ve constantly looked around for guys, and as well people have called us on our guys. We’re definitely not shopping anybody. But if someone calls and makes you, just, you know—they’re desperate for a certain position that you have some depth at and they make you an offer that’s just wow, then you have to listen. And I don’t expect that but, yeah, I mean I know last year we got calls on several guys and we didn’t think any of them were what I would say (were) wow offers enough to pry ‘em away from us. So, again, I know a couple years ago when we traded for Kelvin on the day of the deadline, I walked off the practice field and I think I was just off the record talking to John Wawrow and maybe Matt was there—I don’t know if you were there or not Tim—and it was 1 or 1:30 whatever time practice ended and I was like: “No, I don’t anticipate anything.” Well, Carolina called back around 2:30, 2:45 from a conversation I think it was a couple days earlier, and were more open to doing something at that point. So, we—again—I didn’t anticipate, I didn’t call them. I thought we were done. So, that can happen. I mean I can go all the way up ‘til next week at 3 o’clock and not expect anything and the phone rings and you get something together in the last hour.

MF: The Kelvin Benjamin trade is, you know, an interesting one ‘cause it’s probably one of the only times we’ve seen you at the deadline kind of be in that buyer mode. Would you say now—I mean at that point you were still gearing up, saving up picks to try to get a quarterback and knew that was part of your long-term plan—now that you’re feeling probably more secure in your quarterback position, the rest of your roster’s built up a little bit more…I know you love your draft picks are they any more available, you know the premium ones than maybe they were when you first got here knowing that you’re a little bit more built up than when you got here?

BB: Yes and no. I mean, I still view ‘em as currency and I wanna build this thing through the draft. So, trading high picks, you gotta know you’re really getting something special and what is that? And two, am I trading him for someone that I know I’m gonna have here? You know, if you’re trading a one or a two, either I’ve talked to the agent or we’re gonna have something in principle to be able to have him here long term, and know that it’s a player that would be of that value that if I’m trading a first-round pick then I’m getting a guy that I think’s every bit as good or better than what I’m going to be able to select next April. You gotta be careful—my viewpoint is you gotta be careful about trading for a guy that you’re trading a high pick for and maybe it’s just a short-term rental…you only have him for the rest of the year. I mean, the one thing about the Kelvin deal was we knew he was under contract the next year and part of the logic behind it was if he walked out after that, if he had a good year in his fifth-year option that if we did not re-sign him but he had a good year that he could fall into the comp formula and we could potentially get a third or a fourth back so it was kinda like delaying that pick—it was borrowing that pick for a couple years. But, again, you gotta take everything into consideration, Matt. We do value picks here, so when you’re trading a player or for a player, you’re basically trading away the rights of wherever the round is—a player for four to five it’s (a) first rounder and up to five years.

TG: Brandon, we’re more than a third of the way into the season and at 5-1 you have a much better idea now of where you draft picks will be, and they haven’t been great in terms of the order—well I guess their currency is more valuable when you don’t have a good record versus what you’re trending to have this season. How much does that influence whether or not you’re gonna trade your draft picks because they’re gonna be further back in the order than you’re used to?

BB: Yeah I mean, you do. I think it still, Tim, goes to what round you’re in. And you’re right—if we continue the trend that we’re on now, you’re right, it would be in the later parts so…and teams are gonna take that into consideration. You’re always paying attention to who you’re trading with and where you see their record whether it’s now at the deadline or even earlier in the year by some of the moves they’ve made in the draft or free agency. But, again I think it’s just the value. You do have a value of those picks and, you’re right, you are projecting if you’re trading with a team now where you see their pick being and I’m sure that’s what people would be doing when trading with us. And, you know, a team that’s asking for—what I used earlier—for a fourth-round pick, well if they think we’re gonna finish well and, you know, a better record than another team that has an option, they’re gonna send ‘em to the other team. So, we would have to up the value and add something later if we want to win that trade.

TG: Brandon you mentioned something earlier that I wanted to circle back on real quick because I think it’s important and probably overlooked by a lot of us, whether we’re casual observers (or) we’re passionate fans, but you mentioned a little of the inside baseball there about how trades go down. You mention Joe Schoen, Malik Boyd, Dan Morgan—there’s Lake Dawson, Brian Gaine…all these people around your staff. They’ve done the job or close to it, or they’re on their way. A lot of people believe a guy like Dan Morgan will be a general manager eventually. To have those connections where another team will reach out to guys like this is something that the Bills’ front office hasn’t had since I’ve been coverin’ ‘em—probably since I’ve lived here, maybe even before that, maybe you have to go back to the Bill Polian/John Butler days. But can you…how important is it to have guys of that pedigree on your staff when it comes to this time of year or really any time of year...but we’re close to the trade deadline so let’s focus on that.

BB: Yeah, I mean Tim, it is—it’s a huge asset and I feel lucky to have some of the names you mentioned. You know, a Brian Gaine—to have a guy who’s sat in this seat who worked for me before who just has a great feel for the league and has been—he’s worked under Bill Parcells and some other great people in this league, and Joe Schoen worked with Bill when he took him to Miami, and obviously Dan Morgan we drafted him in Carolina and to see him do what he did and be on the Super Bowl team and John Schneider and that crew has done a great job and you know Malik Boyd was hired by Bill Polian and worked with Arizona—they played us in the NFC Championship game and also was on a Super Bowl team there. So, we’ve got guys that are experienced and have a great track record around the league and great respect, and they’re a big part of what we’re doing here. It’s not like I can get to all these schools or watch all these players. They do a great job of identifying the guys that I need to focus on as we build this and to have that rapport also helps in what you’re talking about, Tim, with these connections around the league and guys trust them. I think that’s the big thing: Having guys on your team that people trust. I mean, there’s so many names that don’t get out there that are available right now as being mentioned as trade possibilities and I think guys trust our guys that we’re not gonna leak anything and we do the same. We try and deal behind the scenes with people that we know won’t put players out there that could compromise if we don’t move ‘em. Could compromise, you know, what we got going forward if a guy knows we had him on the market.

MF: With regards to that staff, too, you mentioned something about when you trade for a guy you wanna know what you’re bringing into your locker room—how that’s gonna effect, especially with a 5-1 team, and the locker room being such a big part of what you guys do. Were you purposeful when you built your staff about having—it’s not just all guys from Carolina. You know, these guys have been in a lot of different spots around the league. They’re pretty well connected, so if you’re looking at trading for a guy from whatever team—San Fran—there might be a guy that’s crossed paths and you can at least get an idea of the person that you’re bringing in. As opposed to if you’re just flying blind, throwing a third-round pick out there for a guy who, you don’t know if he’s gonna fit at all.

BB: Yeah, really good. And that’s exactly what I was hittin’ on earlier, Matt, was if we were to make a move for a player, how is that gonna mesh—and making sure we’re right on it, because, you’re right—you bring in the wrong fit in the locker room in the middle of the year, it could really be egg on your face. It doesn’t mean you don’t try things if it looks right but that is a big part of—it goes back to free agency, too, when we’re—you know the college draft we can sit here and meet with these guys and deal with ‘em up ‘til a week before the draft if we bring ‘em in for a 30 visit. Obviously, we don’t have that opportunity when trading for somebody or even signing in free agency we’re not allowed to talk to ‘em until the free-agency period starts in March. So it definitely helps having all these connections and if they haven’t been with that player generally they’re gonna know a coach, another scout, maybe even another player on that team that’s been on one of their teams that they can call. So that was a big part, I mean—honestly when I tried to build this staff it was “Who are the best?” We want the best of the best. I’m not looking to bring my friends from Carolina or other places. I’m looking to the best guys for the best job and we’ve made a few tweaks along the way. Some because guys have gotten promotions. Obviously we’ve got Dan here because Brian Gaine left and you know we brought Gaine back. We lose Marvin Allen to Miami and those are good things that happen but fortunately we’ve been able to land some guys that I’m very happy to have on staff and (are) a big part of what we’re doing here.

TG: Bills general manager Brandon Beane. I can’t thank you enough for joining us. I know it’s a busy time for you. Any clues that you wanna give us for players that we should be researching to have those stories ready to go when the trades are made?

BB: Yeah, I mean, I was thinking like umm… I don’t know—Jerry Rice or somebody like that maybe. Whadda’ ya think?

TG: Well…fans are not gonna be happy to hear that Brandon, because you don’t have to trade for him—he’s a free agent. If you wanted him, you don’t have to give up assets.

BB: They probably still—somebody’s got his rights probably. I’d probably have to do something. I mean we’ve got—I need somebody on offense older than Frank.

TG: I think the Cleveland Browns had Jim Brown’s rights into the ‘80s because there’s something with, you know, he retired with still years on his contract they never actually formally retired him—

BB: Finalized it or whatever?

TG: Yeah.

BB: Yeah.

TG: So he’s around.

BB: Somebody may have Jerry’s rights, hah!

TG: Okay.

BB: Naw, I appreciate you guys. I appreciate you having me on. Always good—always good to catch up with ‘ya.

TG: Thank you Brandon.

MF: Thanks Brandon.

BB: You got it. Talk to you guys…