On January 11, 2017, Sean McDermott was hired as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills. a few months later, the team traded their first-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs, who used the pick to select Patrick Mahomes. With Mahomes leading the Chiefs to the Super Bowl after winning the AFC Championship this weekend, there has been a lot of chatter on how the Bills screwed up by passing on the stellar young quarterback. I don’t agree with that.
If McDermott had gone ahead and drafted a quarterback in 2017, he would have been using the information obtained by a personnel department he was preparing to overhaul. Mahomes was drafted on April 27th and Bills general manager Doug Whaley was fired on April 30th. It wasn’t until early May that McDermott put his hand-picked GM in place when Brandon Beane was hired. If I was going to make a career-defining decision, I’d want to trust the intel I was reading and he clearly didn’t feel that way about Whaley.
Without the guidance of a scouting department, McDermott would have been at least partially on his own making the decision. Given his background, that would have been a poor choice. Prior to January 2017, McDermott was running the Carolina Panthers’ defense. He wasn’t scouting players as a head coach or a personnel man, so having his own information independent of Whaley would have been woefully inadequate. When he was hired in Buffalo, he was essentially given the keys to the organization. By the time McDermott’s first NFL Draft rolled around, he had hired a coaching staff and signed some free agents, not to mention scouted the Bills’ roster to see who he had to work with.
In short, it would have been an incredibly under-informed decision. McDermott wasn’t prepared to pull the trigger on a quarterback. It’s usually a once-per-job opportunity for an NFL head coach. Mess up the QB, find a new job in a couple years. Not too many folks get another bite at the apple.
How McDermott was supposed to know and understand the college tape of Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes when he had just a couple months to get up to speed on so many things seems like a big ask. Instead, McDermott did the judicious thing and waited until he could obtain more information that he trusted. McDermott is not a guy prone to shooting from the hip. That’s one of the reasons he was hired and has been successful in the NFL. Now some folks want to use their hindsight to ding him for the very thing that was able to get him the job and has taken him to two playoff appearances in three seasons.
Would having Mahomes or Watson be paying off for Buffalo right now? Maybe. There’s no way of knowing what offensive coordinators Rick Dennison and/or Brian Daboll would have done for their development. Buffalo was able to turn the pick and veteran QB Tyrod Taylor into All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White and Pro Bowl linebacker Tremaine Edmunds while drafting Josh Allen in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. It’s hard to say the trade was an abject failure by a first-time decision maker.
I’m not one for revisionist history. In 2017, I said the Bills received good value for the Chiefs trade and reports are that Buffalo wasn’t targeting a quarterback, instead looking to add a cornerback even if they stayed at 10. They got a great cornerback and were still able to get their hopeful franchise QB a year later with a stronger organizational foundation in place plus add the quarterback of their defense for the long term.
Decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. In a room with a scout on his way out the door wasn’t the right time for McDermott to take his one big swing using incomplete information.