In the 2018 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills desperately needed a long-term answer at quarterback. They’d just traded their drought-busting QB, Tyrod Taylor, to the Cleveland Browns for a third-round pick, leaving the depth chart bare. The roster was in full clearout mode, and they needed that franchise guy to build around. Desperately. We know now that Josh Allen is that quarterback.
You see, Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane didn’t have much time- About as little as any inbound coach and GM tandem. Most staffing changes in the NFL have a minimal window to prove they’re capable. You only get one chance to turn a failing team around. They make aggressive moves and take big risks. It simply sets up the next coach for further failure when it doesn’t work out, extending the cycle. The Buffalo Bills had seen this vicious routine in action for the better part of two decades. Ending that cycle started a year before Josh Allen came to the roster.
Trusting The Pre-Draft Process
Immediately following the 2017 NFL draft, the Buffalo Bills fired GM Doug Whaley and hired his replacement, Brandon Beane. His time as Head of Football Operations with the Carolina Panthers had him well-immersed in managing a team. Beane had experience as the Assistant GM from 2015 to 2017. The draft process wasn’t new to him either. Hired for his experience and compatibility with Sean McDermott, the plan to build this team had been in the works long before he actually signed here.
You see, the 2018 draft class had been well-documented as one of the premier quarterback groups of the last 20 years. With a year to go until Beane’s first draft as head of the front office, the Bills were unwilling to commit to Tyrod Taylor. They had to get a QB in 2018.
Coming off a 7-9 season in 2016, Buffalo was likely too good for a top-five draft pick. They would need ammunition to trade up, and Beane didn’t hesitate. He traded away former first-round pick WR Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams, alongside our 2018 6th-round pick, in exchange for CB E.J. Gaines and LA’s 2018 second-rounder.
Fortunately for fans, the season wasn’t lost. McDermott fixed the mess left for him by Rex Ryan, transforming the defense and getting enough production out of that dilapidated offense to get us into the postseason for the first time in 18 years. Unfortunately for Beane, that meant that the Buffalo Bills’ draft capital was suffering at the hands of our success. The Bills’ first-round pick sat at 21st. He would need more from us if he intended to draft our future QB1.
Brandon Beane found a way to do it. On March 12th, he sent OT Cordy Glenn to the Cincinnati Bengals along with that 21st pick in exchange for their 12th overall selection. How was an injured offensive lineman playing on a $65M contract worth jumping nine spots in the first round? We’re not sure. The two parties also swapped late picks, with the Buffalo Bills shedding their fifth-rounder and Cincinnati giving up their sixth. That spare sixth-round pick would go on to become WR Ray-Ray McCloud. Cordy Glenn would be out of the league within two years.
A War Room
Now, the Buffalo Bills may have owed a lot of misery to former GM Doug Whaley, but it wasn’t all bad. Under his supervision that Buffalo traded away the 10th-overall pick that would become Patrick Mahomes, for good or for ill, and obtained the 27th pick in return, which became Tre’Davious White and Kansas City’s 2018 first-rounder. As part of that package, Buffalo also received a third-round draft pick, which we traded away in a deal that earned us our franchise LT Dion Dawkins. Whaley wasn’t great, but he is deserving of some credit here.
“As a parting gift, we left them with two [first-round picks] next year”– Doug Whaley on Sirius XM NFL RADIO, shortly after he was fired
This was not Beane’s first rodeo. The new head of the war room had plenty of draft experience, but never as the man in charge. A stark contrast from the days of Rex Ryan, the Buffalo Bills now run one of the tightest ships in the NFL. Nothing leaks out of the front office, but with four years of hindsight and press conferences, here’s what we know so far:
- Buffalo spoke to Cleveland and New York (G) about the availability of the first and second overall selections.
- The QB-needy Jets had traded three second-round picks to the Colts in exchange for a swap of first-round picks. New York would draft third, and the Colts would draft sixth.
- We had a deal for the fifth overall pick before the Denver Broncos selected Bradley Chubb.
- The Arizona Cardinals, who had the tenth pick, had Josh Allen as the top QB on their board and were also in talks with Denver. They backed out late, as the Broncos’ asking price was too high.
We know all of this now, but outside of the New York Jets trade, none of this information was public at the time. It’s with a great degree of secrecy that the war room operates. Careers, championships, and multi-million dollar deals rely on the outcome of the draft, after all.
Was Josh Allen QB1?
The front office was so tight-lipped that for awhile after the draft, league executives weren’t sure if Josh Allen had been our guy all along. We didn’t have an answer for a long time. We still might not. The only ‘evidence’ of his high position on our board were these supposedly leaked pictures from pre-draft in 2018.
It was never confirmed as a leak, but based on the events of draft night and the interviews following the event, the information appears to have been accurate.
A Deal With Denver
After a serious discussion with the Browns and speculation about the Jets, Buffalo determined that neither side was drafting Josh Allen at the first or third overall picks. The next suitable landing spot was Denver. The archetypical QB for at-the-time-GM John Elway fit the Josh Allen mold exactly. Buffalo didn’t know who Denver planned to take, but they had a deal in place with the Broncos. The trade details were later confirmed:
|Teams||Picks They Would’ve Received (Round)|
|Buffalo Bills||#5 (1st)|
|Denver Broncos||#12 (1st), #21 (1st), #53 (2nd)|
It lends credibility to the aforementioned ‘leak’ that the details of the Broncos trade were already correct, a full three weeks before draft day. The Broncos found their guy after the Browns used their other first-round pick on CB Denzel Ward. With the fourth and fifth overall picks determined, we could only wait. The Buffalo Bills’ front office listened to the announcement of Bradley Chubb as the fifth-overall pick with a heavy sigh of relief.
The Pick Is In
Their man may still have been on the board, but the Buffalo Bills still held pick #12. Time was running out. Arizona asked about a move to leapfrog both the Bills and the Dolphins. If they wanted to draft their guy, Beane needed to act fast.
As the Colts selected Quentin Nelson at sixth, phone calls between the Buccaneers and the Bills heated up. A deal was finally agreed to.
|Teams||Picks Received (Round)|
|Buffalo Bills||#7 (1st)|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||#12 (1st), #53 (2nd), #56 (2nd, Via LAR)|
Buffalo had managed to lift themselves all the way up from 21st to seventh, without spending their other first-round draft pick. That 2017 Sammy Watkins trade proved invaluable, providing Beane with the extra capital needed to leap up the board.
The top player on the Buffalo Bills’ draft board would be selected. It was a masterclass of draft maneuvering from Brandon Beane. As Roger Goodell approached the stage in AT&T Stadium, the war room rejoiced.
Arizona ultimately selected Josh Rosen with the tenth pick, trading up with the Raiders to nab him. The front office was afraid that the Miami Dolphins would select him at 11th. They’d missed out on their guy. The Cardinals couldn’t exit the first round without a quarterback.
The day was far from done, and one of the most important drafts in Buffalo Bills history wasn’t over yet. Still, as they maneuvered back up the first round to select Tremaine Edmunds, Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott had their guy. Josh Allen, quarterback from Wyoming, was a Bill.
It’s been four long years since then, and, as another draft approaches, we wonder what kind of moves we can expect next. This tight-lipped ship stays afloat and contending for a Super Bowl title. What do we do next? Who does the team have their eye on? If there’s one thing we do know, it’s this: We won’t find out until it’s all over. Happy drafting, Brandon.