Amazing night, in many ways. A few days ago, who’d have predicted the last two Heisman Trophy winners, quarterbacks Baker Mayfield (No. 1, to Cleveland) and Lamar Jackson (No. 32, to Baltimore) would bookend the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft?
I would argue, though, that the two most interesting teams in Round 1 were:
• Buffalo, the team that turned five trades into the most important offensive and defensive players of its future, and the team that cast its lot with a strong-armed quarterback whose racially insensitive Tweets when he was 16 and 17 years old threatened to poison his draft stock. We won’t know for three or four years if Bills GM Brandon Beane made the right calls in the first 100 minutes of the draft to trade up twice—for the suddenly radioactive Josh Allen at seven and for speedy linebacker Tremaine Edmunds at No. 16. But Beane certainly had the guts to make calls that will put his job on the line.
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• Arizona. Kudos to GM Steve Keim for knowing he had to get a young, developmental quarterback, and getting the fourth passer picked, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, by trading up from No. 15 to No. 10 with Oakland. Amazingly, Keim didn’t have to give next year’s first-round pick or this year’s second to get the deal done. “There’s always pressure to find the young quarterback,” Keim told me near midnight on Thursday, “but if you trade away so many picks that you can’t solve your other problems, it’s really too much of a sacrifice to do.”
Late Thursday night, a couple hours after he moved Buffalo into Tampa Bay’s No. 7 spot, Beane told the story of how the Bills vetted Allen during the day Thursday. To Beane’s credit, he sounded pretty clinical about it, the way he’d sound if he were trying to figure out if an inaccurate quarterback was worth a high draft choice. In other words, he already vetted Allen the football player in a day-long trip to Laramie, Wyo., with his owners and his head coach. Now he had to figure out how to vet Allen the social-media user.
“And I don’t even use Twitter,” Beane told me from Orchard Park, N.Y.
Let’s start just after daybreak Thursday, when Yahoo Sports reported that between 2011 and ’13, Allen sent some insensitive Tweets using the n-word and other racially inflammatory verbiage.
“My first thought was, ‘You gotta be kidding me,’” said Beane. “We vetted this guy through and through. We went to Laramie. We met with him for maybe 90 minutes, then worked him out, and we went to lunch. We spent maybe a good 18 hours with him. Thoroughly went over everything. We were totally comfortable with him.
“So, today, we went over what happened. [Coach] Sean [McDermott] spoke to our leadership council [of players] to get their thoughts and to explain what might happen. Between Sean and I and [owners] Kim and Terry Pegula, it was a multi-stage process. We talked to some of our players here.
“It’s not an excuse, saying those things as a 14- or 15-year-old. And I am not very good on Twitter. Some of the things I thought he wrote, he actually just liked. We talked to him about it. We had a 30-, 35-minute call shortly after lunch, and at first he was very direct and contrite. As we talked to him about this thing, he was emotional.
“You could hear the tears on the other line.
“We told him, ‘Collect yourself.’ And he owned up to it. He explained every one. He was very embarrassed. We let him know what is acceptable and what is not. He understands this is part of him now, and he has to earn the respect of his teammates going forward. And we called a lot of people. We didn’t find one person—and I am not saying there is not one person out there—but we didn’t find one person who said this is Josh Allen. We found people who defended Josh. So we decided to move forward.”
Beane understands this isn’t over, and that Allen will have to explain himself to the veterans on this team. And whatever Allen says, he’s going to have to prove over time that he’s not the person he seems in those immature tweets.
As a player, Allen will have a lot of prove too. The 56% career passer at Wyoming will have to become a 65% passer in the NFL, in one of the toughest environments in the league to play football. It was thought all along that the Bills wanted Allen above the other quarterbacks because of his arm strength and his size and his experience playing in tough weather. But it was interesting to listen to Troy Aikman on Thursday night. He made the point many have made in the pre-draft process: When you’re an inaccurate passer in college, it’s not often than you become an accurate passer in the NFL. That will be Allen’s biggest challenge.
Beane would not say where Allen fell in the quarterback pecking order. It’s likely the Bills would have taken any of the top four passers somewhere in the top 10 or 12 picks. But Allen fits them for his arm and his developmental ability.
“We didn’t think any of these quarterbacks were flawless,” Beane said, and he’s right about that. “Being able to play in our elements was important us. Josh has big hands, and we saw him play well in a big-time snow game against Colorado State.”
The Bills moved from No. 22 to No. 16 in the first round to take Edmunds, using the pick acquired from Cleveland in the Tyrod Taylor deal (No. 65 overall) to get the deal done with Baltimore. Buffalo didn’t have to use next year’s first-round pick to get the deal done. So the Bills got athletic and raw prospects in the first half of the first round. Good moves.
In Arizona, the Cardinals fell into Josh Rosen when he started sliding. Had he gone at six or seven, the price to move up from Arizona’s pick at 15 would have been prohibitive. Keim definitely didn’t want to spend next year’s first-round pick, and there were so many players in a rich second round this year that he didn’t want to use his mid-second-rounder this year either. Luckily, the Raiders settled for third- and fifth-round picks, and the Cardinals had their quarterback of the future.
I’ll always feel that Rosen was the victim of a whisper campaign in pushing him down in the draft. I’m not saying he should have been the first quarterback picked. This year, beauty was in the eye of the beholder; there was no absolutely sure thing. But Rosen got knocked for being politically conscious, for having rich parents, for some teams wondering how much he loved football, for having some teams wonder if his teammates loved him … it got dizzying, trying to figure which team marked him down for what reason. Here’s a quarterback who clearly is the most ready to play tomorrow in the NFL, and who’s a different kind of guy, and who’s never been in any serious trouble, and the NFL just kept poking holes in him because he didn’t fit the just-get-in-line-and-don’t-make-trouble mold.
“This is a function of our league sometimes,” Keim told me. “We fall in love with a player, then we start to judge personalities. And we scout the player, and we like the player, and then we judge the guy on his personality? Come on. We found a guy we feel we can build around, and that’s good enough for us.”
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