Q-and-A: GM Doug Whaley says Bills were not in Michael Vick hunt, that Rivers and Spikes were ‘at the top’ of his free-agent board, and a lot more

ORLANDO, Fla. — Once NFL owners, executives, GMs and coaches finally broke for launch on Monday here at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes resort, a gauntlet of reporters practically jumped their targets.

I got almost 10 minutes alone with Buffalo Bills GM Doug Whaley, who is in his 10th month on the job.

Whaley talked to me about his team’s wide-receiver position, whether the team tried to woo QB Michael Vick, whether he’s still looking to land a free-agent safety to help replace Jairus Byrd, that linebackers Keith Rivers and Brandon Spikes were “at the top” of his free-agent lists, that their addition gives the Bills potentially a “very good” linebacker corps (potentially the best since he’s been with the team, 2010). Whaley also discussed Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans, whether a prospect’s stinky pro day really matters, and he confirmed what I reported last week, that the Bills are meeting this week with McGill University’s Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, an offensive-tackle prospect gaining buzz.

Here’s the transcript:

 

I know you cannot talk about DeSean Jackson specifically, but hypothetically if a top wide receiver should become available soon, would you be interested in him?

“We’re pretty secure with our wide-receiver position right now, but we will do our due diligence on anybody that we think can make us better.”

 

Michael Vick. Did you have any conversations with his agent before he signed with the Jets. Was there anything there?

“No. We’re secure with our quarterback position. Obviously we’re all in with EJ (Manuel), and with Thad (Lewis) and Dennis Dixon and Jeff Tuel. We’re really excited with what we bring to the table at that position. We didn’t venture into that subject.”

 

Regarding EJ, in considering upgrading at backup quarterback, do you consider if that might unsettle your starter?

“We wouldn’t do it unless they knew they were coming in as a backup and a mentor to EJ, so it would have to be the right fit. And they would have to come in knowing their slot.”

 

Did you have any discussions about bringing back Ryan Fitzpatrick?

“No.”

 

Might you yet sign a free-agent safety?

“Again, we’ll always keep our eyes open, but we’re very confident with the guys we have on campus. Between (Da’Norris) Searcy, Duke Williams and Johnathan Meeks, and then also another year of Aaron Williams playing the position, we’re very excited about that position. I know a lot of people have some question marks. We don’t.”

 

At UB’s pro day you promised me you’d be aggressive in free agency.

“We had a plan, and we executed. Fortunately for us, we hit all our marks. A lot of times you can’t in free agency, but we’re very happy with what we accomplished.”

 

You also said that you had free agents that you planned to target. Were Keith Rivers and Brandon Spikes atop that list?

“They were at the top of the list, so we were very excited to be able to get the top-of-the-list players — and at every position. Anthony Dixon, Corey Graham, all those guys. And then also being able to get Chandler back, Carpenter back and extending Aaron Williams. We’re really excited about what we did this off-season.”

 

This potentially is the best situation the Bills have had a linebacker since, well, when?

“You tell me. I’ll let you write that one.”

 

Well, since you’ve been in Buffalo then?
“I’d have to say potentially, yes. If those guys come and play the way that we expect them to play, and the way they’ve shown they can play in the past, we’re going to be VERY good at the linebacker position. You add that to the fact that we’ve got three Pro Bowl defensive linemen? It’s not that hard to be very productive with that up front, so we’re excited with the direction we’re going.”

 

Stephon Gilmore is still just starting to hit his potential, isn’t he.

“I think at the end of the year, you saw what he’s capable of. He got stunted with his progress, with his (wrist) injury the first part of the year.”

 

With those big hands, grabbing on and being physical is a big part of his game, isn’t it.

“Absolutely, and he couldn’t use them like he wanted, especially because we’re a big press team, so he couldn’t press a guy. But at the end of the year people saw how he was playing — the interceptions he had, and game-changing plays, like in Tampa. We’re expecting bigger and better things from that guy.”

 

The conjecture especially among Bills fans is, with the defensive holes you filled in free agency, that you’ll choose either a right tackle or wide receiver with the ninth overall draft pick. True?

“I have to say this much. With what we’ve done, we’ve set ourselves up to (pick) at any position that we think could help our team. We’re not pigeon-holed, because I always believe if you have a need and you want to address it in the draft, that’s going to force guys up (your draft board), and you have a greater chance of missing on a guy — that he looks a lot better to you because you need a guy at that position.”

 

Tall receivers — are they harder to gauge than the smurfy-slot types?

“They’re not hard to gauge. They’re just hard to find, because there aren’t too many of them. So that guy is going to have his chance to fail, let’s put it that way, a lot more than a smurfy guy, because they’re a dime a dozen. You can always find that guy, but you can’t find that monster.”

 

When you see Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, do you worry that his frame is almost too big? That if he eats three pizzas he’s going to look like a tight end?

“That never enters my vernacular — “too big.” You can’t be too big. As long as you can play, “big” wins in this league. And he can play.”

 

What pre-draft visitors do you have lined up?:

“I can’t give you names.”

 

The offensive tackle from McGill University in Montreal, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. I understand the Bills have a meeting planned with him in Montreal around his pro day on Thursday:

“Yes, for his pro day. A very interesting prospect. He’s got some size — very intriguing. So we want to do our due diligence and make sure, as close as he is to us, that he get this guy right.”

 

He told me he’s hoping to do 40 bench reps, and hopes to run the 40 in 5.0 or 5.1:

“Rare combo. And his film speaks for itself.”

 

Are you attending his pro day?

“I will not be able to. I’ll be going somewhere else. But I’ll have someone else up there.”

 

Do you still go to a lot of pro days?

“Same as before. Scouting is what I know. As often as I can get my hands dirty, I get my hands dirty.”

 

Are you going to Johnny Manziel’s on Thursday at Texas A&M?

“Well, Johnny Manziel is throwing to Mike Evans so we’re going to go to see both those guys, absolutely.”

 

In general, does a pro day performance — even if disappointing — really affect your draftboard rankings?

“It’s something that you layer in there. If it helps to answer a question, that’s great. If it brings up a question, then you have to do more work. But it’s not one of those things that makes you say, ‘Oh, I’m not going to take that guy now.’ … Film doesn’t lie.”

 

Now that you’ve re-signed Dan Carpenter, does that give you an asset in Dustin Hopkins that you can maybe trade?

“No, no. You look at it this way. We’re stressing special teams. So if you’ve got a kicker that can kick the ball out of the end zone, that eliminates one of your special teams. So if we’ve got Hopkins and an accurate field-goal kicker, that’s a double bonus for us.”

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