The Heisman Trophy winner will make a pre-draft visit to the team’s facility in Orchard Park on Tuesday, coach Chan Gailey confirmed following a State of the Bills’ address to season-ticket holders at a downtown ballroom on Monday evening.
For Gailey, this will be the fourth or fifth time — he couldn’t remember — Newton has met with the Bills, who hold the No. 3 pick in the NFL draft. And the coach considers Tuesday’s visit as potentially having the most impact, because he’ll get to spend the entire day getting to know Newton.
“These visits have a big impact on what we think and what we do and what we believe about the guys that we plan to draft,” Gailey said. “I don’t know if I can find it out in a day with a guy, but you’ll have a better idea once you get a chance to sit down and talk football and maybe watch some tape. I think you get a better feel.”
Though the Bills have numerous needs to address following a 4-12 season, they haven’t ruled out selecting a quarterback with their first of nine picks over the three-day draft that begins April 28.
And Newton isn’t the only quarterback scheduled to visit Buffalo.
General manager Buddy Nix said the team is also scheduled to host Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert and Florida State’s Christian Ponder.
Newton, who was scheduled to arrive in Buffalo on Monday night, also has a busy travel schedule after capping his one season at Auburn by leading the Tigers to win the national title in January.
Newton’s agent, Tony Paige, wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press that his client has visits scheduled with eight other teams, including the two teams who select immediately ahead of the Bills: Carolina, which has the first pick, and Denver.
The other teams Newton is currently set to visit are Cincinnati, Cleveland, Tennessee, Washington, Minnesota and Miami.
Gailey stressed that the Bills are still evaluating their draft priorities and have not yet determined whether to select a player such as Newton, who may need time to develop, or draft someone who can make an immediate impact.
“I think that’s something to be still evaluated,” Gailey said. “Once the evaluations are done, then you sit down and weigh risk-reward, strengths, weaknesses, and you make a decision that’s best for the Bills this year and for the future.”
Gailey has previously noted his defense and pass protection as two areas that require the most improvement going into next season.
The Bills finished last against the run last season, allowing 2,714 yards rushing — the second-highest total in franchise history. Their offense was hampered with a patchwork offensive line.
The Bills also remain high on returning quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who provided the offense an identity by the midway point of the season after he took over the starting job in Week 3. With 3,000 yards passing in only 12 games, he became the first Bill to hit that mark since J.P. Losman had 3,051 in 2006.
Fitzpatrick also finished with 23 touchdowns, the most since had 24 in 2002.
The question for the Bills is weighing whether the quarterbacks available in the draft have the potential to be long-term starters, something Buffalo hasn’t had since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly retired following the 1996 season.
“Now, our greatest need is not quarterback,” Nix said. “Invariably, if there’s going to be a franchise guy there, and one we deem as a guy that can go eight or 10 years and be the face of the organization and take us to the playoffs and win every year: you can’t pass him up.”
In other news to come out of State of the Bills session, CEO Russ Brandon reiterated his frustration over the labor dispute that began earlier this month, and said the best opportunity to reach a deal is for both sides to return to the negotiating table.
Brandon did acknowledge that the Bills would consider canceling training camp at their site in suburban Rochester if a settlement is not reached by late June or early July.