Joe B: 7 observations from Bills - Jets (1/1/17)

Posted at 9:34 PM, Jan 01, 2017

Following a 30-10 loss to the New York Jets, the 2016 regular season for the Buffalo Bills is mercifully over. What happens next is entirely up to general manager Doug Whaley and co-owners Terry and Kim Pegula,s with the weight of the now 17-year playoff drought hanging in tow.

Rather than rehashing the events of the game — which were largely forgettable — these observations will have an eye toward the future. So, without further ado, seven team observations following the Bills’ regular season finale:

1) Players are all in on Lynn
- Fans of the Bills should not look to results of this game against the New York Jets as means to be skeptical of him as a head coaching candidate. Considering he was forced to start EJ Manuel, was only able to get five days of preparation, and had to battle the overwhelming factor of indifference in the final game of a playoff-less season, it’s tough to get a gauge on him as a game day coach based on the results. If it were up to the players that make up the roster, the decision would be easy: Lynn would be the next head coach of the team. Fullback Jerome Felton said the offense has grown with Lynn as the offensive coordinator. He would also provide continuity to a team that still believes it’s close to getting a spot in the playoffs. Furthermore, Sammy Watkins — who stressed that the Bills need a more strict hand at head coach, pointed to the discipline and accountability Lynn installed in just a few days. Third-round rookie and defensive lineman Adolphus Washington didn’t have as good of a practice week as former practice squad player Deandre Coleman, so Lynn made Washington inactive. I even heard it with my own ears, Lynn also seems to be a strict disciplinarian when it comes to being on times for meetings and things of note. All of it falls under the change in culture that some players have expressed desire in, which could be just as important as what defense they run — but no more important than who the defensive coordinator will be, and most certainly not even close to the importance of the quarterback position. That’s where the candidate the Bills choose should separate themselves: having a plan in both areas. Lynn, by many accounts, seems to be a strong candidate for the job, and now it’s just the waiting game to see if the Bills actually follow through and make him the guy.

2) So, what now for Tyrod?
- In the final week of the season, the Bills made the “business decision” to sit Tyrod Taylor, making him inactive for the team’s regular season finale against the Jets. Taylor obviously could have helped the game go in the opposite direction, but the Bills wanted to get a look at someone else at the position — all the while not risking Taylor getting injured and having to guarantee him approximately $30 million. So the biggest question is this: Will Tyrod be back with the Bills in 2017? Well, all things considered, with the way they treated it down the stretch of the season, it certainly doesn’t appear he’ll be back with the original extension he signed. Now, from that answer, brings a secondary thought: the Bills could, if they wanted to, offer him an incentivized deal to bridge the gap between him and their plan for the future at quarterback. However, if you’re Taylor, would you want to come back under those terms when other teams in the league will likely be hungry to fill the quarterback spot with an experienced starter? It’s a huge decision for the Bills, but if they choose not to pick up the option initially, it’s a decision that’s no longer in their hands.

3) Is that it for Kyle Williams?
- For the first time ever since I started talking to the guy back in 2009, Kyle Williams sounded a bit removed from the idea of playing again. He’s always been laser focused on the team, what he can do to help the team get better, and never once questioning if he should try to come back from all the long-term injuries he has suffered over the years. Following the conclusion of the game, Williams was unsure of what he wanted to do in 2017. The super talented defensive lineman, who once again had a season to remember in the middle of the defensive line, has carried a level of play that deserved far more than what he’s gotten from the franchise in all his years. He has one year remaining on his contract, but the choice is his as to whether or not he’ll come back. His teammate and partner along the defensive line, Marcell Dareus, said he’s talked to Williams’ wife to try and prepare a pitch in an effort to keep him on the team for 2017. It’s significant, though, that Williams is actually admitting to thinking about stepping away from the game — considering he’s scoffed at the notion for as long as he has.

4) EJ’s watch in Buffalo seems to be nearing its end
- General manager Doug Whaley made the decision, following the firing of Rex Ryan, to make EJ Manuel the starting quarterback for the Week 17 showdown. The justification was that he wanted another look at the former first round pick, in an effort to see just how much he’s progressed since the London debacle in 2015. Whaley’s answer: EJ is who we all thought he was. It’s now been four seasons since the Bills made him the 16th overall selection, and it’s quite clear: he is not the answer. Manuel is due to become an unrestricted free agent in March, and unless Whaley is incredibly hellbent on continuing to employ Manuel despite all the accruing evidence, we’ll have seen the last of Manuel in a Bills uniform. It’s disappointing on multiple levels, mostly because he’s a former first round pick, has all the physical assets that teams look for in a quarterback, and he’s a genuinely nice guy that had done a lot for the community. It just didn’t work out for him in Buffalo, but I’m sure he’ll get another chance somewhere else in the league.

5) Cardale’s debut
- In relief of Manuel, Cardale Jones made his NFL debut in the fourth quarter against the New York Jets, and it wasn’t awful… but it certainly wasn’t pretty, either. Jones found his receivers, but also tried to force the issue a few times and ended up throwing an interception before it was all over. While Jones certainly has the raw skill, it’s clear he has a long way to go at this point. Jones wants to audition for the starting role, but he needs a full offseason of work before the Bills could actually think about putting him on the field. The thing of it is, though, if they choose to walk from the Taylor extension and strike out on the top names available in free agency, they might not have any other choice than to give Jones a shot at starting — maybe even before he’s fully ready. The quarterback decision will be the biggest Doug Whaley makes all offseason, if he wants to make this team a contender in 2017.

6) Disaster averted with LeSean McCoy
- The Bills had nothing to play for against the Jets on Sunday, but they still made the choice to play all their top players other than Tyrod Taylor. That includes LeSean McCoy, who the Bills survived a scare with on Sunday. Already eight seasons into his career, McCoy limped to the sideline and was deemed out with a high ankle sprain almost immediately. Had that been a significant injury, it would have come in a meaningless game that otherwise could have been prevented had they just rested one of their top assets heading into 2017. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins left the game as well with a hip injury, but thankfully for the Bills, that also seems to be relatively minor. It was a risk playing all the players that they did, but they somehow came away from it unscathed.

7) Wave goodbye to the 3-4
- The Buffalo Bills have moved on from Rex Ryan, and that should also end the Bills being a team that runs a 3-4 defense. For two seasons, they have been a team with 4-3 personnel that have been held hostage by the head coach’s desire to run the 3-4. Even their top pick, Shaq Lawson, is better suited for the 4-3 as a defensive end than in the 3-4 as an outside linebacker. Jerry Hughes has been better in a 4-3, and the same goes for Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus working together. Preston Brown had his best season of his three-year career in 2014 when they ran a 4-3. With all those parts already in place, it makes little sense to continue running the same scheme which would necessitate even more changes to the roster. It would also breathe new life into the idea that the Bills could bring Zach Brown back in the offseason, with Reggie Ragland having the ability to play strongside linebacker in a 4-3. It makes all the sense in the world, with all these other needs at different positions, to go back to the defensive scheme that best suits them — especially if they want to contend for the playoffs in 2017.

Bills MVP: WR Justin Hunter
- He may not have gotten into the end zone, but Hunter’s 64-yard catch was the highlight of the day.

Bills LVP: RB Mike Gillislee
- I’m not sure we’ll ever see the mistake Mike Gillislee made on that kickoff that went for a Jets touchdown again.

Up Next: Nothing, except for the huge decision on a brand new head coach, and if the team presses the restart button on the quarterback position.

Draft Order Update: The Bills will be selecting 10th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Final Thoughts:
- Like the start of the 2016 season, the Bills ended the year with two straight losses, and even more unfulfilled promises to their fans. This wasn’t a playoff team, the defense wasn’t better, and the quarterback didn’t progress in the passing game nearly as much as they advertised he would. It all blends into the point that this was just another season that ended without the playoffs. The blame can go in a million different directions, but the heat will be directed straight to general manager Doug Whaley, who is somehow the last man standings over at One Bills Drive. Now he has a chance to fix the problem ‘his way’ — at least that’s how the Bills are advertising it, and to finally get them back to the playoffs. With all the offseason uncertainty everywhere else, the only certain thing I can predict is that Whaley’s press conference Monday at 2:00 p.m. will be one for the ages. Bills fans deserve more than what they got from the team, and they’re certainly going to want answers from the GM of yet another failed operation at One Bills Drive, too. To 2017 they march — or if the offseason doesn’t go how they want it to — to 2017 they limp.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia