After another failed season that ended without a playoff berth, the Buffalo Bills pulled the rip cord on the Rex Ryan experiment. Two seasons, 15 wins in 31 tries, and inconsistent play all the way through has led the Bills to the point in which they believe a new head coach will cure what ails them.
Rex certainly had his pitfalls: a terribly inconsistent defense, continually believing his defense was better than it actually is, an acute lack of attention to detail in key moments of games, and the inability to consistently beat good teams in his two seasons as coach. These are all reasons that constitute his firing.
Surely, he does not go without blame for what has happened to the Bills. Being the head coach and the overseer of the entire on-field operation of the team brings a certain responsibility, and he failed in that respect.
The problem I have is not about the decision to fire Rex Ryan… it’s in regards to how they’ve effectively painted him as the only problem with the organization.
Let me be quite clear: while Rex Ryan was indeed a major reason why the Bills are on the outside looking in on the playoffs in 2016, he is not the only one to blame.
Doug Whaley, the general manager of the entire operation, should be included in the discussion of what needs to change with the Buffalo Bills — and I’m at least a tad surprised that his name isn’t getting more attention in the discussion.
Ever since reports started coming out three weeks ago about the potential demise of Rex Ryan as the Bills head coach, it carried a common theme: that Whaley was safe and would have another chance at turning the ship around. Most times during training camp and the 2016 season, wherever Terry Pegula was, Whaley was surely near by if not right next to him.
The Bills even doubled down on this, officially announcing that it would be Whaley leading the search for the Bills’ next head coach.
The biggest question is fairly simple.
Look, I like Whaley as a talent evaluator and I believe that he’s done some good things in the form of making some solid signings and waiver claims over the years. Those are things that should all go to his credit.
I also think the Bills have done a good job with accruing top-end talent like Sammy Watkins, Marcell Dareus, and LeSean McCoy. However, that’s also where the questions start to arise for me when it comes to the team’s general manager.
I have three major points of contention that Whaley, for whatever reason, just doesn’t seem to be on the hook for in terms of the decision makers over at One Bills Drive.
The first: a mismanagement of both draft choices and monetary resources. While, yes, the Bills have Sammy Watkins on their roster — an incredibly talented player that has loads of potential in the NFL — the cost to go and get him was a steep price to pay for a team that was essentially putting the cart before the horse.
They had no answer at quarterback, and fired up the order to get Watkins anyway, thinking that the wide receiver would bring the best out of the quarterback. That, in itself, is backwards thinking.
The next year, Whaley has been lauded for the heroic efforts of finding a good starter in Ronald Darby in the second round of the draft — battling through the adversity of not having a first round pick.
Lest we forget, Whaley is the reason the Bills were without that first round pick to begin with, which robbed the Bills of another possible key contributor with a low cap number.
Instead, with a lack of draft picks on the roster, the Bills had to fill it in with the almighty dollar — piecing together a talented-enough-to-think-about-competing-for-a-playoff-spot roster while putting themselves in cap jail without an answer for the most important position in sports: quarterback.
That leads us to point number two: Whaley’s overall neglect of the quarterback position. The Bills continue to say that EJ Manuel wasn’t Whaley’s pick because he wasn’t the GM. I tend to agree with that.
However, that doesn’t explain his fascination with Manuel to keep campaigning to trot him out there as the starting quarterback when, clearly, he wasn’t the answer. And once again, here we are with Week 17 of the season and now without Rex Ryan as the head coach, and Whaley has seemingly forced his hand to get Manuel in the starting lineup for the regular season finale.
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported that it’s a ‘tryout’ for Manuel to maybe even hook on with the Bills for the 2017 season and beyond. Whether that’s as a starter or as a backup, either way, it’s left Bills fans feeling a bit uninspired considering the last time we saw EJ Manuel in a substantial non-hard count role was him imploding in the second quarter in London against Jacksonville.
After that, the Bills brought in all of Kyle Orton, Matt Cassel, and Tyrod Taylor. Cassel and Orton, veteran journeymen players that were nothing more than a bandaid, predictably flamed out for one reason or another. And then Taylor, a dart throw of a free agent pickup that he signed off on to start the last two years, has been benched by the team for the final week of the season, with his future with the franchise looking, at best, uncertain.
The Bills also drafted Cardale Jones in the fourth round, and with due respect to Dak Prescott this season, but that’s usually an afterthought as far as quarterbacks that are drafted.
The Bills have purposefully deprived themselves of trying to get better at the quarterback position by not drafting players over the past four years, which is as damning a factor as you’ll find with how to build a team in the NFL today.
Third, and this is part of what inevitably helped do Rex Ryan in with only a game to go in the 2016 season, was not addressing depth at positions in the offseason where it was a major weakness. Safety, wide receiver, cornerback — three spots that were begging for some help from the front office in the offseason, and three positions that had nothing but late round picks or veterans signed to the free agent minimum that were added.
So, you see, for the good that Whaley has done, he is just as much to blame for the Bills being where we find them heading into the 2017 offseason.
And look, I know a lot of fans are going to bring up Russ Brandon’s name in this discussion, but I think those are wasted efforts. And believe me, I understand the fans’ frustration with the team’s lack of success for 17 years, and Brandon has held a prominent role all throughout. However, he’s not going anywhere any time in the near future. He’s too much of an integral piece to the operation that Terry and Kim Pegula are running with both franchises to unload him anytime soon.
Here’s what I do know, despite it all Whaley will have an opportunity to find his head coach — someone that he can actually work with this time around — and to finally fix what has been a problem for such a long time in Buffalo.
The top priority is to fix the quarterback position for the long-term — not with just a bandaid. If he, whoever the new coach is, and the rest of his front office don’t figure that out… it’s hard to expect much of anything to change in Buffalo.
And with all the chances he’s had already, the time is now to figure it all out — otherwise, his job better be on the chopping block next.