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Joe B: Why the Buffalo Bills had to fire Rick Dennison

Posted at 12:33 PM, Jan 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-12 12:33:09-05

The Buffalo Bills fired offensive coordinator Rick Dennison on Friday, and although it was only after one season, it became abundantly clear through 17 games:

This was the right move -- and the only move -- for the Bills as they hope to sustain success heading into the future.

Just on the surface, this seemed like the right move when watching on a week-to-week basis. The Bills were predictable, stagnant — and worse yet, created a state of hopelessness when the team was down by more than one touchdown.

While the play of starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor certainly didn’t help things, it was never mostly his fault. Early on in the preseason and the regular season, it was clear that the scheme was not suited to Taylor’s skill-set, and predictably, he struggled with it.

Dennison kept calling three and five-step drops, putting Taylor under center, and the quarterback really never seemed comfortable with those concepts. It wasn’t until the first month or so of the season had gone by before Dennison started to adapt some of the concepts from last year that made the Bills an efficient offense, but still, he had never fully committed to tailoring the scheme he ran to the strengths of his players.

In games, several calls he made in key moments of games were head-scratching, to say the least, and in a small example, during the playoff game against Jacksonville, his executed play at the end of the first half toward the sidelines help give the Jaguars the time they needed to get a key field goal as time expired.

For the players he used, the mismanagement of rookie Zay Jones — who was most effective in college as the slot receiver, while in Buffalo was pushed to the outside of the formation — kept the rookie from making perhaps as big an impact as he could have. Dennison’s overall infatuation with Mike Tolbert as his number-two running back also left a lot to be desired.

All of that, in itself, didn’t make for a very promising year two with the offense.

However, this move needed to be made for something greater than just what happened on the field in 2017. Dennison was the offensive coordinator with a starting quarterback that has a solid chance of not being with the team next year, but his stubbornness about his scheme opened up a new set of problems for him in the offseason.

As the Bills are entering the most critical offseason of the Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott combination, they need to make sure they have the right person in charge of the offense starting in 2018.

Why might you ask? It’s fairly simple: This offseason, as it’s been made most clear by general manager Brandon Beane in how he’s chosen to answer questions, is about one thing, and one thing only….

That, in itself, is finding a franchise quarterback in the 2018 NFL Draft. 

And this is not something that can be taken lightly and because of how many variables it takes to have a quarterback succeed in the NFL, most everything they can control must be perfect. That includes having the right offensive coordinator in charge — especially seeing as how head coach Sean McDermott’s background is in defense.

The person they pick to run the offense in 2018 and beyond has to be a good teacher, he has to be someone that can develop a quarterback, and most importantly, he has to be someone that can work with any kind of skill-set and find the best way to utilize that player and formulate an offense.

The quarterbacks that are of the first-round caliber in 2018 come in all shapes and sizes, each with their own unique skill-set that could be utilized effectively in the NFL with the right teacher, and the right mind formulating an offense around them.

So, if it was Rick Dennison calling the shots, really the only two quarterbacks that could have “fit” his scheme were the pro-style friendly, play action pass style of quarterbacks — and it would have effectively ruled out some of the different players in this year’s class. Furthermore, after what we saw in 2017, there’s no possible way that they could have trusted Dennison to be the point-man of the entire operation in developing that very quarterback.

Think about it: the very jobs of both Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott depend on how the offensive coordinator works with and develops their young, franchise quarterback. If the quarterback hits, they’ll be celebrated and they’ll find the sustained success that they so covet.

If he misses, that likely means the Bills would hit the restart button for both general manager and head coach.

That’s still way down the line, but it’s not as far down the line as you’d think — which is why it was so pressing that the Bills couldn’t stand idly by and allow one year of this potential quarterback’s shelf life on Rick Dennison.

The Bills have continued to prove that the front office and head coach will make both the tough — and right — decisions in an effort to fulfill the task at hand: to finally kick the demons of the 21st century to the curb and to finally build the Buffalo Bills into a Super Bowl contending team.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the Bills had to fire Rick Dennison.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia