After months of speculation, the long-awaited firing of Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley came down early Sunday morning. The entire scouting staff is following him on the way out, including Player Personnel Advisor, Kelvin Fisher, and Player Personnel Chief, Jim Monos. For now, Senior Vice President of Football Administration, Jim Overdorf survived the Bills front office purge but his future is in the hands of the next GM.
Team owner Terry Pegula chose to not disclose why this sweeping house-cleaning, highlighted by Whaley’s dismissal, took place but the answers are pretty obvious.
Since Whaley was promoted to general manager back in May of 2013, the Bills went 30-34, put together one winning season in 2014, and pushed their playoff drought to a dismal 17 years. And while he’s certainly not fully to blame for the drafting of failed quarterback project EJ Manuel – Buddy Nix was still calling the during the 2013 draft – he did stand by the Florida State product, even going as far as to bench Tyrod Taylor in Week 17 this past season to get one last look at Manuel. Whaley is entirely responsible for making the bold and questionable move to trade up to the 4th pick in the draft in 2014, sacrificing a first-round pick the next year to take wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Surely he didn’t have the foresight to know Watkins would be so plagued by injuries through the first three years of his career, but when you consider other wideouts from the same draft class have thrived for their respective teams, the optics aren’t great. The blatant salary cap mismanagement is also a problem, one that has left the Bills immensely handicapped throughout this offseason.
Yes, Whaley oversaw the deal that brought Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy to Buffalo, but that was a move driven more by former EagleChip Kelly’s odd desire to ditch the running back, than Whaley’s masterful negotiating. That one sort of fell in his lap. By and large the Bills are in a worse place today – teetering on a rebuild – than they were when he first took over.
All that culminated in his firing less than 24 hours after the 2017 NFL Draft came to a close. The draft sort of marks the end of the season for general managers and scouts, so firing them beforehand would have meant a year of preparation would go to waste. The timing may seem strange but it was actually very tactful on the part of the Pegulas, who took responsibility for the move.
Truthfully though, this decision has been on the horizon since the moment Sean McDermott was hired. Now that’s not to say McDermott directly called for Whaley and his staff to be fired. That conversation could have happened, but I won’t speculate on what was and wasn’t said behind closed doors. That said, from day one rumors surfaced that McDermott was being given control of the 53-man roster, something he was asked about at his introductory press conference. Reports of a divide over Tyrod Taylor’s future with the team pinned McDermott and Whaley against each other at the NFL Combine. Even subtle hints like McDermott, not Whaley, addressing the media at the team’s annual pre-draft presser provided some context to the situation.
McDermott also had his handprint all over this weekend’s draft. Everything from trading back from the 10th pick with Kansas City, where his former boss Andy Reid is head coach, to trading up to the second-to-last pick of the second round to draft OL Dion Dawkins one spot ahead of his former team the Carolina Panthers, who also needed offensive line help.
The evidence was everywhere, and Whaley’s dismissal only makes it official. This is McDermott’s team. He’s been given the keys to the kingdom so to speak, and moving on from Whaley was a loose ended that needed to be tied up. Originally, the Pegulas likely believed that Whaley – a man they liked and trusted, and the only GM they’ve ever known – could work in cohesion with McDermott, only to become overwhelmingly impressed with this culture change McDermott is instituting, that they slowly shifted their trust to him instead. That combined with Whaley’s shortcomings made them reconsider the structure of the front office. To quote Rex Ryan, they’re “all in” on McDermott. They’re all in on his process, and this was simply the next step.
Now the Pegula’s turn their attention towards finding a new general manager who aligns more closely with McDermott’s philosophies. They want cohesion. Perhaps that’s Panthers Assistant General Manager Brandon Beane, who is already rumored to be the frontrunner for the job. One thing is for sure though, whoever becomes the franchise’s 13th GM, it’ll have to be someone willing to accept that McDermott is calling the shots.
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