Buffalo Bills: Doug Whaley needed to go as soon as possible

Oct 9, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley reacts during a NFL game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 9, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley reacts during a NFL game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The timing was a little off, but firing Doug Whaley was the right move by the Buffalo Bills this offseason.

Less than 24 hours after the draft, the Buffalo Bills made a big change in their front office. On Sunday, the team announced General Manager Doug Whaley was fired. He spent four seasons with the team as they went 30-34 and didn’t make the post-season.

Under his watch, the infamous Bills’ playoff drought became old enough to drive a car and hold a job.

The timing of the announcement initially sounded confusing. Why sack your GM right after a draft which analysts were praising? More importantly, what message would that send to potential replacement candidates. Combine that with this sad testament to an unstable foundation, and the dysfunction seems well and alive in Orchard Park.

What a lot of the snarky Bills-gonna-Bills schadenfreude misses is that underneath the bad timing and look, this was a move that needed to be made. For the past four years, Doug Whaley was a very bad GM, and even his last draft comes with an asterisk.

Where do we even start with him?

Whaley started out with the Pittsburgh Steelers, working there as a scout for ten years. His time there produced star defensive players like Troy Polamalu, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley. He deserves genuine credit for helping discover these players.

Whatever scouting ability he had disappeared in 2010, when he accepted the job to be then-Bills GM Buddy Nix’s assistant. Of 35 players he helped Nix draft from 2010-2013, only two (Marcell Dareus and Cordy Glenn) still remain on the team. Every team accepts that you can’t hit on all draft picks, but they would want a better success rate than 5.7 percent.

That number looked a little better in 2013, when Whaley officially took over for a retiring Nix. It’s also when the GM’s incompetence became very obvious. In the first round of his first draft, he overreached hard for Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel. One year later, Whaley was already discussing in public who to blame for the pick. Two years of riding the bench later, EJ now finds himself fighting for a back-up spot in Oakland.

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The poor drafting didn’t stop there. The next year, Whaley traded three draft picks (2014 1st round and 2015’s 1st and 4th round) to move up and select Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins. This tied into EJ Manuel, as Doug somehow thought a good receiver could make a bad quarterback better.

To no one’s surprise, it didn’t happen. Manuel was benched in 2014 for Kyle Orton and beaten out in 2015 by Tyrod Taylor. Meanwhile, Watkins has potential, but injuries kept him off the field, and it might be his last season in Buffalo.

Drafting Shaq Lawson in 2016 was another poor move, although it had nothing to do with the player’s ability. Despite concerns over the defensive end’s shoulder, Whaley swore he wouldn’t need surgery. Then a little over two weeks later, he did. At this point, Bills fans found it hard to even trust their GM.

These are just big examples of bad drafting, but smaller ones are littered all over the roster. Players drafted from 2014 are expected to be contributing by now; not so with the Bills. Of that year, only Watkins and Preston Brown have amounted to anything resembling contributors. In both cases, there’s caveats; Sammy is often injured, while Preston hasn’t been the same player since defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz left in 2014.

The others? Cyrus Kouandjio still can’t lock down a starting role on the offensive line and is in the hospital after a misadventure so unbelievable it’s sad. Ross Cockrell, Cryil Richardson and Randell Johnson are on other teams. Seantrel Henderson is now more known for off-the-field issues than his play.

Even the 2015 draft amounted to practically zip.

Ronald Darby is up-and-down, while Karlos Williams was good for one season before being too lazy to contribute. Dezmin Lewis is a non-factor, Nick O’Leary is just a guy and Tony Steward is gone. Offensive Guard John Miller is developing nicely, but that’s still a bad overall haul.

The 2016 draft class? Uncertain at best. Lawson was ineffective when coming back from surgery, and second-round pick Reggie Ragland tore an ACL in training camp. Fellow selections Adolphus Washington and Jonathan Williams were unspectacular. Cardale Jones might not even be on the team this year. Wide receiver Kolby Listenbee sat out the entire year with an injury. Kevon Seymour might become something, or he might not. Again, not the most promising group here.

At this point, you can probably sense a pattern. Doug Whaley is bad at the draft and his constant mismanagement was hurting the Buffalo Bills. Problems were not getting fixed with long-term solutions, so band-aids were chased in free agency.

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To Whaley’s credit, he actually did a decent job with that. Great players like Jerry Hughes, Mike Gillislee, Lorenzo Alexander and Zach Brown did a lot in a short time. He and Rex Ryan found a quarterback in Tyrod Taylor that’s done more than any Bill under center since Doug Flutie.The Kiko Alonso-for-LeSean McCoy trade was fantastic, giving Buffalo one of the best running backs in the league.

But Whaley even frequently managed to screw-up the good acquisitions he made. Gillislee got swooped up by the New England Patriots just like Chris Hogan did an off-season before. If Doug had put a second-round tender on both men, which was affordable, they’d both still be Bills.

Marcell Dareus’ monster contract extension is destroying this team, especially when you consider the lack of production out of the player. Ditto for Charles Clay.

The Tyrod Taylor saga deserves a specific mention. He was signed as a free agent in 2015 and won the starting job in training camp. His solid 2015 season raised questions if the Bills really found their quarterback of the future.

Encouraged by his progress, Whaley negotiated a six-year, $92 million deal with Taylor. But the quarterback underperformed in 2016, although he dealt with a poor receiving core assembled by his GM. Despite the fact that he was coming off his best game, Taylor was benched by the team in Week 17. The reason? His 2017 option contained an injury clause, meaning he would still get paid if he was injured.

Who negotiated this? Doug Whaley.

There’s another pattern you can probably sense here, which is mismanagement of money. Along with drafting, those are two of the most important things a general manager does. Whaley is bad at both of them. It’s no wonder why he reportedly had problems with Rex Ryan, Doug Marrone and was already at odds with Sean McDermott.

Sometimes, even the obviously correct move can get you criticism. Not making the playoffs for 17 years can do that to an organization. The firing of Doug Whaley does play into the idea that the Buffalo Bills are dysfunctional. What else can you say after having three head coaches in four years?

But the common denominator of those four years wasn’t Terry and Kim Pegula, it was Doug Whaley. His poor drafting and roster mismanagement left the team with numerous holes that Sean McDermott now has to fill. If the relationship between a coach and GM can be described as a marriage, then Whaley was the one who sucked all the energy out of his partner before moving to the next one.

No relationship can work that way and kudos to the Pegulas for understanding that. Their rocky tenure as owners deserves some stability. The hope is a new general manager can provide that.

Next: What Will Reggie Ragland Do in 2017?

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