After a league leading 17 straight years without making the NFL playoffs, you would of thought that by now the Buffalo Bills would have run out of ways to make themselves a laughing stock but it turns out that you would be wrong. In a season that saw the Bills not only beat the Patriots but shut them out, in New England need I remind you, the end of season 7-9 record was Jeff Fisher like in the frustration it caused to the long suffering and maybe most deserving of fan bases.
There was many a Buffalo fan that was not convinced by the appointment of Rex Ryan in the first place two years ago, that team, coached by Doug Marrone had finally at least returned a record of 9-7 and the Jim Schwartz defence was ranked as the fourth best defence in the league. The arrival of Rex Ryan, a so called defensive guru, was supposed to make this even better, but it was never destined to work out that way, and in reflection all it really did was upset the apple cart.
Of course, the first domino that set off the chain of events that led to Rex arriving in Western New York, was the purchase of the team by Terry and Kim Pegula. A move that was incredibly popular amongst Bills fans at the time, as it prevented the Jon Bon-Jovi led consortium buying the team and possibly moving to Toronto or elsewhere. The Pegula’s already owned the NHL Buffalo Sabres and committed to keeping the Bills in the city, but now two full seasons later are the Pegula’s still as popular?
The sale of the team, enabled Marrone to exercise a clause in the contract and walk away and in walked Rex Ryan, freshly sacked by the New York Jets. Ryan was determined to install his defence into the Bills and things got a little feisty with shots fired back and forth through the media, with star names like Mario Williams. The truth, such as it was, is that the Bills defence was not broke before and did not need Rex Ryan to fix it, the whole unit simply regressed under Ryan in the first year. It took two end of season wins, just to make .500, which saved his job and allowed him to come back for a second season.
In the off-season, unsurprisingly Mario Williams was allowed to move on and the Bills hierarchy signed off on allowing Rob Ryan to come in and assist his brother in running the defence, despite the Bills already having a defensive coordinator in Dennis Thurman. Two games into the new season (two defeats) and it was offensive coordinator Greg Roman who was fired, and Running Backs coach Anthony Lynn was promoted to the role.
Star Receiver Sammy Watkins was injured (again) and unsurprisingly under Lynn, the running game took centre stage, LeSean McCoy turned in one of the better seasons of his career to date. McCoy paired with a mobile threat QB like Tyrod Taylor, and the Bills became one of the more dangerous running teams in the league. However, Taylor for all his running threat, was simply inconsistent in the passing game, in part yes down to Watkins absence, but too many times when the offence had the chance to put the game away they just couldn’t quite do it.
Taylor is only in his second year of starting, and despite clearly being the best of Buffalo’s options at the QB position, it was always felt that their former first round draft pick EJ Manuel was in the picture. The feeling throughout these last two seasons is that Manuel was very much General Manager Doug Whaley’s preference, but not Ryan’s. Whaley’s reputation as a talent spotter was not helped by the performances turned in by Manuel when he did get the chance to play (just look at the 2nd quarter at Wembley in 2015).
So the Bills found themselves at 7-7, and according to Whaley, He, Rex and Terry Pegula were on their standard weekly conference call, after which Rex asked to speak to Terry Pegula privately, the outcome of which was that Rex was removed from the position of head coach, and his brother Rob was let go too, with Denis Thurman retained for now. The man to take over for the final two games, new Offensive Coordinator Anthony Lynn.
One game later and it was announced that Tyrod Taylor would not be playing in the final game of the season, and instead it would be EJ Manuel. This has the look of an awful lot of leverage being levied onto Lynn, possibly from Whaley, to play Manuel, who once again predictably was not able to live up to the GM’s hopes. So what does this mean for Lynn and Taylor now?
Lynn is a respected coach around the league who has already been interviewed for Head Coaching roles, as is known to be a big favourite of the Pegula family. He is known to have interviewed for the Bills and 49ers vacant jobs already, but if he wants the Bills job I would be staggered if he was not appointed very soon, probably by the time you get to read this article. Tyrod Taylor, could easily be a starter for anyone of ten or so NFL teams, but is Buffalo one of those teams going forward? And will the new coach be free to make that decision or will it be made for them?
Just this week, local hero Jim Kelly, has come out and stated that Taylor is not the man to lead this team going forward, which could put a lot of pressure on the decision that needs to be made very soon. If Lynn feels comfortable with the situation in Buffalo, then I think he will take the job and I think he keeps Taylor as starting QB. It would be a shot across the bows for Whaley who many now be on borrowed time.
Local journalists at the end of season press conference felt compelled to ask Whaley what is was he actually does, if as GM he doesn’t know about coach firings and hiring’s as he claimed. He also claimed he would be happy to give control of the Roster to the new coach if they wanted it. You do kind of wonder if the journalists in the conference did indeed have a point.
For Doug Whaley you have to say it is uncertain. It looks like he has survived this year by being a yes man to the Pegula’s, something which was never going to sit with a character like Rex Ryan very well.
The Pegula’s themselves are now under pressure, they have been seen to be involved in some of the team coaching and personnel decisions, perhaps beyond the level of normal ownership, and is this a potential problem? Of course, get the decision right at this point and get the Bills into the playoffs and the Pegula’s will be local hero’s once more.
For Anthony Lynn, known as a strict disciplinarian in the locker room, something that the Bills may actually need, will he feel able to work with a potential lame duck GM. Will he have free reign to bring in a staff? If so, he needs to revert the team to a 4-3 defence and find a coordinator who is comfortable with that, someone like Gus Bradley would be a great fit. One thing in his favour is that the Bills roster does have some major talent on it, get them playing as a unit on both sides of the ball, and the playoffs are a distinct possibility.