AFC East: Buffalo Bills

Remember that report in early December, the one about Rex Ryan being so upset with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg that he considered firing him during the season?

Naturally Ryan denied it, calling it "100 percent false." He also insisted there wasn't a rift between himself and Mornhinweg, saying, "I’m tight with every single coach here. I believe in every single coach that I have, and that’s the truth."

Actions speak louder than words, as they say, and Ryan's actions in the last couple of weeks suggest that he and Mornhinweg weren't simpatico.

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Consider: Since being named the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, Ryan has hired nine members of his New York Jets staff. The latest to ride the Florham Park-to-Orchard Park shuttle is Anthony Lynn, who will coach the Bills' running backs and have the additional title of assistant head coach, as he did with the Jets.

If you're keeping score, only four coaches (we're talking coordinators and position coaches) haven't gone to the Bills -- Mornhinweg, special-teams coach Thomas McGaughey, offensive line coach Mike Devlin and tight ends coach Steve Hagen.

Devlin jumped at an early offer to coach the Houston Texans' offensive line. McGaughey never was a consideration because Ryan ended up retaining Danny Crossman. So, basically, Mornhinweg and Hagen are the only ones who didn't follow Ryan to the Bills.

Before he was hired by the Bills, Ryan already had aligned himself with Greg Roman as his coordinator. Unlike Mornhinweg, Roman, a former offensive line coach, will happily run the ball as much as Ryan wants.

Ryan and Mornhinweg weren't a philosophical fit for the Jets. They made it through 2013 thanks to a strong running game and a feel-good finish, but they clashed last season on how to handle Geno Smith. Mornhinweg put more on Smith's plate at the start of the season, but he was reeled in by Ryan. In the end, it all backfired. Hence, 4-12.

Mornhinweg ended up taking a job as the Baltimore Ravens' quarterbacks coach, a move down the coaching ladder. We'll see how things shake out with Hagen and McGaughey, who has been linked to the San Francisco 49ers' special-teams job, but Mornhinweg is the only member of Ryan's 2014 staff to take a demotion.
Doug Marrone's sudden departure from the Buffalo Bills earlier this month left the majority of his assistant coaches out of jobs, but at least one of Marrone's former position coaches doesn't have any hard feelings toward his old boss.

"That’s the business. He’s taking care of himself, his family. That’s the No. 1 thing you do as a man, all right?" Fred Pagac, who served as linebackers coach for the Bills last season, told ESPN by phone this week.

Pagac, who is currently without a job, was speaking in reference to Marrone's decision to use an escape clause in his contract, triggered by the Bills' ownership change.

"He wanted to take care of himself, his family and his staff,” Pagac said. “It’s hard to coach when you’re under the gun, I guess. If they wanted him, they would have given the extensions to him and to the coaching staff.

"Hey, I’m fine. You know what I mean? It’s not going to affect me that much. But hey, that’s a decision that he made. He didn’t feel any support behind him, I guess, is the way I understand it."

After Marrone interviewed for several head-coaching vacancies this offseason but was not hired by any of those teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars brought him aboard as their assistant head coach and offensive line coach Tuesday.

"Doug Marrone is a hell of a coach. I’m surprised that he didn’t get another head job," Pagac said. "He brought Buffalo to a 9-7 record this year, which was tough with an off-the-street quarterback. And I have a lot of respect for Doug. I like him a lot.

"I’d work for him tomorrow."

Pagac, 62, never worked with Marrone prior to last season and knew little about the former New York Jets and New Orleans Saints assistant before joining his staff. His initial impression of Marrone was positive.

"I’ve been coaching for 37 years. I guess you might call me one of those old-school coaches," Pagac said. "I thought he did a great job. He was demanding, wants things done his way. And that’s how you win football games.”

Some Bills players, including running back Fred Jackson, were critical of Marrone's decision to leave the team after completing its first winning season since 2004.

"I’m an old-school coach, OK? I think players talk too f---ing much to begin with, OK?" Pagac said. "They shouldn’t have any f---ing input on what happens there.”

Pagac was an assistant coach at Ohio State from 1978-2000 before making the jump to the NFL. He is now looking to find a job with his third team in the past three seasons.

“I’m waiting to find out what happens in a couple different situations and go from there," he said. "Hopefully I’m not going to be riding out to the dark sunset and having somebody put a bullet behind my ear in the desert somewhere, like they do to all the horses."
For the first time in months, the Buffalo Bills' prospects of building a new stadium were back in the news this week.

Consulting firm AECOM, commissioned by New York State last year to study potential stadium sites, completed its report and the findings were reported by the Buffalo News and also posted to an Internet website this week.

Without diving too deeply into the growing web of political and business threads to the project, here are some need-to-know bullet points from this week's developments:

1. Not the Bills' study: It's most important to note that the Bills didn't commission the study and hadn't even read the report as of Sunday, according to a comment from co-owner Kim Pegula to the Buffalo News. Since last year, the Bills have been careful to keep their options open between renovating Ralph Wilson Stadium or building a new facility, and where any new stadium would be relocated. This study was considered background research conducted for New York State, one of the parties that would be involved in a publicly-funded stadium, but by no means are the Bills bound to the results of the study.

2. Focus on downtown stadium sites: The firm analyzed several sites in and around Buffalo and suggested that three downtown sites, as well as the Bills' existing plot in Orchard Park, would be the best locations for a new stadium. All three downtown sites are relatively close to the First Niagara Center, where the Pegula-owned Buffalo Sabres play. The cost of building a downtown stadium, which could be domed or open air depending on the site, would range from $700-$900 million, according to the study. The report estimated a renovation to Ralph Wilson Stadium, which underwent $130 million in renovations this past offseason, at $555 million.

3. No meetings scheduled: New York lieutenant governor Kathy Hochul, a member of the Bills' "new stadium working group," told WGRZ-TV that the committee has no meetings scheduled after briefly meeting last spring. There isn't a sense of urgency around the project because of two factors: (1) The Bills' current lease on Ralph Wilson Stadium has eight seasons remaining, and (2) The Bills' ownership situation has been settled, easing fears of relocation. At this point, the Bills are moving at their own pace on this project, so don't expect any further developments soon.
Pepper Johnson is frustrated.

The Buffalo Bills' defensive line coach this past season, who is still under contract with the team, interviewed for the New York Giants' defensive coordinator vacancy earlier this week. He didn't get the job.

After 15 seasons as an assistant in the NFL, Johnson told the New York Daily News that he's been itching to move up the coaching ladder.

"Moving away from the Patriots, spending a year in Buffalo, I was hoping it would open doors and open some eyes, that more people would be watching,” Johnson told the newspaper, "and (that some team) will give me a call before all this is said and done.

"I feel bottled up," he said. "I have a lot of knowledge and a lot of information that I feel like I just have to keep to myself."

The Daily News also reported that new Bills coach Rex Ryan spoke to Johnson as late as Wednesday and said there would be a job waiting for him on the Bills' staff.

But where would that job be?

Johnson coached linebackers and the defensive line with the Patriots but both of those positions now have coaches for the Bills. They were among several hires from Ryan's Jets staff that the Bills announced Thursday:

Defensive line: Karl Dunbar
Assistant defensive line: Jeff Weeks
Linebackers: Bobby April III

In addition, the Buffalo News reported this week that Jason Rebrovich, the assistant defensive line coach this past season, will be shifted to outside linebackers coach.

The secondary isn't an option for Johnson either. The Bills hired Tim McDonald from the Jets and will keep Donnie Henderson from Doug Marrone's staff, giving them two veteran coaches for their defensive backs.

No matter where you look, there is little room for Johnson on the Bills' staff.
The Buffalo Bills' most pressing free-agent priority is to re-sign defensive end Jerry Hughes, who is set to hit the open market in March.

But as a team that once raised eyebrows across the NFL by handing defensive end Mark Anderson a four-year, $19.5 million contract and then cutting him a year later, the Bills need to be smarter with their money this time around.

It's a message that becomes increasingly relevant now that Bills senior vice president of football administration Jim Overdorf -- the team's longtime contract negotiator -- is in talks with Hughes' agent, Ben Dogra.

"I know J.O. has been in contact with his representatives and started the process," general manager Doug Whaley told WGR 550 on Thursday. "We're excited and we want him back. He's a great addition to our defense and hopefully we can get this thing done sooner than later."

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Gary WiepertJerry Hughes had a big season for the Bills in 2014, but the new coaching situation might make him less valuable to the team next season.
Hughes tallied 10 sacks in each of the past two seasons, but what shouldn't be glossed over is that he was used differently in Mike Pettine's scheme in 2013 than he was in Jim Schwartz's system this past season.

Specifically, Hughes wasn't part of the base defense under Pettine, only coming on the field in sub packages and playing 52.8 percent of defensive snaps that season. Under Schwartz, Hughes was part of both the base and sub defenses but was used as part of a rotation, playing in 71.9 percent of snaps.

Assuming that new coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman implement the system they ran in New York, which Pettine also used in Buffalo, the Bills have two options if they re-sign Hughes:

  1. Use Hughes only in the sub defense, exclusively as a hand-in-the-dirt pass-rusher. This would mean Hughes wouldn't be on the field on early downs, which would diminish his overall value to the team.
  2. Use Hughes both in the sub and base defenses. Since Ryan's base scheme essentially uses three defensive tackles (Pettine used Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Alan Branch) and only one true defensive end (Pettine tapped Mario Williams), Hughes would need to find a home at "Sam" linebacker in the base defense. That would mean him standing up at the snap and having coverage responsibilities on some plays, as Manny Lawson did in that spot in 2013. A similar role didn't work out well for Hughes in Indianapolis in 2012, and the Bills might be better suited using Lawson at that position or pursuing a free agent like Calvin Pace.

In either case, Hughes' value to the Bills shouldn't be as high as it would be if they still ran Schwartz's scheme, which allowed Hughes to be a full-time defensive end and a threat to rush the passer on every snap. Yes, he had just as many sacks under Pettine in a part-time role as he did under Schwartz in a full-time role, but he came at a significantly reduced cost in 2013 than he would in 2015.

Likewise, Hughes theoretically should have less desire to return to the Bills since he would be either a part-time player or potentially miscast on early downs. If he waits until the free-agent negotiation period begins on March 7, he could find a lucrative offer elsewhere for a full-time role.

That logic, however, ignores one key aspect of the situation: Hughes was surrounded by Pro Bowl talent the past two seasons. For Hughes, that gives him more reason to return to Buffalo, where he can continue to feed off the pressure that Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Dareus all generate against offensive lines.

But for the Bills, the talent that surrounded Hughes should be even further reason to temper his financial value. If Hughes' strong play was due in part to the players next to him, why pay Hughes top dollar? Find someone else with a cheaper price tag and see if he can duplicate Hughes' results, as the NFL's best teams often do when faced with the prospect of overpaying for one of their non-critical players -- especially one who might not be an every-down contributor.

The cautionary tale for the Bills should be Anderson, who posted 10 sacks for the New England Patriots in 2011. Five of those sacks were garbage-time take-downs in the fourth quarter of runaway Patriots wins, and he never lived up to the bloated contract the Bills threw his way the following offseason.

Sure, Hughes has come up with many more big-time plays than Anderson ever had in New England or Buffalo, and there's plenty of reason to be excited about a young, energetic former first-round pick who has flourished in his new surroundings. Unlike Anderson, he has already proven himself with this team -- but that doesn't mean he's worth a big deal.

That's why before opening their wallets, the Bills should place a sensible value on Hughes and think like smart, winning NFL teams do: with their heads, and not their hearts.
The Buffalo Bills named Dennis Thurman their defensive coordinator Thursday.

Thurman, 58, follows head coach Rex Ryan from the New York Jets, where he served as defensive coordinator the past two seasons.

The 11th-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 1978 has coached with Ryan since 2002, when the two were assistants with the Baltimore Ravens.

The Bills also announced several other members of their coaching staff, all of whom follow Ryan from the Jets:

Tony Sparano Jr. -- tight ends
Karl Dunbar -- defensive line
Jeff Weeks -- assistant defensive line
Bobby April III -- linebackers
Tim McDonald -- defensive backs
Eric Smith -- special-teams assistant
Jason Oszvart -- strength and conditioning assistant

In addition, the Bills announced that Donnie Henderson, who was on Doug Marrone's staff the past two seasons, will remain as co-defensive backs coach with McDonald.
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills have a new front-office power structure in place, but as a practical matter, how is it going to work?

The four men who sat in chairs on the stage during Wednesday's introductory news conference for Rex Ryan (not including co-owner Kim Pegula, who sat in the front row of the audience) spoke of having "one ego" and "one direction," noble goals that might be more ideal than realistic.

The Bills have arranged their front office so that Ryan, general manager Doug Whaley and president Russ Brandon will all report directly to owner Terry Pegula, making the Bills the latest team to adopt the NFL's trend toward having head coaches report directly to owners.

It's not unlike the Miami Dolphins, where coach Joe Philbin will now report to owner Stephen Ross, or the New York Jets, where new coach Todd Bowles will answer only to owner Woody Johnson. The Atlanta Falcons -- once they hire a new head coach -- will have a new, similar structure.

The Bills' new approach keeps Whaley in charge of the 53-man roster while Ryan -- who coaches the players that Whaley selects -- doesn't answer to Whaley, but Pegula.

What happens, then, when Whaley and Ryan disagree on a football matter? After Wednesday's news conference, Whaley admitted that he isn't quite sure.

"That's an interesting question," Whaley told the Toronto Sun's John Kryk. "I think the way we look at it is there's going to be disagreements, and you want that. You want internal debate, external unity.

"Does it go to Terry? Does it go to Kim? Does it go to Russ? Wherever it goes, as long as it's the best decision for the Buffalo Bills."

File that one away.
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- New Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan will report directly to owner Terry Pegula, the team announced at Ryan's introductory news conference Wednesday.

"Rex, [president] Russ [Brandon] and [general manager] Doug [Whaley] will report to Kim [Pegula] and myself and that’s the way we’re going to have it moving forward," Terry Pegula said. "I believe in everyone. ... I think I’ve said this in the past: My style of business is that no one should be afraid to say anything so we will welcome input from anybody; the coach, the GM, the president, myself, Kim and that’s how we’re going to move forward.

"You should never be afraid to say anything. I don’t care if it’s sports or other business."

Whaley will retain control of the 53-man roster, with Ryan having control over the 46-man game-day roster and his coaching staff.

Brandon will oversee business operations, administration operations and football administration budgets, Brandon said.

"As Terry said earlier and as Coach said, it’s not only one direction, it’s one mindset and we’ll be in lock-step in everything that we do as an organization," Brandon said.

Earlier this month, Terry Pegula pursued ESPN NFL analyst Bill Polian to have an oversight role over the front office but Polian eventually declined to join the team.

"Yes, I talked to Bill Polian," Pegula said Wednesday. "I talked to guys that I know in the league. It’s not only Bill. That got blown way out of proportion."


ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- As much as things have changed in the AFC East, they still seem to stay the same.

The Buffalo Bills introduced new coach Rex Ryan at a news conference Wednesday, a little more than two weeks after he was fired by the New York Jets. One reporter asked if Ryan was looking forward to facing the Jets, and the bombastic coach took his answer in another direction.

"I'll be honest: I think it's still the Patriots that I want the most," Ryan responded.

The Bills are 3-25 against the New England Patriots since 2001, but the Jets played the Patriots tough in Ryan's six seasons as their coach.

“We’re not afraid of anybody,” Ryan said of the Patriots. “Certainly not afraid of them. I respect them, I recognize the fact that they’ve won our division the last six years -- I think 10 out of the last 11 years they’ve won our division -- but that doesn’t guarantee they’re going to win it next year.

“And that doesn’t mean that we can’t be the team that’s on top of them. I think there’s a lot of talent that we already have here and I can’t wait for that, either. That opportunity, getting to play them . . . they certainly know that I’ll look forward to those games, that’s for sure.”

“We’re going into every game. We expect to win. Period. This team is going to expect to win, regardless of who they play. If they want bring back [former Patriots tight end] Russ Francis and John Hannah to play guard, we’ll play them, too.”
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Fred Jackson hasn't been shy expressing his feelings about Doug Marrone.

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It was no different on Wednesday, as Jackson met with reporters before Rex Ryan's news conference and called the new coach an upgrade over the old one.

"We feel like we got better at the coaching staff, at the head coaching position," Jackson said. "Obviously you hate to see things unfold the way that they did, but you got to look at the best side of it. We got a coach who's coming in who wants to win, who's proven himself as a coach that can win. You got to feel like you've gotten better."

Jackson views Ryan as a "players coach" and chose his words carefully about Marrone's relationship with players.

"Just from the guys that I've talked to, he's done nothing but been behind them. Wherever he's been, he's been a players coach," Jackson said. "Doug was the type of guy [who] said that, he said the family thing, he built that. But it's just going to be different with Rex.

"I think when you hear some of the guys talk about Rex, you hear about how he looked out for him and how he was a players' coach and things like that. That's not necessarily what was said about Doug -- [and] I'm not saying it was a bad thing with Doug -- but I think you just have to [be] around Rex and get a chance to know him and I think that's what how we'll find out it's different."
On Tuesday, new Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan arrived in town and went on an introductory tour that included a giant pizza, beers with Jim Kelly and a Buffalo Sabres game.

The festivities will continue Wednesday when the Bills introduce Ryan at a news conference (noon ET) in their practice fieldhouse.

Stayed tuned throughout the day for updates.

After hiring offensive coordinator Greg Roman away from the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday, the Buffalo Bills now want to bring in at least one of his staff members.

According to CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco, the Bills have requested permission to interview 49ers offensive line coach Mike Solari for the same job in Buffalo.

Pat Morris coached the Bills' offensive line the past two seasons under Doug Marrone. Buffalo's line was the league's third-worst this season by Pro Football Focus' tracking.

The development of 2014 second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio will be key for whomever coaches the Bills' offensive line next season. Kouandjio performed poorly in the preseason and was active for just one regular-season contest.

Solari, 59, has coached in the NFL since 1992. He served as the Kansas City Chiefs' offensive coordinator from 2006-07.
In Buffalo, Jim Kelly's word is gold.

It's notable, then, when the Hall of Fame quarterback put out a statement Tuesday endorsing the Buffalo Bills' hire of Rex Ryan as their next head coach.

Here is Kelly's statement, posted along with a picture of him and Ryan on Jill Kelly's Instagram page:
I am very excited about the hiring of Rex Ryan not only because of his coaching ability but also because of how he works with players and how players work for and respect him. He now has very talented players to go with the enthusiasm he brings to the locker room. I'm looking forward to seeing what he does on the offensive side of the ball. I'm also excited about Rex Ryan's determination to bring winning football back to the RALPH, to the amazing Bills fans and to the great city and people of Buffalo! GO BILLS!

Kelly's reaction comes on the heels of several current Bills players chiming in on Twitter this week about the hires of Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman:

Rex Ryan arrived at the Buffalo Bills facility Tuesday and was greeted by, well, a pie.

A local pizza shop created a "Welcome Rex" pizza with spinach, ricotta cheese and food coloring, which was presented to the Bills' new head coach as he toured the building with his new bosses.

Check it out on ESPN.com's Instant Awesome:

Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz decided Monday to part ways with the team upon the arrival of coach Rex Ryan. It might not be the news Bills fans were hoping for -- Buffalo ranked fourth in overall defense in 2014 -- but it was a predictable outcome, given that Schwartz's and Ryan's defensive philosophies and schemes differ greatly.

I called their potential pairing an "odd marriage" last week, and it's probably for the best that the two didn't try to meld together competing defensive identities. Even though coaches often talk about "adapting to personnel" and "doing whatever it takes to win," they are often stubborn creatures of habit. They want to run their own scheme and have their own people in charge.

Instead of having two strong personalities running some ambiguous mix of their systems, Ryan likely will have Dennis Thurman and most of the defensive staff from the Jets teaching and coaching what they know best, and that's the best outcome for the Bills.

While Schwartz's system worked well for the Bills this season, keep in mind that former coordinator Mike Pettine's approach -- which he learned from Ryan -- turned the defense from one of the league's worst in 2012 to one of the best in 2013.

In fact, there were fears when Schwartz arrived that he would make the defense less aggressive than it was under Pettine, who had left to become coach of the Cleveland Browns. He eased some of that worry by stressing the importance of "continuity" in his introductory news conference, but ultimately he ran a close parallel to his system in Detroit, where he was head coach for five seasons -- with very little carryover from Pettine's system.

It worked for Schwartz. He was allowed to do what he does best, just as Ryan now will be able to do.

And guess what? It will probably work for Ryan, too.

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