AFC East: Buddy Nix
Whaley was officially promoted from within to take over for former general manager Buddy Nix and took some time Thursday to discuss his new position with the AFC East blog. Whaley has a big job ahead. The Bills have not been to the playoffs since 1999, which is currently the NFL's longest playoff drought.
Turning the franchise around starts at quarterback, which is a position Buffalo hasn’t had a long-term solution for since the days of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. This year the Bills have three players vying for that spot: rookie first-round pick EJ Manuel and veterans Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson. Whaley said he’s not afraid to go into the season with a rookie quarterback if that's how the situation plays out in training camp.
"My philosophy on quarterbacks has always been the same," Whaley told the AFC East blog. "The best guy plays."
There are also new challenges ahead for Whaley that he didn't have to worry about as assistant general manager. One of the biggest issues facing the Bills is the pending contract dispute involving Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, who is unhappy about getting the franchise tag. This will be Whaley's first big challenge as GM and a situation to keep an eye on with the Bills this summer.
“We want to keep our good players and Jairus is obviously a good player,” Whaley said. “We have an organizational goal not to negotiate in the media and want to keep it that way. But we will continue to negotiate with Jairus.”
The New England Patriots -- lead by coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady -- have been the mountain every AFC East team has tried to climb for the past dozen years. The Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets consistently discuss closing the gap with New England.
Whaley spent 10 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and knows what it is like to consistently contend and win championships. Whaley added it’s his ultimate goal to eventually make the Bills the “Beasts of the East.”
This decision has been in the works for months, as Buffalo’s front office prepared for the transition to Whaley. Nix, 73, took on a less-taxing role as special assistant earlier this week now that the NFL draft is complete.
Whaley is thought of very highly in the organization and was being groomed for the GM role. Before joining the Bills, he spent 10 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, which included two Super Bowl titles following the 2006 and 2009 seasons. We will have more on this move this afternoon in the AFC East blog.
1. New England Patriots receivers: I’m just not convinced that New England has a strong receiving corps. This was once a strength of the Patriots and now it’s a weakness. Often injured Danny Amendola leads the group, which also includes Donald Jones, Michael Jenkins and Julian Edelman. The Patriots also signed another veteran to add to the pile: Lavelle Hawkins. The Patriots could be fortunate if rookie Aaron Dobson or Josh Boyce turn out to be fast learners. But counting on rookie receivers to immediately adjust to the speed of the NFL game is always a roll of the dice.
2. Quinton Coples, New York Jets defensive end/outside linebacker: Coples entered the draft in 2012 with the reputation of turning it off and on during games. It turns out that’s also the case in the weight room. Coples angered Jets head coach Rex Ryan last week for his poor work in the weight room. Ryan needs the former first-round pick to play well next season when Coples transitions to an important role as an outside pass-rusher. Coples has the talent but needs to focus. It’s hard to get away with turning it off and on in the NFL. Now is the time for Coples to put in the extra work to become a consistent player.
3. Buffalo Bills’ guard position: The Bills probably made the right decision in free agency not to overpay for former guard Andy Levitre, who signed a $46 million contract with the Tennessee Titans. However, I’m not sure the Bills did enough this offseason to find a quality replacement. Buffalo is working relative unknown Chris Scott with the first team at left guard during this week’s organized team activities. That’s a far drop-off from Levitre. Do not underestimate the importance of quality interior linemen in Buffalo’s offense. One of the reasons running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson had huge running lanes and the quarterback had good pass protection was due to solid guard play from Levitre and returning starter Kraig Urbik.
1. Doug Whaley, Buffalo Bills general manager: As expected, 73-year-old Buddy Nix stepped down as Buffalo’s general manager this week and handed the post to Whaley, his former assistant GM. This had been in the works for a while. Whaley was doing many of the general manager duties in Buffalo for the past year or so and is now ready to take over. Whaley spent a decade with the Pittsburgh Steelers, which included two Super Bowl titles, and two years with the Bills waiting for this opportunity. The Bills are a team with a young nucleus and a young general manager looking to get them to the next level.
2. Geno Smith, Jets quarterback: Smith did a good job over the weekend of setting aside criticism and focusing on football. He had a solid rookie minicamp for the Jets and showed why the team made him the second quarterback off the board in this year’s draft. The hype machine is already building for Smith in New York after just one weekend. One report from the New York Post already indicated that Smith is the favorite to win the starting job and the coaching staff is “smitten” with the rookie after only a few practices.
3. Robert Woods, Bills receiver: Woods stole the show at Buffalo rookie minicamp last weekend. In a time that was meant to showcase new quarterback EJ Manuel, Woods was the rookie who shined brightest for Buffalo. The second-round pick reportedly had six catches in his first practice and displayed good hands and route running. Woods was arguably the most polished receiver in this year’s draft and is showing why early on. He has the inside track to start opposite veteran receiver Steve Johnson in Week 1.
- Do the Miami Dolphins have a weakness at running back?
- New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan had nice things to say about first-round pick Dee Milliner.
- The New England Patriots made a somewhat surprising move to release defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick.
- Former Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix says the time was right to step down.
There are two names that immediately come to mind when I think of Buddy Nix's tenure as Buffalo Bills general manager: Mario Williams and EJ Manuel.
Williams, who signed a $100 million contract in 2012, was by far Nix’s biggest free-agent signing. Manuel, a first-round pick in April's draft, is Nix’s most important draft pick. Until the fates of these two players are determined in Buffalo, it's difficult to fully gauge Nix’s impact in Buffalo.
Nix is stepping down as general manager Monday after three years with the Bills. It is a move that’s been in the works for months as Nix, 73, transitions to a less demanding phase of his career.
The tangible evidence so far doesn't look good for Nix. It's easy to point to Buffalo's 16-32 record during his three-year tenure. You can also look at Nix's failed hire of former Bills head coach Chan Gailey. Those are two clear blemishes on Nix's record in Buffalo.
Manuel and Williams could also be huge blemishes that would make Nix's run as GM in Buffalo a complete disaster. But if Manuel turns out to be a franchise quarterback who turns the Bills into a perennial playoff contender, and Williams plays up to his capabilities for the duration of his contract, Nix’s era in Buffalo will be viewed through a much brighter lens.
Until then, Nix’s three-year legacy with the Bills is still to be determined.
This move has been in the works for several months as Nix, 73, transitions to a less-taxing phase in his career. Nix wanted to make sure he finished the 2013 NFL draft as the lead voice of the Bills and will now serve as a special assistant. Nix's final big move was to land former Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel in the first round. Nix hopes he finally provided the Bills a franchise quarterback before stepping down.
Whaley is a bright, up-and-comer who has done a lot of work behind the scenes in Buffalo as assistant general manager. Whaley came from a winning program before joining the Bills. He spent 10 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and played a role in their Super Bowl victories after the 2006 and 2009 seasons.
- The New England Patriots surprised a lot of people by taking three Rutgers defenders in the NFL draft.
- New York Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith says it’s his goal to be a franchise quarterback.
- Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix said he "very seriously" considered drafting another quarterback.
- Miami Dolphins first-round pick Dion Jordan plans to wreak havoc on defense.
Rookie head coach Doug Marrone has yet to coach in his first game with the Buffalo Bills. But just a few months into his regime, it’s easy to pinpoint how to gauge his overall success or failure in the NFL.
The Marrone era in Buffalo will be defined by Thursday's shocking selection of former Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel -- no more, no less.
The Bills, led by general manager Buddy Nix, jumped out on a limb Thursday by making Manuel the first quarterback taken in the NFL draft with the No. 16 overall pick. It was perhaps the most surprising move of the first round, even after the Bills traded down eight picks with the St. Louis Rams to get the player they believe is the long-term solution at the position. Buffalo also gained a second- and a seventh-round pick and swapped third-rounders with St. Louis.
It is no secret that the job security of head coaches is closely tied to their quarterbacks. Look no further than the AFC East.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick struck gold by drafting Tom Brady 13 years ago in the sixth round. As a result, Belichick and the Patriots have dominated the AFC East ever since and have been to five Super Bowls, winning three. Belichick and Brady also are the all-time winningest coach and quarterback combination in NFL history.
On the other end of the AFC East spectrum, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan is on the hot seat after 2009 first-round pick Mark Sanchez flamed out. Sanchez was the first pick of the Ryan regime, and both are on the hot seat in New York. Former Bills head coach Chan Gailey was fired after last season, in part, because veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was a bust after signing a $59 million contract.
The Marrone-Manuel tandem could turn out either way for Buffalo. But if I had to take an educated guess before Manuel throws his first pass and Marrone coaches his first game, this decision has the potential to blow up in Buffalo’s face in three or four years.
The Bills have the NFL’s longest playoff drought at 14 years and counting. They have a history of drafting the wrong quarterbacks (J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards) and signing the wrong veterans (Fitzpatrick). That makes it extremely hard to trust that the Bills went against conventional wisdom and got this one correct.
Manuel comes with good physical tools. He's athletic, mobile and has solid accuracy. But there is tons of pressure facing Manuel as the first quarterback taken for various reasons.
By association, it's expected that Manuel will be the best quarterback from this 2013 NFL draft. Adding to the pressure is Buffalo passed over Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, who played for Marrone in college. It could only add salt to the wound for Buffalo if Manuel struggles and Nassib turns out to be a good quarterback when the Bills had the most intel with Nassib’s former head coach in the building.
West Virginia’s Geno Smith and USC’s Matt Barkley also were rated higher than Manuel by most experts. Manuel will be compared to those quarterbacks at the next level, too.
But the controversial decision has been made by the Bills and the time for second-guessing is over. It’s time for Manuel to get to work and live up to his billing as the top quarterback taken in this draft. Manuel will compete in training camp with veteran quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson. Maybe the Bills will get a one-year stopgap from Kolb or Jackson -- at best -- but Manuel will have to be ready to play sooner than later. The Bills say they are not rebuilding and are strong in several areas. One of the biggest things holding Buffalo back is its quarterback situation.
The Patriots, with Brady, remain the gold standard at quarterback in the AFC East. The Miami Dolphins appear to be heading in the right direction with second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. But New York and Buffalo have a lot of quarterback questions that were not answered in the first round.
The Bills have been looking for a franchise quarterback since the retirement of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. Manuel must develop into a franchise starter or it will set the Bills back for another three or four years.
According to Bills general manager Buddy Nix, they may not have a big enough need to select that position in the first round of next week's NFL draft.
“Not at all. Not at all,” said Nix, according to the Bills website. ”I know people have said we’re taking one of those top two guards. Our roster in house is better than I think we get credit for especially offensive line. We’re pretty deep there. We’ve got six guards and we think a couple of them can play.”
It’s easy to point out guard as a need for Buffalo. The Bills lost their best guard -- Andy Levitre -- to free agency, as well as top backup Chad Rinehart. Also, Alabama’s Chance Warmack and North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper are considered two of the top guard prospects of the past several years.
In addition to praising Buffalo’s guard depth, Nix also talked up Warmack and Cooper this week.
“Now having said all that before you write that we’re not going to take a guard at N0. 8, it’s hard to pass up two players like the old boy at Alabama and the kid at North Carolina,” Nix said. “Both of those are great players, so you have to give that a lot of thought when they come up.”
It still doesn’t sound like Buffalo will take a guard at No. 8. But a week before the draft you cannot believe half of what you hear from teams. Anything could be a smokescreen.
- The Miami Dolphins are talking to the agent of defensive end Elvis Dumervil but have not made an offer, according to the Denver Post.
- New York Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow had a public appearance in Texas but didn't want to speak to reporters.
- The New England Patriots' secondary will be a lot tougher with new safety Adrian Wilson.
- Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix says he is not done with free agency.
But a strange incident was added to Buffalo's woes on Tuesday. Bills general manager Buddy Nix was apparently pranked, according to the website Deadspin.
Nix apparently was put on the line with Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik and candidly discussed topics ranging from free agency, trades and the struggles of Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bills released a statement saying the team and the NFL are considering legal counsel.
Cap Status: The Bills do not have a ton of cap space compared to last year. But they have some flexibility and can still make a run at several players. Buffalo recently re-signed cornerback Leodis McKelvin and placed the franchise tag on safety Jairus Byrd, and those contracts will somewhat limit what the team can do this week. The Bills were among the biggest players in free agency in 2012 and spent a large chunk of their cap on $100 million defensive end Mario Williams.
Strategy: The Bills are very much a team in transition. They have a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator and potentially a new quarterback. Buffalo most likely will not look to free agency to find another quarterback. The Bills already have two veterans on the roster, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tarvaris Jackson. Adding a drafted rookie to the group makes more sense. Expect Buffalo to use its free-agent dollars at linebacker and wide receiver. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is installing a 3-4 scheme in Buffalo that relies heavily on solid, tough linebacker play. The Bills were 31st in run defense last year and the linebackers were pushed around too often. Buffalo also needs a No. 2 receiver to pair with Steve Johnson. The Bills let receivers David Nelson and Donald Jones walk in free agency and lack depth at the position. Buffalo continues to negotiate with starting guard Andy Levitre, but he could get interest from several teams in free agency and create a bidding war.
Cap Status: The Dolphins have the most cap room in the AFC East. They began the offseason with more than $40 million available. However, recent signings of three in-house players -- receiver Brian Hartline, quarterback Matt Moore and defensive tackle Randy Starks -- have reduced that number.
Strategy: Miami still has plenty of room to make a splash this week. The Dolphins are the favorite to land former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Mike Wallace, who could command about $12 million per season. The speedy Wallace could be the missing piece to a Dolphins passing game ranked 26th in the NFL last season. Miami also needs to address its situation at cornerback, tight end, safety and left tackle. The Dolphins are not expected to re-sign former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long. That leaves a big hole to fill at left tackle. The Dolphins could play 2012 second-round pick Jonathan Martin on the left side if they cannot find a better option in free agency. No. 1 cornerback and free agent Sean Smith also could leave Miami, which would create another major hole. Keep in mind the Dolphins also have nine draft picks, including five in the first three rounds. Whatever holes they cannot plug in free agency will be addressed in April's draft.
Cap Status: The Patriots are in decent shape. Quarterback Tom Brady recently provided a big assist by signing a three-year, $27 million contract extension. The move reportedly freed up an additional $15 million in cap room over the next two years to keep New England in position to contend.
Strategy: The Patriots will not be the biggest players in free agency, but they have enough room to go after a few desired targets. Definitely keep an eye on New England's secondary. The Patriots need help at both cornerback and safety. They have already been linked to Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed, who has a desire to stay with a contender. Belichick has an immense respect for Reed and the way he plays the game. New England also must address its in-house free agents, such as receiver Wes Welker, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and corner Aqib Talib. The Patriots do not get sentimental with their own players and are not afraid to let them test the market. New England runs the risk of losing all three players. But the Patriots refuse to overpay and are prepared to go to Plan B and Plan C for each scenario.* The Patriots do not have a general manager by title, but Belichick has the final say on all personnel matters in New England. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio shares some of the GM duties with Belichick.
Cap Status: The Jets have a very tight cap. Former general manager Mike Tannenbaum significantly mismanaged the roster the past couple of seasons by overpaying veterans and poorly restructuring contracts. This is the year the Jets pay for those mistakes.
Strategy: The Jets have a lot of needs but few resources to work with. The team already cut veterans Bart Scott, Calvin Pace and Eric Smith just to get under the cap. New York is not expected to re-sign Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry, 1,000-yard tailback Shonn Greene and starting tight end Dustin Keller because they will be too expensive. Idzik says he will field a competitive team in his first year, but that's an extremely tough task. The Jets have no choice but to look for bargain-bin options in free agency. New York's biggest needs are on offense. The Jets need help at quarterback but can afford only cheap options like David Garrard. They also need to add talented skill players at wide receiver, tight end and running back to support the quarterback. Don't expect the Jets to make much noise in free agency. New York's best option to improve this year is through the draft.
However, Gailey is not the right head coach for the Bills and Fitzpatrick is not the right fit at quarterback. Sunday's 24-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium continued to hammer that point home. After three awful seasons, it is crystal clear.
The Bills fell to 5-10 and cemented their third consecutive season of double-digit losses under Gailey and Fitzpatrick. The shame is this was by far Buffalo's most talented team in that span. But Gailey and Fitzpatrick continue to hold this team back. It's time for the Bills to stop spinning their wheels.
The success of any NFL franchise is closely tied into the success of its coach and quarterback. Buffalo has one of the league's weakest pairings. The Bills must cut ties with both. Getting rid of just one will simply stunt Buffalo's growth in 2013. Keeping both would potentially cripple the franchise. This was a no-excuse year for Gailey and Fitzpatrick -- and both fell flat.
After the game, Gailey looked worn down but said he's not thinking about his job security.
"No, I worry about getting better and playing to our abilities," Gailey said. "We haven't done it, and that’s my responsibility to get that done. We're not there."
Fitzpatrick's situation is easier to predict. The Bills signed him to a six-year, $59 million contract extension in 2011, and Fitzpatrick has been mostly a disappointment. He's 7-19 in his past 26 starts and entered this weekend with the third-most turnovers in the NFL the past two seasons.
Buffalo can save $4.45 million on its salary cap and $7.45 million in cash by cutting Fitzpatrick by the second day of the league year next March. If the Bills keep him, Fitzpatrick's total cap number will be $10.45 million next season.
Cutting Fitzpatrick appears to be a no-brainer. Bills general manager Buddy Nix already expressed the desire to upgrade the position via the draft or free agency.
Fitzpatrick threw for 240 yards and one touchdown Sunday. He lost a fumble in an ugly first half and threw an inexcusable interception at the goal line at the end of the fourth quarter with the Bills driving.
"The first half is as poor as we've played offensively since I’ve been here," Fitzpatrick said. "We made a couple plays but had a couple fumbles, false starts, a lot of different things you can’t have if you want to be a good football team."
Gailey's situation is a little more unpredictable. He recently received a public backing from Nix, but making a case to keep Gailey is becoming increasingly difficult.
Sunday’s game was pretty much on par with what we've seen in Buffalo's losses all year. The sloppy Bills had 11 penalties and four turnovers. The team looked underprepared and continued to make silly mistakes that are inexcusable this late in the year.
The Bills fell behind 24-3 after three quarters and were never in this game.
"If we score [at the end] and get the onside kick, it's a competitive game," Gailey said of the 14-point final margin.
The time for excuses is over for Gailey and Fitzpatrick. Three years is enough of a sample size to realize this is not right pairing for the Bills' organization.
The sooner Buffalo starts over with a new head coach and quarterback, the quicker the Bills can turn things around.
According to the details of Fitzpatrick's $59 million contract extension, the Bills are in prime position to get out of this agreement after another inconsistent season.
ESPN.com's AFC East blog has learned Buffalo will save $4.45 million in cap space and $7.45 million in actual cash by cutting Fitzpatrick this offseason. Fitzpatrick is due a base salary of $4.25 million and an easy-to-obtain workout bonus of $200,000 in 2013.
However, the biggest litmus test will be a $3 million roster bonus Fitzpatrick is owed in March on the second day of the league year. If the Bills pay the bonus, Fitzpatrick's cap number jumps to $10.45 million next season, which would be suitable for a franchise quarterback.
Fitzpatrick is 18-30 as a starter in Buffalo and has the third most turnovers in the NFL since 2011. The Bills (5-9) must seriously consider this offseason whether he's the long-term solution. Buffalo already paid Fitzpatrick $21.25 million since signing him to an extension in October 2011. That included a $10 million signing bonus last year and a $5 million option bonus this year.
Bills general manager Buddy Nix publicly discussed upgrading the quarterback position several times in recent weeks. He does not sound like a general manager willing to stick with Fitzpatrick as his starting quarterback for $7.45 million next season.
Regardless of the Fitzpatrick decision, the Bills are expected to add a quarterback via free agency or the draft next offseason. One prospect to keep an eye on for the Bills is North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon, who is a player Nix personally scouted during the college season. Glennon is the 36th-ranked prospect by Scouts Inc. and might get some first-round consideration based on his pre-draft workouts.
Glennon was Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson's backup at North Carolina State early in his career. But Glennon took over for the Wolfpack his junior and senior seasons and threw for 6,702 yards and 62 touchdowns in two years.
The Bills will travel to face the Miami Dolphins (6-8) at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday.
C.J. Spiller only get seven carries? Why do the Bills continue to let opponents hang around, which hurt the team once again?
This was expected to be a playoff year for the Bills (5-8), but it won’t happen. They will extend their postseason drought to 13 years.
Should it cost Gailey his job? This is the best team he’s had in Buffalo but failed to make the team reach its potential. The Bills have underachieved and Gailey is a major reason. He failed to use his best weapon (Spiller) most of the season and his in-game decisions as offensive coordinator can be baffling at times. He is 15-30 as the Bills' head coach.
Or does Gailey deserve another year? The Bills still have a chance to improve on last year's 6-10 record. If Gailey wins two of his last three games, he can say the team is getting better. Bills general manager Buddy Nix has publicly backed his head coach. Do you agree?
Using our SportsNation poll, vote on Gailey’s future with Buffalo. You can also share your thoughts in the comment second below.