When you're a fan of an NFL team and your team displays personnel shortcomings, the available big names on the free agent or trade markets become all the rage. For example: Buffalo Bills fans have been discussing Brandon Lloyd, Reggie Wayne, Terrell Owens and Pat Williams quite a bit in recent weeks. You get the drift: fans are always eager to see their team improve, and some even get incensed when their teams don't see the ingenuity of their own ideas.
Andrew Brandt, who currently heads up the National Football Post, is a former player agent and vice president for the Green Bay Packers. This morning, he wrote a column about Tuesday's trade of quarterback Carson Palmer from the Cincinnati Bengals to the Oakland Raiders. In it, he highlights the dichotomy between the present-day thinking of an NFL head coach and the forward-thinking ways of a competent front office. It's highly relevant to the difference between the way an organization thinks and the way a fan thinks.
"A general manager's role is to protect not only the immediate interests of the team but also its future and prospects for sustained success," writes Brandt.
"When I was vice president with the Packers, a big part of what I did was act as a fulcrum point between the football side and the management side of the organization," continues Brandt. "Sometimes I was the voice of aggression, asking the business side to support a more aggressive posture in acquiring players. At other times I was the voice of reason and caution, slowing down the immediacy of the football needs to have a longer term look at things."
Per the picture Brandt paints, coaches - similar to fans - are often far more willing to make bold personnel decisions in the name of "winning now," while front office executives and business people are often reticent to do so. The Raiders, who do not have a GM at the moment - but who have a head coach in Hue Jackson who, due to his time in Cincinnati, was highly familiar with Palmer - made a very fan- and coach-friendly trade earlier this week.
Practically applying this spectrum to today's Bills outfit isn't difficult, though it's certainly open to debate. GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey have talked about being on the same page from the moment Nix hired Gailey in January of 2010, and that has proven true - albeit with mixed results, as should be expected. What's open for debate is trying to surmise where on the spectrum the duo lies: are they closer to the prototypical GM side, or the prototypical coaching side?
The answer, I believe, is obvious - and aided by the small-market status of the organization. The Bills have prided themselves on building a serious playoff contender out of draft afterthoughts, league castoffs and waiver wire acquisitions. The franchise is less than two full years into a massive organizational, personnel and scheme overhaul. To me, they are decidedly closer to the GM side of that spectrum - and may not inch closer to the coaching (and fan) side of that argument until they're much further along in the re-build, and ideally much closer to a legitimate championship run.
There may come a time when Nix and Gailey are ready to become more aggressive in acquiring talent while trying to win football's ultimate prize. As an organization, however, they're not ready to make those types of commitments. They still have plenty to learn about their young and evolving football team, and they're still competing in a market where it is difficult to draw, and then pay, big-time talent. In the meantime, talking about big names may be fun for fans, but it's also almost completely irrelevant to the reality of the Bills' situation. For now.