This may be the most far-fetched idea I've ever forwarded. I realize that. But it's week 16 of another losing season, so what the heck? Last night I started thinking about the plan for the Bills rebuild, and some of the problems they could encounter. Here's what I came up with:
People, and Americans in particular, are fast to assume incompetence. Instead of reflective skepticism, we drop the reflective part, and begin assumptions. For example, Nix passed on quarterbacks for three straight drafts. Folks immediately assume that he's incompetent. Is that fair for a guy that had a huge hand in drafting Drew Brees and Philip Rivers? So I decided to ask some questions and dig a little into what sort of thinking Nix might be doing.
How does a team successfully execute a long-term franchise rebuild that allows the head coach and GM to retain their positions? This is usually a dichotomous relationship. The GM and head coach that start a rebuild normally aren't retained for the complete rebuild. Most duos get three years, for right or wrong. That's hardly enough time to conduct a draft-centric rebuild. In year three, most teams are about where the Bills are: lots of young talent but also lots of disappointment. Nix had to know this. So what does a GM do?
What if Nix devised a plan that allowed him to stay past the three year point? How would anyone go about doing that? The easy way is just to win in the first three years, but that's easier said then done, especially when doing a long-term rebuild through the draft.
What if he planned to allow the team to approach the losing breaking point, and then take a QB? If Nix were to plan to pass on all but a generational-type QB (read Andrew Luck, RGIII), he could draft nearly strictly best-player-available for two to three years. He could greatly improve the roster. Then, once the team was at the point it is now, convince the organization to hold until the fourth year. Before that fourth year, draft a QB in the first round. Most organizations essentially start the GM/coach time clock over when they get a first round QB - usually lasting three more years. Wouldn't that get Nix (and Gailey) more than three years, and closer to six, to finish the rebuild?
What if the outline of the plan looked like this:
- In year one, determine who the salvageable starters are from the 2009 team. Keep them until they are able to replace later. (Demetress Bell is an example - decent start who the team could get by with). Find a short-term solution at QB out of the three-headed hydra of Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Brian Brohm. Draft BPA.
- In year two, continue to draft BPA. Stick to the board. That might explain picking Aaron Williams over Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick. In hindsight, that was foolish. At the time, though, Williams was graded better than those two QBs by a tier. I had Williams as a 1-, and the QBs at 2+ in 2011. And remember, if this is the plan, Nix is only drafting the truly elite QB that can start his time clock over. Dalton and Kaepernick don't do that.
- Year three: continue to draft BPA, but start looking for a QB. Only draft a QB if convinced that he's the long term guy, and the higher the round, the better. That explains why Buffalo didn't aggressively pursue Ryan Tannehill - it makes sense according to their plan to wait until he falls. That also explains passing on Russell Wilson - he wasn't a highly rated prospect whose developmental timeline could convince the organization to keep Nix and Gailey past year four, and start the time clock over.
- At the breaking point, start talking about QB. Enter into the next draft with an aggressive plan to get a QB. Get a QB that resets the clock at zero. Then use the rest of the 2013 draft looking for BPA, and use the 2014 and 2015 draft as BPA drafts as well. That gives Nix 6-7 off-seasons to complete the rebuild.
In summary, while I know this is far-fetched, I also believe it's far-fetched to just assume incompetence. There are only 32 GM jobs and 32 head coaching jobs in the NFL. While Nix and Gailey may look foolish in comparison with their peers, they have reached the pinnacle of their profession in terms of position. They aren't dumb. They had to have some sort of plan - and not articulating it specifically to fans isn't a sign of incompetence or a sign of a lack of plan.
We'll see how this all plays out. But it's fair to assume they had a plan, and while the plan I outlined probably isn't it, Nix had to think through the rebuild. Most importantly, how does a head coach and GM get through a complete rebuild that's draft centric, while retaining their jobs? I'll throw that question out to you.