Last week Chis posted this approval poll article for GM Doug Whaley. To my surprise, Whaley received a 72% approval rating among fans on this site. This was a surprise to me because both he and head coach Rex Ryan were on the proverbial hot seat after the team lost two winnable games against AFC opponents. Ryan, the obvious target of fans due to his position as the team head coach, was joined by Whaley the team orchestrator.
Despite the 72% approval rating, Whaley has gotten major criticism which I never understood. I look at his tenure here over the past several years, and I can honestly say that the team has more talent on the roster than anytime during the 16-year drought; yet there are still fans out there who are displeased with the job he's doing, as if he's the reason for the team struggles.
General Managers like Whaley often get assessed based on the moves they make; who they drafted, what free agents they bought in, or what trades they made. Whaley in my opinion has done a great job in all three categories. However, I want to discuss the area that often gets overlooked; the moves that they don't make. Here is where my appreciation of Whaley lies. Yes, I think he's a phenomenal talent evaluator, but I think he's even better at determining a player's value.
If you ever paid attention to a Whaley interview when he talks about signing or re-signing a player, he always talks about a player's value, which will ultimately determine if he's going to retain or acquire a player. In this article I'm going to discuss all the moves that Whaley didn't make, and perhaps you'll have an even better appreciation for him and the job he's doing.
Whaley became General Manager in May 2013 after Buddy Nix stepped aside. If you remember Whaley was being groomed for the position, and when he officially took over the team had already drafted E.J. Manuel and had made decisions on key Bills free agents. Critics tend to lay blame on Whaley for the Manuel draft, and I will too. Whaley has always admitted that he was part of that decision and say every move that is made is an organizational one, so I lay blame with him. However that year, some other key decisions were made that we should give him credit for.
The Bills had 14 free agents in 2013, none more important that safety Jarius Byrd and guard Andy Levitre. Both players were fan favorites and guys that most fans wanted back in a Bills uniform. Byrd held out that year and team signed him to a franchise tender of $6.95 million, and later let him walk in free agency in 2014, where he signed a whopping deal with the New Orleans Saints for six years for $54 million with $28 million guaranteed.
Levitre on the other hand inked a massive deal with the Titans, signing for six years for $46.8 million. If you recall, fans were optimistic that the team would retain both, and confident that they'll at least retain one of them, but Whaley decided they he didn't value them as other teams had, so he let them walk. How did that turn out?
Since arriving to New Orleans, Byrd has struggled to produce on the field and stay on the field. He had 22 interceptions in his five seasons with the Bills and just one in his three seasons with the Saints. He has played in 42% of the team games in his three seasons, and has been a liability while on the field. So much so, there are reports coming out of New Orleans that he will be benched in favor of rookie safety Von Bell.
As far as Levitre, he hasn't fared any better after leaving Buffalo. Being the top free agent in his class, it was a thought that Levitre would upgrade a Titans offensive line that struggled the year prior. However, after two short seasons, the Titans traded Levitre to Atlanta for a sixth rounder and a conditional pick. The thought was that Levitre wasn't suited for a power run game Tennessee was looking to employ and that he was best suited in an offense where lineman is expected to be more agile.
Upon arriving in Atlanta, Levitre was forced to restructure his contract, which is never a good sign. Headed in to this season, there were reports that he might be cut do to his play and inflated salary.
Since both of these highly touted-fan favorite free agents has struggled since leaving Buffalo, I'll put two checks in the win column for Whaley.
In 2014 there weren't many highly touted free agents that left the Bills other than the aforementioned Jarius Byrd and a few role players such as LB Arthur Moats and DE Alex Carrington.
The biggest move however was not retaining head coach Doug Marrone. Now I know what you are thinking; Marrone quit on the Bills not the other way around. Technically this is true, but Marrone had demands prior to him deciding to leave. One of them was having more power and not having to report to anyone other than the owner. Now it's not entirely clear on who call it was not to give him such power, but I'm sure Whaley was consulted on it and it was ultimately decided not to give in to his demands.
The move prove to be a good one since after his departure stories came out that Marrone wasn't well liked by players, staff members, and was a bit of a prima donna. He is currently the offensive line coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars and has not yet been able to land a head coaching job after unsuccessfully interviewing for the head coaching jobs with the Titans, New York Jets, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and Cleveland Browns. I'll put another check in the win column for Whaley on this one.
In 2015 the Bills had a lot of decisions to make. What to do with RB C.J. Spiller the team first round draft pick in 2010 who at that point has had an up and down career in Buffalo? What to do with TE Scott Chandler, who ranked third among tight ends in team history? What to do with Pro Bowl LB Kiko Alonso who missed his sophomore season due to an ACL injury? What to do with S Da'Norris Searcy who was coming off a career year? Lastly, what to do with team captain and fan favorite Fred Jackson?
Spiller, Chandler, Searcy, and Jackson were all allowed to test their value in free agency and were able to find work with other teams. Spilller landed with the Saints, where he amassed 112 rushing yards on 36 attempts after an injury-riddled season. The Saints released him after Week 1 of this season, while being inactive at the start of the year. Spiller is now with the Seattle Seahawks and has scored a touchdown in his first game.
Alonso, was traded to the Eagles for RB LeSean McCoy. After another leg injury, Alonso missed the first half of the 2015 season and ended his season with 43 tackles and one interception. He was then traded to the Miami Dolphins, and has 38 tackles thus far. Alonso has yet to return to his Pro Bowl form and has yet to make the same level of impact in Miami that he had in Buffalo.
Chandler ended up with the Patriots where he played one season where amassed 23 catches and four touchdowns. Chandler is no longer in football.
Searcy on the other hand has had an okay career with the Titans. He had solid production with 42 tackles and one interception in his first season with the Titans. Yet, I don't think when the Titans signed him to a four-year $23.75 million contract with $10.5 million guaranteed, they were expecting such limited production.
Jackson landed with the Seattle Seahawks in a reserve capacity. His 2015 season was a disappointment also, as he had 100 yards rushing on 26 carries.
The 2016 season has just started, and it's too early to tell. The Bills had some pretty big names leave in free agency; Nigel Bradham, Mario Williams, and Chris Hogan. However, if the first four weeks of the season is any indication to the rest of the season, let's just say Whaley has done a good job by not retaining any of these players.
Earlier this month Bradham was charged with aggravated battery causing bodily harm stemming from an incident Florida. If convicted, he faces 15 years in prison. He also was recently arrested for carrying a loaded gun in an airport. So far this season, he has 10 tackles and one interception with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Mario Williams is doing Mario Williams things in Miami with the Dolphins. He has seven tackles and one sack so far this season. This tweet says it all.
I know it's apples and oranges, but: Zach Brown had 18 tackles on Sunday, 13 solo. Mario Williams had 17 tackles, 13 solo, all last season.— Jerry Sullivan (@TBNSully) October 3, 2016
The one move that was supposed to hurt the most was Chris Hogan going to the New England Patriots. Nope! Not as of yet at least. Chris Hogan has 12 catches for 236 yards and one touchdown so far the season, which includes a four-reception, 112-yard day against the Browns in Week 5. However, the most important stat is that he was held to zero catches against the Bills.
Love him or hate him, there is no doubt in my mind that Whaley and his staff have transformed The Bills' roster into a top-10 talent roster. He's made some good decisions and some head-scratching ones, nonetheless there haven't been too many that have come back to haunt this team. If you look at the players the Bills let leave, I challenge you to name one player that you would want back or would start on this team.