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Do Buffalo Bills’ Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott have it in for “Doug Whaley guys”?

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Is the current regime out to get members of the former regime?

The 2017 and 2018 Buffalo Bills have been marked by significant personnel changes. With the new regime of Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane running the show, the team is hardly recognizable from just a few years ago. An oft-presented idea is that the front office is actively purging players that were here under former general manager Doug Whaley. The notion that they’re removing “Whaley guys” seems quite popular. But is it accurate?

To examine this, we look to Pro-Football Reference and their loads of data. The methodology is straightforward. Using the list of players who took at least one regular season snap for the Bills in 2016, we can create a “where are they now” list to see if we can figure out a McDermott/Beane strategy for the purge. From there, maybe we’ll be able to see if there’s truth to the “dump Whaley guys” idea.

All told, 68 players took the field for the Bills during the 2016 season. This is where we begin our story...

Who’s still here?

You might be surprised to hear this, but 13 players are still on the roster from the Whaley days. They are:

Adolphus Washington, Charles Clay, Colton Schmidt, Jerry Hughes, John Miller, Jordan Mills, Kyle Williams, LeSean McCoy, Lorenzo Alexander, Nick O’Leary, Ramon Humber, Ryan Groy, and Shaq Lawson

That’s a lot of turnover in under two seasons. It’s also a good chunk of guys that haven’t been sent packing. In this list, Williams was just given another year, Groy was recently praised by coach McDermott, and O’Leary was re-signed as an exclusive rights free agent this offseason.

McCoy, Schmidt and a few others have good arguments to see the field this year. This list gives us 55 players to explain away. It also gives us 13 examples where they’re more than willing to see the value of a “Whaley guy.”

Who’s gone (and why)

Injuries and other concerns

Some notable players are gone not entirely by choice. Injuries and other concerns removed a few players from Whaley’s final roster. Aaron Williams, Eric Wood, and Richie Incognito are the big three here. Two of them recently redid contracts with the Bills, suggesting an intent to keep them for the 2018 season. Jonathan Williams is arguably in a similar boat with his history, so we’ll toss him in here.

51 to go...

It’s hard to argue with results

Generally speaking, coaches justify releasing or trading a player with the idea that they’ll find someone better to fill the job. When they’re right, it’s hard to argue they didn’t make the right call. Here are some right calls.

Colt Anderson, Corey Graham, Corey White, Duke Williams, James Ihedigbo, Jonathan Meeks, Kevon Seymour, Marcus Roberson, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Robert Blanton, Ronald Darby, Sergio Brown, Shamiel Gary, and Stephon Gilmore were all let go from the secondary. The group of Tre’Davious White, E.J. Gaines, Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer and Leonard Johnson did just fine without them. In fact, they were better. That’s 14 players where The Process was right about “we can do better.”

Dan Carpenter’s lackluster final season made an upgrade enticing. When Stephen Hauschka found his way to Buffalo, he replaced both Carpenter and Jordan Gay.

Logan Thomas isn’t a superstar, but he provides better talent than Glenn Gronkowski and Jim Dray. Mini-Gronk didn’t play at all last year, and Dray spent one game with Arizona before being cut and sitting out the rest of the year.

That’s 18 clear cut upgrades. 33 to go...

Players that wouldn’t have been a surprise anyway

Turnover will happen anyway, so players that would likely be on the outside looking in are hard to present as “targeting Whaley guys.” Here’s a fun fact: between 2014 and 2016 (Whaley’s first full year on the job to his last full year), the Bills retained only 23 of the same players. In two years’ time, they tossed over half a team away.

Who fits here? Brandon Spikes, Dez Lewis, Gabe Ikard, Gerald Christian, Greg Salas, Jerome Felton, Patrick Lewis, Percy Harvin, Reggie Bush, and Walter Powell all sat for 2017. For most of these players, the entire league decided there was someone better. For a few, there may be a team they can help, but their fringe status is still accurate. Bryson Albright, Cardale Jones, Jerel Worthy, Leger Douzable, and Lerentee McCay all had homes in 2017. However, either lack of production or a known back of the roster status for these players means none are head-scratchers.

That’s 16 players with an easy case to say they weren’t likely to make the roster anyway. That leaves us with 17...

The rest of them

  1. Brandon Tate: Not re-signed this offseason, his primary value was on kick returns, where he wasn’t that spectacular. There’s a good case to put him on the fringe list above; plus, he received an entire year audition with McDermott.
  2. Cordy Glenn: Traded to the Bengals in the sequence of events leading to the Josh Allen selection. Dion Dawkins isn’t a perfect replacement but played well last year with Glenn’s injury. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but injuries and trade value do seem to be logical reasons for the move.
  3. Cyrus Kouandjio: It’s often stated that the incident involving an electric fence led to his departure. However, hip surgery for an injury sustained during a fall prior to the 2017 season likely was a factor, as well.
  4. Deandre Coleman: Was initially let go, but brought back after Marcell Dareus was traded. This move strongly suggests there’s no issue with “Whaley Guys,” as the team initiated his welcome back party.
  5. EJ Manuel: I’m a bigger fan than most, but it was time to move on from EJ.
  6. Garrison Sanborn: Nothing against Sanborn, but Reid Ferguson seems to be doing just as well for about half the price.
  7. Justin Hunter: Signed with the Steelers last year. Hunter has floated around rosters and was a good candidate for the fringe list above. He came down here because he did play for a team with much better talent than the Bills. He didn’t light it up for the Steelers, but he did enough to suggest he’s a good depth guy.
  8. Marcell Dareus: Mr. Big Stuff had an extended audition with the Bills despite a significant suspension history and lackluster seasons in his recent past. The lackluster play continued and Dareus was traded. It’d be an uphill battle to convince me he didn’t earn his ticket out.
  9. Marquise Goodwin: The Bills bet they could do as good or better for less money at the WR position in 2017. They were wrong.
  10. Michael Ola: Playing in two games for the Chargers, it’s hard to really gauge a backup offensive tackle. There’s a decent case Ola could be in the fringe section above.
  11. Mike Gillislee: It was scandalous when “Touchdown Mike” was stolen by the Patriots. However, Gillislee struggled to find the field, starting in only two games and appearing in nine as a frequent healthy scratch. His 3.7 yards per average efficiency was the worst on his team, creating a legitimate argument he was the fourth-best back for New England. It should also be noted that they offered an original round tender, suggesting they were comfortable keeping him, which flies in the face of a concerted effort to purge “Whaley guys.” Also, their valuation seems spot-on in hindsight.
  12. Preston Brown: Understandable departure here, as Brown wasn’t fast enough to be the archetype for McDermott’s defense at linebacker. The cheap contract he signed for Cincinnati makes it tough to lose a player as smart as Brown, but it appears the draft was the plan to upgrade all along. Tremaine Edmunds softens the blow quite a bit.
  13. Robert Woods: Jordan Matthews and Zay Jones were the gambles to replace Woods, Goodwin, and Watkins. D’oh!
  14. Sammy Watkins: Here’s likely the best evidence of removing a guy simply to remove a guy. His fifth-year option could have been picked up, and it would have been an acceptable cost for the return. However, the “me first” attitude that has come to light since Watkins left was likely a factor. Even if they removed him just to remove him, it’s questionable if it was because he was a Whaley guy, or was a bad cultural fit.
  15. Seantrel Henderson: Another player with an extended audition, Henderson appeared in seven games for Buffalo in 2017, with one start. Substance abuse policy violations likely were a facet of this decision.
  16. Tyrod Taylor: Even Tyrod supporters generally agree it was time to move on. The Bills needed “their guy,” and it wasn’t Tyrod. Let the Josh Allen era begin!
  17. Zach Brown: Generally chalked up to scheme and fit, Brown was coming off a Pro Bowl season in Buffalo and he was still not retained. It’s hard to definitively say that the Bills would have been better off with Brown, but the thought has merit.
  18. Reggie Ragland: I know, I know. Ragland didn’t play a down in 2016, so he technically doesn’t count in the 55-player look stated in the methodology. However, he’s notable enough where I think he needs to be included. Ragland is generally seen as a run-stopper only, which seems to be backed by his usage in Kansas City. There’s an excellent case to be made that the scheme reasoning for this departure was the actual reason after all.

Conclusion

Make of the list what you will, but if you don’t mind a few more sentences I’ll impose my opinion. There are very few puzzling losses here. For the most part, the losses are fringe players or ones where the team genuinely upgraded. To reiterate, FOURTEEN players of the difference were in the secondary alone. That position group saw 100% turnover, yet it made massive strides in terms of play. Admittedly, I didn’t dive into the “why” of each player here, but if the goal is to make the team better, they did the right thing.

There are a few cases where the team arguably became worse, and in these instances, there should be a good reason for the move. Cordy Glenn stands out here. A tough loss, but a good return on the trade. It seems like they tried to make it work with Dareus and he let the team down. The loss, in this case, was mostly in potential, which he wasn’t living up to. The wide receiver room sticks out. If this offseason is an indicator, it does corroborate the idea that they place a lower value on this position. Two late-round flyers and one Jeremy Kerley aren’t grandiose investments by any means. With that evidence considered, Woods and Goodwin were about price rather than whose guy they were.

There’s ample evidence to suggest that Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane are not averse to moving “Whaley guys.” I don’t see a desire to move on at all costs, though.