When the Buffalo Bills transition from the regular season to the offseason, the head coach typically steps out of the spotlight for a few months, replaced by the team's chief talent evaluator. That might not happen as quickly this year if Doug Marrone has to replace defensive coordinator Mike Pettine - currently a Cleveland Browns head coaching candidate - but soon enough, Doug Whaley will be back on center stage as free agency and the draft approaches.
It is prudent, then, to gauge how Whaley is viewed amongst the fan base now, before the major decisions are made over the next few months. Here's a snapshot of what Whaley has been up to lately:
Before the regular season ended, an interesting free agent signing was made: tight end Tony Moeaki, a former starter in Kansas City, didn't play any snaps on offense in the final month of the season, but remains under contract for next season and will get a long look in training camp.
Shortly thereafter, the Bills gave a three-year, $8.5 million contract extension (with a $3.1 million signing bonus) to defensive lineman Alan Branch, who emerged as a key run defender in Pettine's base defense in 2013, playing roughly half of the team's snaps.
The team has also been busy bringing in players that were not on active rosters in 2013 on reserve/future contracts. 15 such players have been signed so far, including all seven players that finished the season on the Bills' practice squad, and eight more players that have spent time with other clubs. The most notable name of that group: wide receiver Ramses Barden, a former third-round draft pick of the New York Giants.
Whaley spoke at length at the team's post-season press conference, making the following noteworthy headlines:
- Asked about Stevie Johnson and his future with the team, Whaley seemed surprised that it was even a topic of conversation, ultimately saying "we expect him to be here."
- Expressed confidence in Thad Lewis as a backup quarterback moving forward, and noted that the team will wait to make a decision on veteran Kevin Kolb once they have a better idea of his medical situation;
- And he noted that the team was already planning to quickly move to re-sign free agent kicker Dan Carpenter and punter Brian Moorman (who has already signed a one-year deal).
Sometime this spring, the Bills will need to make a decision on whether or not to exercise a fifth-year option in the rookie contract of defensive lineman Marcell Dareus. Dareus signed a fully guaranteed, four-year contract when he was drafted in 2011, and the Bills can add a fifth year at roughly $7 million to the contract. (Dareus may have made the choice more difficult for the team after being benched for disciplinary reasons twice at the end of the season.)
Oh, yeah: Whaley will resume one end of the contract stalemate between the Bills and free safety Jairus Byrd, with contract negotiations likely to resume sometime around the 2014 NFL Combine (February 22-25 in Indianapolis). How that situation resolves itself (or doesn't) will be a major story line in Whaley's first full off-season as Bills GM.