When a NFL team cuts one of its most popular players, feathers will have been ruffled along the way. That was the case for Fred Jackson and his former employers, the Buffalo Bills, on Monday and Tuesday of this week, with The Buffalo News detailing the extent of that feather-ruffling between two reports last night.
First, Jackson spoke with Bucky Gleason, telling him that he was "blindsided" by the news of his release. He said very nice things about the Bills organization and, naturally, Bills fans, but he was also far less kind toward the man that ultimately made the decision to release him: GM Doug Whaley.
"Doug Whaley was behind it, to my knowledge," Jackson said. "He wasn't honest with me the entire time that I've known him. I have the utmost respect for the organization. There's only one person in that organization that I haven't gotten honesty from, and that was him."
Tim Graham supplemented Gleason's interview with a barrage of tweets, citing sources, that Whaley did, indeed, make the decision to release Jackson by himself - so much so that he did it without communicating the decision to the rest of the organization beforehand, including the business and marketing side, and without universal approval from the rest of the football department. (There were originally reports that the Pegulas may not have been looped in, either, but that is not the case.) Normally, that might not matter, but it does when dealing with a player of Jackson's popularity.
Bills organization will remain unified when speaking publicly, but two sources tell me Doug Whaley went rogue in cutting Fred Jackson.— Tim Graham (@ByTimGraham) September 2, 2015
The GM still needs to communicate with the rest of the organization. That's part of the job. https://t.co/anV9zUjw20— Tim Graham (@ByTimGraham) September 2, 2015
From two sources: Bills did not approach Fred Jackson about a restructuring of his contract. https://t.co/dgnROzrNEK— Tim Graham (@ByTimGraham) September 2, 2015
Pegulas have final say. Let's not forget they wanted to hire Polian in addition to Whaley. Bills GM isn't king. https://t.co/3xgG3C7LjC— Tim Graham (@ByTimGraham) September 2, 2015
When the Pegulas like to "look players in the eye" before Whaley signs them, understand they like being in loop. https://t.co/LFFBe9U4rI— Tim Graham (@ByTimGraham) September 2, 2015
"Being in the loop" would prevent one of Bills' biggest sponsors from launching expensive Fred Jackson ad campaign today. It's embarrassing.— Tim Graham (@ByTimGraham) September 2, 2015
Let's talk about Jackson himself, first. You can count me among the crushing number of Bills fans that were more than a little upset to see No. 22 handed his walking papers, and I'll question the wisdom of that decision right up until the point that Bryce Brown truly learns the meaning of the phrase "ball security," and isn't just "that guy Whaley traded an entirely-too-early draft pick for who isn't that good."
But I cannot fathom how Jackson - or anyone, for that matter - didn't foresee the possibility of his release when this exact scenario was explored all the way back in March, as the Bills were putting the finishing touches on a five-year, $40 million contract extension for LeSean McCoy. If you have forgotten the circumstances of that story line, here's a refresher:
3/8/15: Fred Jackson may be released by the Buffalo Bills
Graham did the reporting for this one. In it, he noted that the Bills' pursuit of free agent running back Bilal Powell (who eventually re-signed with New York) could indicate that Jackson may be on the ouster. He also reported at that juncture that the Bills (and the implication was Whaley, specifically), liked Brown as the team's No. 2 back.
3/9/15: Buffalo Bills' Fred Jackson "isn't going anywhere," per report
The next day, Graham ended any speculation that Jackson might be released with a report that Terry Pegula stepped into the process. He also reported that the Bills had, in fact, approached Jackson about restructuring his contract, which is a significant detail today, given that fans are up in arms because the Bills did not do that again before releasing Jackson this week. Ultimately, Jackson was retained on his original deal; we do not know anything more beyond that.
3/9/15: Fred Jackson staying with the Buffalo Bills, for now
Here, Graham fleshed everything out with a written report, detailing the front office's (read: Whaley's) desire to give Brown a bigger opportunity as McCoy's backup, Pegula's involvement in retaining Jackson for the short term, and more. Jackson himself also responded directly to support he was receiving from fans as his future with the Bills was being heavily reported on and discussed.
Whaley is, clearly, the most interesting figure in all of this now, chiefly because it seems like he's pissed a few people off, and certainly more than just Jackson. If he made this decision against the wishes of the rest of his football operation, or without consulting them, that's obviously not ideal. Nor is it ideal if Jackson's allegations that Whaley was telling him one thing and thinking another are true (which they probably are, and that's pretty slimy). And clearly, if he did not inform everyone that he should have about what was going to transpire, that probably should be rectified, as well.
But this is also Whaley's job; he has the final vote when there isn't complete organizational agreement on a matter. He is paid to build a winning roster, and that'll involve an unpopular decision from time to time, even within his own building. We don't know every detail about what transpired when the Bills tried to restructure Jackson's contract back in March; for all we know, there may be a perfectly acceptable reason that Whaley did not try that tactic again this time around. And again, if anyone tries to claim that they could not see this coming, they simply were not paying close enough attention six months ago. Whaley's methodology may not have been ideal, but this is far from the craziest NFL business decision we've ever seen.
As for an ad campaign with a corporate sponsor? There's still a week and a half to re-shoot a commercial or two with, oh, I don't know, the team's exciting new starting quarterback. Or any one of its other star players.
Fans were up in arms as these reports were popping up last night, but the situation has not fundamentally changed: this was clearly Whaley's call all along, and as Graham himself points out with the tweet embedded below, Whaley is merely on the hook for the long-term wisdom of the decision. That was the case before we learned of a few loose-lipped Bills employees being irritated by his methodology, and it'll be all that fans care about when this story is in the rearview mirror. Concerns about Whaley's relationship with Ryan, or the overall functionality of the football department, seem premature, at least for now.
I highly doubt it. He's just on the hook. Bryce Brown better not fumble. https://t.co/zTaKgBGMF7— Tim Graham (@ByTimGraham) September 2, 2015