ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — It is not uncommon in the NFL for scouts and personnel directors to be dismissed or to change teams after the draft each spring.
What seemed strange for the Buffalo Bills was owner Terry Pegula attaching partial responsibility for last week’s draft to general manager Doug Whaley, whom Pegula fired Sunday.
Credit Pegula for holding a news conference and taking questions hours after dismissing Whaley, which the owner did not do after firing coach Rex Ryan in December. But Pegula’s message about Whaley was confusing and inconsistent, and it only contributed to the dizzying developments around the Bills and their front office in recent months.
First, Pegula said, “We ran a process after the season ended and made the decision at this time.” In other words, ownership had contemplated Whaley’s future since January, when they put him in charge of their head-coaching search and publicly backed him.
Then Pegula said, “We ran a process, and as a result of that process, after the draft we made the decision.” The draft ended Saturday night at about 7 p.m., and the Bills announced Whaley’s firing at about 8:30 a.m. Sunday. If Pegula is to be taken at his word, he made the decision to fire Whaley within that 13-hour window.
The timing suggests that Pegula was upset with how the draft unfolded for Buffalo. But that thinking runs counter to how Whaley was essentially marginalized in recent months, with coach Sean McDermott serving as the Bills’ voice in news conferences, both before the draft and after each selection was announced. The feeling around the organization in recent weeks was that Whaley’s tenure would soon end.
Pegula also indicated Sunday that he did not have issues with how the team drafted players last week, saying, “I think it went pretty well.”
If the draft went “pretty well” and McDermott was the lead figure in making moves in the draft room, then firing Whaley would not be illogical. But instead of divorcing Whaley from the Bills’ draft decisions and reinforcing McDermott as the leadership figure, Pegula oddly attached responsibility for the draft to Whaley.
“He put the whole thing together,” Pegula said of Whaley. “Sean didn’t lead the charge. It was a collaborative effort in our draft process. I like when things go like that. We all talk — you’ve got to have input from all aspects of the organization.”
So if Whaley put together the draft, and the draft went “pretty well,” then why was the decision to fire Whaley made in the 13-hour window afterward?
“We have certain aspects we need to get a little better in,” Pegula said.
What were those aspects?
“I need to keep that private,” he responded. “I don’t want to discuss that publicly.”
Chalk this up as confusing. The most logical way to explain the situation is that Pegula had made up his mind about Whaley’s future in recent months, before the draft began. If that was the case, McDermott was running the draft room and Whaley was retained through the draft only so he could not join another team and share scouting information.
If that is true, why say Whaley had a hand in the draft? In two or three years, if any of the Bills’ top selections — cornerback Tre’Davious White, wide receiver Zay Jones or offensive lineman Dion Dawkins — do not pan out, no sensible observer will pin those failures on Whaley, who was fired before any of those players ever suited up for a practice.
This was McDermott’s draft, and this is his team, and Pegula should have made that clear.