Shortly after introducing Gregg Williams as head coach, Buffalo Bills President and General Manager Tom Donahoe dropped this little bomb Friday:
Rob Johnson or Doug Flutie has got to go.
"Because of the cap, we can't afford to keep both quarterbacks," Donahoe said at the Bills Fieldhouse. "I don't think economically it's feasible to do it, and secondly, it's not good for your team. From what I've heard from players and people here, they seem to feel it was divisive. We have to make a commitment to one quarterback and go with it."
The Bills would take a major hit in the salary cap unless they dump one of the quarterbacks. Including base salary and amortized bonus money, Johnson is scheduled to count $8.29 million against the 2001 cap, while Flutie is due to count $7.75 million.
The Bills would save $3.04 million by cutting Flutie. Releasing Johnson would mean a savings of $1.66 million.
The quarterbacks' relationship has been icy since they arrived three years ago. The debate over who should be the starter has been a weekly issue with fans and the media. While former coach Wade Phillips denied a quarterback controversy existed, it took its toll on the team by dividing the locker room. Donahoe said the focus has to return on the team, and not who is the quarterback.
"I realize that the quarterbacks always get more attention than they probably deserve," he said. "They get too much criticism, they get too much credit. But they are part of the team. If you look at the teams that were in the Super Bowl this year, it wasn't about the quarterbacks. It was about team."
Making a decision on the quarterbacks will be the first priority once Williams hires a coaching staff, Donahoe said. Williams hopes to have his assistants in place before the NFL Combine three weeks from now.
Which quarterback stays will depend on who is a better fit for the offensive system Williams want to implement. He is expected to hire former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride for the same position.
That would seem to work in Johnson's favor because he played in Jacksonville when Gilbride was the Jaguars' offensive coordinator. Still, Donahoe feels it's too early to say whom the Bills will keep.
"We want to keep the best quarterback for the Buffalo Bills," he said. "We'll deal with the cap, but the initial question has to be who's the best quarterback for us to keep?"
It was reported last week that Tampa Bay was interested obtaining Flutie if he became available. Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy has since refuted the report, saying he was happy with Shawn King as his starting quarterback.
Donahoe added he hasn't received a call from any team about Flutie. It's very unlikely he would be traded because of cap reasons, but he is sure to get some interest if released.
The quarterback issue was just one of several topics Donahoe touched on Friday.
He was pleased with how the interview process went, but was frustrated by the media ignoring his insistence that there wasn't a front- runner for the job. Most media reports pegged Baltimore defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis as the favorite long before his record-setting defense led the Ravens to victory in Super Bowl XXXV.
Donahoe felt Lewis, John Fox of the Giants and former Bills defensive guru Ted Cottrell, who is now with the Jets, were impressive and worthy of being head coach. But he thought Williams stood out above the rest.
In fact, Donahoe said Williams was the best candidate he's ever interviewed. That includes his stint in Pittsburgh as director of football operations when he hired Bill Cowher in 1992 over future head coaches Mike Holmgren, Bobby Ross, Dennis Green, Dave Wannstedt and Gilbride as well as long-time defensive line coach and former Steelers great Joe Greene.
"It was a combination of things that Gregg said with regard to philosophy, the disciplined approach that he would bring to our team," Donahoe said.
"I liked his work ethic. Here's a guy who started as a high school coach and a (college) graduate assistant. And each step of the way, he proved himself, so someone presented him with another challenge. Now we've presented him with a challenge of being a head coach in the National Football League, and I'm very confident he'll be successful. In my opinion, and time will tell, we got the best guy."
Donahoe said it was no coincidence all of the candidates were defensive coordinators because he feels having a strong defense is vital to compete for a Super Bowl championship.
"Baltimore was certainly a good example of that," he said. "Tennessee has been a great example of it the last couple of years with what they put together. That was a part of our profile for a head coach."
Donahoe's choice has been criticized in some circles. In response to Lewis' agent, Ray Anderson, calling the process "a sham," Donahoe said every candidate got an equal and fair opportunity.
"If that makes our process a sham, then I guess it's a sham," Donahoe said. "We felt that we were above board. Every person that was interviewed had the same shot. We asked the exact same questions to everybody."
Donahoe also expects to take some heat for not choosing Lewis or Cottrell, both African-Americans. During his first press conference three weeks ago, Donahoe said hiring an African-American coach was not a priority, but he did call the NFL's minority hiring practices "deplorable."
"I think my record speaks for itself on that issue," he said. "I think the league has to do more to promote and giving African-American coaches an opportunity. I don't think anybody wants a job because of the color of their skin. But I think they want the opportunity to present what they have to offer. In this process, that's what we tried to do. If teams in the National Football League won't do that, I feel that they are very remiss."
Since Dennis Green was hired in Minnesota in 1992, there have been 42 head coaching vacancies in the NFL, including seven after the 2000 season. Only three (Ray Rhodes with Philadelphia, Dungy with Tampa Bay and Herman Edwards with the New York Jets) have gone to African-Americans.
Of the seven openings this year, only the Bills, Jets and expansion Houston Texans interviewed African-American candidates. Kansas City, Detroit, Cleveland and Washington did not. Donahoe also pointed out the Bills were the only team to wait until after the Super Bowl to speak with Lewis.
"I think if there is heat put on teams, it should be put on the other six teams that didn't wait around to interview him," said Donahoe, who added that Lewis and Cottrell would be head coaches some day and he would help make that happen if asked.
If there was a flaw in the Bills' process, it was none of the candidates besides Cottrell got a chance to visit Western New York during their interview. But with free agency looming, Donahoe didn't have time to bring people in.
Part of the problem is the NFL rule that prevents teams from talking to coaches in the Super Bowl until the game is over. Donahoe thinks the policy is unfair because it penalizes coaches like Lewis and Fox.