Marv Levy has gotten a lot of credit for changing the culture of the Bills since taking over as general manager a year ago. Much of it is justified. Levy has instilled a renewed sense of camaraderie, and he has been firm in his commitment to players of high character and intellect.
But Levy can't have it both ways. The talk about character begins to ring hollow when his top running back, Willis McGahee, is embarrassing the franchise and the community at every turn.
McGahee has worn out his welcome in this town. It's pretty evident that he doesn't want to be here. From what I can gather, his recent request for a contract extension is a thinly veiled attempt to poison the waters with management and force a trade out of Buffalo.
Interviewed in this month's Penthouse Magazine, McGahee says it would be a "good situation" if the NFL had a team in Toronto. That's not all. McGahee says rather than put a team in Toronto, the NFL should move the Bills there. "Case closed," he says.
It's amazing to think McGahee could be so cavalier about the greatest fear of Bills' fans. He couldn't have picked a more ideal way to alienate himself from the local populace. His supporters, who patronize him as you would a recalcitrant 3-year-old, will say he was only kidding -- as they did when McGahee said he didn't know it was fourth down in the season opener.
I stopped giving McGahee the benefit of the doubt long ago. In the Penthouse piece, he says there's nothing to do in Buffalo. OK, this isn't Los Angeles or Miami. But fans here don't need their millionaire athletes to rub their noses in it.
High character? Last week, it was reported in the Miami Herald that a woman had filed a paternity suit against McGahee. That makes three in 15 months for McGahee, by three different women. He has been declared the biological father in the other two cases and is paying child support.
Chiniqua Smith, one of the women getting support from McGahee, said she mainly wants her son -- Willis McGahee IV -- to have a father in his life, "not just every blue moon." Smith said "you can't hold a gun to someone's head" to force him to spend time with his child.
How do you preach character and justify keeping this sort of lowlife on your team? Owner Ralph Wilson said McGahee's off-field issues will weigh into any decision the team makes on a contract extension. Wilson wouldn't rule out an extension, but he seemed reluctant to give a monster payday to a running back he has termed a "disappointment."
"I've been in this game too long to have someone hold a hammer over my head," Wilson said Monday by phone.
McGahee isn't worth the trouble. He's an average running back. He's not worth the sort of investment that his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, is likely to seek (something in the four-year, $30 million range that Arizona gave Edgerrin James). The Bills could stand their ground and let him hold out of camp if that's his strategy. But that wouldn't be the best thing for a young, evolving football team.
They should trade him now. Get a draft pick, find a rookie to go with Anthony Thomas and move on. The running game might slip, but not significantly. Remember, the Bills didn't sell out their last four home games. There's a fragile connection with the fans right now. Taking a stand on McGahee will be a good bit of public relations.
McGahee isn't a very smart person or player. He misses holes. He misses blocks. And where the Buffalo community is concerned, he misses the point. He insults the town's intelligence, and Levy should know that. He's supposed to be in touch with the people here.
If Levy really gets it, he should get McGahee out of here. Case closed.