When he was hired 16 months ago, Doug Marrone was portrayed as a progressive coach who would bring inventive ideas and a fresh perspective to the Bills. He would complement Doug Whaley, the young executive in waiting who was set to take over for General Manager Buddy Nix.
You remember the message. The Bills would embrace modern technology and the concept of analytics. They would be innovative and energetic. They would get with the times and distance themselves from outdated thinking that took the organization nowhere before they arrived.
The Bills’ record last year suggested little had changed. Buffalo finished 6-10 last season for the third straight year. They missed the playoffs for a 14th consecutive season, the longest streak in the NFL. Based on results, it appeared not much was different other than the names of the people in charge.
In truth, what could wind up changing the Bills more than anything is Marrone’s old-school approach. Buffalo loaded up with massive offensive linemen in the draft. Line ’em up, knock ’em down and smoke ’em. In the case of Seantrel Henderson, it’s more like smoke ’em if you got ’em.
The Bills used their final pick on Henderson, who was suspended three times at Miami after testing positive for marijuana and again at the NFL Combine. Whaley took a flier on him with idea he can clean up his act. The Bills are adjusting their attitude under Marrone and hoping Henderson adjusts his altitude.
If he stays clean and develops, the Bills will have a 6-foot-7, 331-pound offensive lineman that they grabbed in the seventh round. It was a calculated risk. One misstep, and he’s gone. Marrone is willing to give players an opportunity, but he’s not wasting his time with some pot-smoker who can’t stay on the field.
“Character is obviously important,” Marrone said. “If we’re going to sit here and act like people aren’t going to make mistakes, people are going to make mistakes. We’re not all perfect. … There comes a point where you sit down and say, ‘Here’s where we are, this is the tolerance level, one more time and you’re gone.’ ”
The Bills are so desperate to make the playoffs that you can’t help but believe they compromised their standards for character. They’re not searching for choir boys, but they also don’t want troublemakers, either. Marrone obviously feels an inherent need to rescue certain players and turn them around.
Marrone is willing to accept criticism now with the idea he can help the player and his team later. If they develop as players and mature as people, well, their transgressions will be quickly forgotten. And if they play Marrone as a pushover, they will quickly be reminded that he’s not.
He’s gambling on Mike Williams with hopes the troubled Buffalo native will respond to his former coach. They took a repeat offender in Henderson, who likely would have signed as a free agent elsewhere if the Bills didn’t select him. The only way they stay is if they stay out of trouble.
Marrone sounded indifferent Saturday when addressing Marcell Dareus’ arrest for possessing synthetic marijuana. That was his public response. Dareus can expect a different reaction when the two meet in private. Marrone was too busy with the draft to deal with his Pro Bowl defensive tackle last week.
“Every situation is different,” Marrone said. “It all depends on the situation and what those acts are.”
Marrone thinks like an offensive lineman. He would rather plow through problems than circumvent them. He has little time and less patience for high-maintenance players who are slow to grasp the team concept. If you’re not all-in with him, you’re halfway out. If you can’t contribute, see you later.
Stevie Johnson found out as much during the draft. He was barely in with the Bills last season and was effectively shipped out Friday. Stevie wasn’t THE problem, but he was one of them. He certainly wasn’t part of the solution, which gave him little to no value in the eyes of the Bills.
Johnson became a nuisance. He admitted that he didn’t work out in the offseason. He suffered through nagging injuries. He refused to take responsibility for a key dropped pass against Atlanta. Stevie was talented, but he usually seemed engrossed in some form of drama befitting a diva.
The bigger problem with Johnson was that they didn’t view him as a No. 1 receiver and certainly didn’t want to pay him like one. So when they traded up to grab Sammy Watkins with the fourth pick overall, it gave them an opportunity to dump Johnson. And they ridded themselves of a player who likely was headed for waivers.
You have to believe time is running out on Dareus. He was earning a reputation as an immature problem child along One Bills Drive before he was busted for possession of a controlled substance. The Bills need to take a cold hard look at Dareus and decide if he’s worth the aggravation.
Marrone already was growing tired of his act. Remember, he was twice reprimanded for being late to meetings last year, which led to him sitting out parts of two games. Dareus made the Pro Bowl last year, but he also was partly responsible for the worst run defense in the league.
For now, the Bills believe he’s worth the aggravation. That can change.
The Bills have been signing players and cutting others at an alarming rate since Marrone arrived. He warned punter Shawn Powell numerous times about his lack of hang time before cutting him within hours after a bad game. He grew tired of Stevie being Stevie and showed him the door.
The Bills continued shaping the roster Saturday during the draft. I’m not sure they’re progressive, but they were aggressive. They’ve sent a consistent message that nobody’s job is secure. The next step is improving their record and securing a playoff spot. That’s when you’ll know things have changed.