DETROIT – General Manager Doug Whaley insisted Thursday night that he didn’t act alone in the release of Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson.
After the 17-10 loss, Whaley said he consulted several others before making the decision to cut the longtime back.
“Let’s put it this way,” Whaley said. “I gather information from everybody, from the running backs coach to the offensive coordinator to the head coach and the owners. I wouldn’t be in this position – especially with new ownership – I’m going to include them.
“That’s my boss. We wouldn’t make a decision without them.”
Of course, Jackson’s release sent a shock wave through the city this week. And sources told The News that Whaley went rogue in releasing Jackson.
In addition to head coach Rex Ryan, offensive coordinator Greg Roman and running backs coach Anthony Lynn, Whaley said that he talked to owner Terry Pegula before making the decision and assumed that Pegula’s wife and co-owner, Kim, was also present when he told him. Whaley added that Ryan actually was with him to inform Jackson of the release.
“So he was in there with me when we told him together,” Whaley said. “Talked to the running backs coach. So it wasn’t just me waking up one day and deciding, ‘Hey, I want to do this.’”
Jackson, 34, has been the face of the franchise for nearly a decade, finishing as the Bills’ third all-time leading rusher.
Whaley reiterated that the decision “wasn’t an easy one.”
As for his reasoning, Whaley would not get into details. He did indicate that no guarantees were ever made to Jackson before training camp. When asked if the presence of Bryce Brown – for whom he traded a fourth-round pick prior to the 2014 season – was a factor, Whaley declined to get into details.
“It was the decision we felt we had to make,” Whaley said, “and the timing we thought was best to make it then so he could obviously get a look from Seattle and get out there and talk to other teams.”
There is a possibility that people within the Bills organization were kept out of the loop. And maybe there was disagreement in house.
But before leaving Ford Field, Whaley said he “never” makes personnel decisions alone.
“Let me ask you this,” Whaley said. “Can you make a decision without informing your boss? I’ll let you write the rest.”
Quite possibly, Whaley was willing to absorb the wrath of Western New Yorkers for Brown.
On Thursday, the running back returned for the first time since injuring his hamstring in training camp. He flashed the speed Whaley coveted in the first place, and he was also stuffed on a third and 1. Questions linger. But even in this drowsy preseason setting, Brown’s talent is easy to see. There’s a chance the 6-foot, 220-pounder who suffers from occasional fumble-itis is needed Week One against Indianapolis if LeSean McCoy (hamstring) isn’t ready to go. This week, McCoy continued to rehab off to the side during practice.
So as fans continued to mourn five hours east, Brown was a busy man with 37 yards on nine attempts (4.1 avg.).
His night started with a thud. On their first play from scrimmage, the Bills called a screen left to Brown that was immediately diagnosed and stuffed 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. He was then engulfed for a 2-yard loss behind this leaky No. 2 offensive line, tackled immediately after taking the hand-off.
And yet, there’s an explosion to Brown’s game Whaley is still banking on.
Soon after, Brown cut off right tackle for 17 yards, using a seal from wide receiver Marcus Thigpen to gain the corner. His 4.38 speed was never questioned – Brown averaged 4.9 yards per carry as a rookie in Philadelphia. A full decade younger than Jackson, he brings more burst to the position.
Then again, on a third-and-1 the same drive, Brown hesitated a split-second too long behind Cyril Richardson and was tackled for a loss. Brown may lack the power, the grit between the tackles that Jackson provided his 1,297 carries as a Bill.
The state of the Bills’ backfield is murky. Boobie Dixon didn’t make the trip to Detroit and rookie Karlos Williams hasn’t practiced yet since undergoing his medical procedure. If McCoy isn’t ready, Brown might be needed.
Later in the first half, Brown teased again.
Next to Matt Simms in the shotgun, Brown took a draw and was instantly met by 298-pound Jermelle Cudjo and 305-pound Gabe Wright. Neither laid a hand on him. Brown hit the brakes and both players’ passed by. What should’ve been a 5-yard loss, Brown turned into a 6-yard gain.
His most telling stat? Zero. As in fumbles. The fact that Brown didn’t turn the ball over on his nine carries and two receptions is a step. To carve out a real role on this team, Brown must prove he can hang onto the ball.
Both the Bills and Lions sat all of their starters Thursday, which meant a heavy dose of players fighting for their NFL lives.
One player who helped his cause? Merrill Noel. The 5-foot-10, 197-pound cornerback out of Wake Forest blasted Lions wide receiver Jeremy Ross with so much force that when Ross hit the turf, the ball ricocheted straight into the air to teammate Ron Brooks, who returned it 81 yards for a touchdown. Noel also combined with linebacker IK Enemkpali to crunch Kellen Moore on one pass.
It’ll be tough for Noel to make the cut. The longer 6-foot-1 Mario Butler has worked with the No. 2 defense most of the summer, though he was the one beat on Moore’s 64-yard touchdown to TJ Jones.
Elsewhere, it was a rough night for the backup offensive linemen. Richardson was beat badly on a third-down sack in the red zone at the end of the first half. And after a rocky start to training camp, offensive coordinator Greg Roman must be feeling a lot better about his tight ends behind starter Charles Clay. Since his drop against Carolina, MarQueis Gray has caught everything thrown his way, including one 21-yarder in stride Thursday night.
Buffalo native Vanessa Williams will sing the national anthem for the Buffalo Bills’ Sept. 20 game against the New England Patriots.
Williams also sang the anthem at the Super Bowl in 1996 and, only this week, sang it at the start of the U.S. Open.