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Jerry Sullivan: McDermott does the talking; Whaley's a dead man walking

After Sean McDermott finished reviewing the Bills' three picks on the final day of the NFL Draft, I posed the question: Was he prepared to give a vote of confidence to Doug Whaley and his scouting staff?

"Right now, I'm focused on this draft," the first-year head coach said. "Honestly, I'm going to focus on this draft and what we have in front of us going on right now with this priority free agent market."

As someone began to ask a followup, McDermott interjected, "I will say, Doug and his staff did a phenomenal job."

A pat on the back, but not a vote of confidence, by any means. While deflecting the issue, McDermott had the unmistakable bearing of the boss, the man who has Whaley's fate, and that of the rest of the personnel department, resting in his hands.

McDermott didn't say Whaley was safe, or that he lacked the authority to fire him. But his power was manifest during the three-day draft, when he served as the singular voice of the organization, while Whaley and his scouts were stashed away like recalcitrant children.

Whaley is a dead man walking at this point, a pathetic figure. As I said a month ago, they should have fired him and been done with it.

How many humiliations must he endure? The season-ending press conference, when Whaley fumbled through questions about Rex Ryan's firing, was a national embarrassment. Then he was kept away from the draft day conventions, the pre-draft luncheon and the event itself.

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I suspect the Bills could have executed their six draft picks without Whaley. McDermott proved you could get up to speed and run a draft in a matter of a couple of months. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to find a trade partner and move back in the draft.

If I'm giving McDermott too much credit, so be it. The Pegulas empowered him beyond his experience. They didn't allow the scouts to come out at the draft and discuss the picks, the one time all year when they used to get a little recognition and engage with the public.

McDermott handled the duties admirably. He seemed mildly presidential. He made some aggressive moves and addressed positions of need. Whether those picks pan out remains to be seen, but at least he avoided the sort of reaches for which Whaley became famous.

Granted, the bar wasn't high. Whaley has accomplished one thing -- he's made McDermott look like a savant by comparison. McDermott makes a smart trade, fills a few holes, says everyone is competing for jobs -- including him -- and he's hailed in Bills circles as a budding Bill Polian.

McDermott has quickly risen to a position akin to such established powers as Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll and Andy Reid. He was embraced when he arrived as coach because he wasn't Rex Ryan. Now he's being given extra slack for not being Whaley.

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Let's not forget, the guy was brought in to be the coach. He still hasn't coached his first game. I'm less interested in how he runs a draft than what he does on fourth-and 3 from the 50-yard line, or how he executes challenges and manages the clock under pressure.

For all we know, McDermott will be no better at his main job than Ryan or Doug Marrone. We won't know until he coaches a season or two. What's beyond dispute is that a bad GM causes more harm to an organization than a coach, and that's why Whaley deserves to be gone.

How much further can they torture the guy? Every day, it seems, there's a circumstance that reflects badly on Whaley's time here. Word is, they won't pick up the fifth year on Sammy Watkins's contract, which isn't a huge deal but a blow to Whaley nonetheless.

Whaley's decision to trade two picks for Watkins in a receiver rich draft, largely to prop up EJ Manuel, was a firing offense in its own right. Never mind that Watkins has had 10 injuries and struggled to stay on the field.

It was a further indignity when the Bills took quarterback Nathan Peterman in the fifth round. Whaley had reached for Cardale Jones in the fourth round a year ago, shortly after Dak Prescott went to the Cowboys. Whaley was happy to have a raw QB who wouldn't challenge Taylor or Manuel.

Whaley was good at finding lesser talents to fill out a roster. Chris Hogan and Mike Gillislee come to mind. Also Zach Brown and Lorenzo Alexander, though the genius of those moves dimmed when the Buffalo defense got shredded by every capable offense it played last season.

It was Whaley's reckless, pricy moves that set back the franchise and diminished his modest successes -- like overpaying the likes of Marcell Dareus, Jerry Hughes, LeSean McCoy and Charles Clay, inflating the salary structure and compromising the roster later.

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Last year, the Bills had fewer of their own draft picks on the roster than any other NFL team. They had 22 free agents. McDermott inherited a weakened roster and the Pegulas gave him to power to get things right.

McDermott was pleased with his first draft as head coach. He has two first-round picks for next year's draft. He talked about the versatility of all his picks, gushing about them as good, young football players.

"I learned a lot," he said. "Trying to learn every day and I’ve got a number of things written down upstairs on a card that I’ll add to after tonight when it’s over. I’ll probably think of some more in my sleep, like we all do.

"You think of some thoughts and you wake up and you write it down. There’s just a number of things, whether it’s just my preparation, communication, order of things. There’s a lot there that I can go better at."

He called it a total team effort, giving Whaley perfunctory credit. But it rang hollow, with the general manager nowhere to be found. McDermott said he expects the draft to be a one-man show as long as he's head coach.

"As long as I’m the head coach, I do," he said. "We’re going with that one-voice approach and streamlined and aligned on what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and how we’re doing it. I believe in that. We believe in that and that’s an organizational decision at this time."

That's fine, but if McDermott wants to be the solitary voice on both personnel and coaching, he'll get an equivalent share of the heat, too. Let's hope he's ready for it, because we've arrived at the point where simply not being Ryan or Whaley isn't good enough.

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