Sean McDermott arrived 20 minutes late Tuesday morning for his scheduled gathering with the media, which was hardly anything new. McDermott had been tardy nearly every day since training camp began, prompting a veteran grump (not me) to ask if he would send himself home.
McDermott showing up late for a bunch of reporters certainly isn't a felony, but he couldn't dismiss the irony, either. He was the guy who sent Marcell Dareus home from Baltimore for being late to the third preseason game, after all, and he couldn't help but chuckle when he was reminded of that fact Tuesday.
"Can we start now?" McDermott said with a smile.
Sure, let's get down to business with the Bills as they enter their preseason finale Thursday night against the Lions at New Era Field. I'm guessing the vast majority of Bills Nation isn’t eagerly awaiting the Keith Wenning Era. If the first three exhibitions weren't unsightly enough, the final one could be particularly gruesome.
Wenning, signed Monday, could play the entire game because the Bills have no better option. Quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and third-stringer T.J. Yates remained in concussion protocol Tuesday. The last thing the Bills need is rookie backup Nathan Peterman getting injured in a meaningless game with the opener around the corner.
McDermott and Brandon Beane, handed the unenviable task of overhauling the roster and rebuilding this team on the fly, insist that they're simultaneously trying to win this season and preparing for the future. Their message may pacify a few disgruntled fans and inject optimism into the locker room, but they're not kidding many others.
Here's the reality: The Bills have almost no chance of making the playoffs any time soon. Virtually every sign points to them adding another chapter to their long and wretched history of the 21st century. The regular season could amount to an extension of the preseason, a 16-game exercise in evaluating players for next year and beyond.
"It would be irresponsible for us not to have our eye on the long term and the bigger picture," McDermott said. "Certainly, we want to have short-term success, and nobody wants it more than I do and the players in our locker room. We work extremely hard, those guys work extremely hard. That said, we have to always keep the big picture in mind."
If the Bills really wanted to get serious, they would waive Dareus in the coming days, spare themselves the hassle of keeping him and start focusing on the future. It would be their boldest decision in years, a welcome move for people who comprehend a broader landscape and view this season as a necessary hurdle.
We're talking about roughly $24 million in dead money against the salary cap this year and another $14 million next year by cutting Dareus. It would be debilitating, indeed, but what's the point of keeping an overpaid, underachieving pothead who comes across like he doesn't want to be here?
Dareus has shown no signs of cleaning up his act. He's either unwilling, incapable or lacks the discipline needed to stay on the field. He's their highest-paid defensive player but hasn't offered an ounce of leadership. The new regime gave him a clean slate, and he couldn't even reach the regular season without mucking it up.
The Bills have proven they can lose with him, and they could be better off in the long run without him. He doesn't strike me as a character player the Bills' new hierarchy values as a long-term asset. Dareus, who practiced Tuesday for the first time since last week, is well aware that his contract makes him practically indispensable.
Even last week, after the discipline was handed down in Baltimore, he sounded indifferent about his latest transgression. It was as if any indignity he might have experienced by having his coach and general manager publicly criticize him was a minor inconvenience that was offset by his first-class ride home on Air Pegula.
Dareus has more potential to become a bigger nuisance to the Bills than any of their opponents. He'll be on the back half of his six-year, $96 million contract by the time he can make the profound impact Buffalo expected when they drafted him. Doug Whaley should have known he couldn't be trusted with a massive contract.
For all the people who suggest the Bills can't afford to cut him based on the cap, I would argue they can't afford to keep him based on his history. It means spending good money after bad rather than cutting their losses. At $1 million per game on average, he's undermining what the new regime is trying to accomplish.
Again, where is this season going with him or without him?
Twenty-seven players remain on the roster from the 7-9 team that missed the playoffs for the 17th straight season under Rex Ryan. McDermott and Beane have distanced themselves from the previous regime and an organization that was drowning in dysfunction. For now, anyway, the Bills appear to be in capable hands.
McDermott and Beane can be cold and calculating, which is what the organization needs moving forward. They proved their temerity when they traded away franchise receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Ronald Darby on the same day, getting less in return for the immediate future while stocking up with draft picks.
The Bills traded away former second-round pick Reggie Ragland on Monday, sending the inside linebacker to Kansas City for a fourth-round pick and limiting the damage Whaley caused when trading up for Ragland in 2016. That's four players Whaley drafted who were shipped out in five weeks.
Clearly, McDermott and Beane want their guys on their roster.
McDermott said the right things about Ragland after sending him on his way, but his opinion of the inside 'backer couldn't have been too high. For starters, the Bills would have kept Ragland if they thought he could help them. But the bigger indicator was sending Ragland to the Chiefs after acquiring Kansas City's first-round pick.
Evidently, they weren't worried about Ragland becoming an upgrade with the Chiefs and helping them improve their record, thereby dropping down in draft position. The Bills are hoping the Chiefs have a terrible season, which would give them more options and leverage after the season.
"As you evaluate a trade and where you come out on a positive or negative side, that’s always part of the computation, so to speak," McDermott said. "You look at that" and "you have to look at it from every different angle. We did that. We just, again, felt like it was right for us at this time and right for Reggie at the same time."
Fine, but the Bills didn't make trades with this season in mind. They didn't acquire draft picks that could help them this season, either. Other than signing Anquan Boldin, who was here for about 15 minutes before seeing the light, every move the Bills made since training camp began was designed to build for the future.
The future starts now. It's better late than never.