Chris Hogan conspiracy theorists may have had it right after all.
The latest story from ex-Bills coach Rex Ryan involves what he perceived as a major screw-up: Letting wide receiver Chris Hogan get away in free agency. The fact that he was poached by the rival Patriots only added insult to injury.
A quick recap: Hogan was a restricted free agent after the 2015 season. The Bills offered him the lowest tender possible, $1.671 million, which allowed them to match any offer from another team. For $882,000 more, the Bills' offer would have become a second-round tender, meaning any team signing Hogan would also have to give the Bills their second-round draft pick. The Patriots offered Hogan a front-loaded deal that the Bills couldn't match, and he went on to become another one of Tom Brady's weapons, leading the league at 17.9 yards per reception en route to a Super Bowl title.
The Bills were short on cap space that offseason, but since they could've essentially guaranteed keeping Hogan by spending less than $1 million more, a commonly held thought was that the Bills must not have valued him that highly. But that couldn't be farther from the truth, according to what Ryan said this week on ESPN's "Know Them From Adam" podcast, with Adam Schefter.
"This one drives me crazy because that was the one player I definitely did not want to lose when I was at Buffalo," Ryan said. "Not only was he really our best receiver that year … but he was also our best special teams player that year. Like, this kid’s a great football player, great competitor and a great athlete – obviously he was a multi-sport athlete in college. And you don’t want to lose these guys; he was tough, he was everything you look for.
"... Obviously if we would’ve put a second-round tender on there we probably still would’ve had him. But the fact we didn't, they were able to come in and they snagged him for money that we couldn’t pay."
But the interview got awkward when Schefter asked Ryan what his reaction was when he found out the Patriots signed Hogan. Ryan seemed to think the Bills were putting a second-round tender on Hogan but screwed it up.
"Uhh, lets just say I wasn’t real happy," Ryan said after some uncomfortable laughter. "You know, at first, here’s what happened. This is how uninformed I was at that time. I’m thinking, OK, well we get a second-round pick. And so I was disappointed, but I’m like, all right, hey, we at least get a second-round pick, so that’s pretty cool. Uhh, no, the tender wasn’t high enough. So that’s when I think I left the office. I was not happy, let’s just put it that way."
Yikes. Seems like things got a little tense between Ryan and then-GM Doug Whaley after that one.
Ryan touched on a number of other issues on the podcast, mostly regarding the Bills and Patriots:
On the Bills
Asked about the flurry of moves the Bills made seemingly for the future, Ryan repeated his claim that the team should be expected to win this season since he was told he underachieved with the talent he had. His thoughts:
• On Sammy Watkins: "He played about half the time when I had him and the last year he played with a broken foot. So is he healthy? If he’s healthy, [the Bills] made a horrible mistake. Because he’s a top-10 talent. But if he’s not healthy, then they made a good thing to at least get something out of him, which would be a second-round pick."
• On Ronald Darby: "... maybe it’s, you’re playing in a defense and you got a corner without any deep ball skills, that’s one reason probably Ronald Darby’s not there. It’s hard, in that type of system you want a guy with some ball skills and Darby’s a 'man-under' type of corner, he doesn’t necessarily have the ball skills down the field, so I can see that move happening."
• On Reggie Ragland: It was a “no-brainer deal” for Kansas City. “Reggie was the best player we had” in training camp last year, he said.
• On being let go on the Tuesday before Week 17: "Terry [Pegula, the owner] was a man to me. I asked specifically about my situation." And since Pegula indicated he was going in a different direction after the season, Ryan said he told Pegula he might as well do it now.
“Quite honestly I would’ve won that last game and I would’ve been 8-8, probably one of the only coaches ever to not have a losing record with Buffalo." (Lou Saban, Chuck Knox, Marv Levy and Wade Phillips all had winning records with the Bills.)
• On Mario Williams: Speaking generally about defense, Ryan brought up Williams on his own. Yes, he's still salty.
"... Don’t put a square peg in a round hole. Look, I made that mistake, you know? I had Mario Williams out there trying to do something with him and all he did was [expletive] because he dropped [into coverage]. But he did have five sacks and last year he only had one with Miami so I don’t know who the problem was, me or him."
On the Patriots
• Ryan said cornerback Stephon Gilmore, another player New England poached from Buffalo, will be “fantastic” in New England, especially since he's in his prime.
“Stephon Gilmore is a great player. His only issue was staying healthy," Ryan said. "When this guy’s healthy and keyed in, he’s right up there in the conversation with best corners in the league."
• He thinks Julian Edelman (ACL) will be a substantial loss for the Patriots because he’s Brady’s “safety net.” New receiver Brandon Cooks, acquired from the Saints, has plenty of talent but durability is an issue, Ryan said. “I think Cooks sometimes wears down a little bit at the end of seasons.”
• Asked what teams he thinks could threaten New England in the AFC, Ryan first suggested Oakland, but said he dislikes how they play defense. His next suggestion was Pittsburgh.
Schefter predicted that after 30 years in coaching, Ryan will enjoy the (relatively) low-stress world of broadcasting and stick with it long-term. Ryan said he's got to see whether he likes it, and more importantly, whether people like him.
But I have the opposite take as Schefter. Coaching is all Ryan has ever known. He and his twin brother Rob, also a coach, moved across the country as kids to follow their father's coaching career, even making a stop in Buffalo when Buddy Ryan was with UB. Rex is fierce about defending the family name. He may enjoy broadcasting, but I think eventually he returns to the coaching ranks at some level of football.