Jerry Sullivan: Bills' purge of top picks continues - The Buffalo News

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Jerry Sullivan: Bills' purge of top picks continues

So, do you get the impression that Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane were dead serious about turning over this Bills roster?

Since McDermott took over as head coach and de facto czar on Jan. 11, the Bills have parted ways with their first-round pick from four successive NFL drafts:

Sammy Watkins (2014), traded to the Rams in August; EJ Manuel (2013), gladly gone in free agency; Stephon Gilmore (2012), let go as a free agent rather than given the franchise tag; and finally, Marcell Dareus (2011), traded to the Jaguars and his old coach, Doug Marrone, on Friday evening.

Throw in the 2015 first-rounder that Doug Whaley gifted the Browns to overdraft Watkins and Buffalo has nothing to show for its first-round pick in five consecutive drafts. Add Ronald Darby (second round in '15), and they no longer have the first man they drafted from 2011 to 2015.

They've said goodbye to five second-rounders since McDermott arrived: Aaron Williams (2011), Robert Woods (2013), Cyrus Kouandjio (2014), Darby and Reggie Ragland (2016). Cordy Glenn is the only second-round pick from 2011-16 still on the roster, and now the highest-paid player on the team.

Glenn, who has been fighting to retain his starting spot at left tackle at a $14 million cap hit, cannot feel terribly secure.

[BN] Blitz newsletter: Dareus shipped to Jacksonville

McDermott and Beane must have been shaking their heads when they came aboard (Beane came soon after the draft) and saw what a mess they had inherited. The Bills had a 17-year playoff drought and the bloated salary structure of a team you'd expect to have actually won something.

Dareus's six-year $96 million contract extension was a prime manifestation of the dysfunction that has plagued the Bills for nearly two decades. It was the worst contract in franchise history and, along with the Watkins trade, the most misguided transaction of the 17-year drought.

To recap: Dareus had been suspended for parts of two straight games late in 2013 for being late; he was arrested for possession of marijuana early in 2014. That May at OTAs, he promised to behave. I said he had run out of chances. Two days later, he crashed his Jaguar outside a Hamburg restaurant while street racing.

After the accident, I said they should cut Dareus, rather than invest a huge contract in such a juvenile character. People attacked me on social media. In one poll, 95 percent of respondents supported Dareus.

Jerry Sullivan: It's always something with Marcell Dareus

The Bills could have saved themselves a lot of money and grief if they'd gotten rid of Dareus sooner.  If not, they could have signed him to a lesser deal when his leverage was weak. But  he had his best year in 2014. Terry Pegula, who loves throwing big money at athletes, gave him a stunning six-year, $96 million extension.

The Pegulas were new owners. They listened to the people they left in power with the Bills, who were happy to reward Dareus as if he were a superstar and worthy of trust. The opposite was true, of course. He got $60 million in guarantees, which also guaranteed a loss of motivation.

On Friday night, there were people on Twitter expressing sympathy for Dareus and saying the Jaguars had ripped off the Bills, that it was pure robbery. Nothing on Twitter surprises me anymore, but the real crime was Dareus stealing money from the Bills, making $1 million a game when he actually played.

The Bills were classic enablers, something Pegula has been guilty of at times with his hockey team. Too often, the Buffalo teams make moves for the wrong reasons, overpaying players to create the illusion of star power with their fans or to inflate their precious "relevance" in the larger sports world.

Fans have embraced McDermott and Beane because they have a more grounded, humble approach. They're not impressed by salary or reputation. They're trying to create a culture where the team is more important than the individual, where marginal guys believe no one's position is sacred.

Sure, they want star players who will eventually demand the huge salaries. But it's clear that Beane and McDermott intend to construct their own roster, to draft and develop their own stars and decide whom they want to pay the big bucks.

There are only nine players left who were drafted by the Bills before McDermott arrived. Overall, only seven guys remain who were on the roster when Rex Ryan showed up two years before McDermott. It's incredible that they could be 4-2 under those circumstances.

The Bills' locker room is filled with players who were underestimated, even some of the top guys. Kyle Williams was a fifth-round pick, Tyrod Taylor a sixth-rounder, Jordan Poyer a seventh-rounder. Lorenzo Alexander was undrafted. So were Deonte Thompson, Mike Tolbert and Ryan Davis.

"I've been doubted my whole career," said Davis. "Coming in this thing undrafted in 2012, getting cut, fighting for roster spots. It was an uphill battle. I feel like this whole team embodies that spirit. A bunch of underdogs, we've been thrown away by other teams.

"We've kind of got chips on our shoulders."

Dareus shrugged his shoulders. He walked around with an outsized sense of entitlement. How must it have felt for the underdog players to know he was being paid more for one game — in spot duty, at that — than they'd ever made in a single year?

These guys are playing for their careers. It's amazing to see what good coaching can accomplish with a team of underachievers who feel they're all in this together, looking to prove themselves to a skeptical world.

But it only goes so far. The Bills could still make a playoff run in a league of mainly average teams. But you don't take a team that's been set back by years of bad personnel decisions, one with virtually no foundation of successful high draft picks, and turn it into a real contender in one year.

Hungry underachievers are great, but you also need to build through the draft. That's how most Super Bowl contenders do it, with a solid core of "value" guys in their first contracts to go with solid veterans, which allows you to afford the highly paid stars that put you over the top.

"I like the makeup of our team," Eric Wood said, "in that we have a lot of guys that are very consistent workers and performers, and we have a mix of superstars. When you have that mix, when everyone is reliable and you're able to mix in a few superstars, it's a recipe for success."

Aside from LeSean McCoy, they have no superstars. Dareus, another pretender, just walked out the door. I agree that it's addition by subtraction in the short term. But when your highest draft pick in 30 years walks out the door a failure, it's a huge minus overall.

The Bills are still trying to recover from that and other colossal gaffes over the years. The good news is that McDermott and Beane understand that, and realize that there's much rebuilding yet to be done.

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