There is no doubt that it is a new era for the Buffalo Bills.
In the month that has passed since the team was eliminated from the postseason, General Manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott have continued to overhaul the organization, from the training staff to the coaching staff and, even an entire department that was created under the old front office structure.
To recap, the coaching staff has seen three major shakeups. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison was fired and replaced by Brian Daboll, defensive backs coach Gill Byrd was let go and replaced by John Butler and defensive line coach Mike Waufle retired, with former assistant D-line coach Bill Teerlinck being promoted to the position.
That’s not all, though. The team and director of athletic training operations Bud Carpenter “mutually agreed” that it was time for him to retire after 33 years with the team, while head athletic trainer Shone Gipson, who had been with the franchise since 2002, was let go.
Additionally, the “robust analytics department” previously installed by team President Russ Brandon was blown up, with director of analytics Michael Lyons and system analyst Peter Linton leaving the organization. (Side note: With so many of the employees that Brandon either hired, promoted or otherwise kept in their role being ousted, it’s fair to wonder just how much sway, if any, the team president has any more.)
Most recently, the team staged a bizarre “retirement” press conference last week for center Eric Wood in which that word was never used. Wood is not expected to play again because of a neck injury, although he remains on the active roster while contractual issues are sorted out.
Oh, and the team also has 18 pending unrestricted free agents to decide what to do with, while also sorting out the future of quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
That’s made for a pretty hectic four weeks since the 10-3 loss to the Jaguars in the wild-card round. Of all the moves made since the calendar flipped to 2018, McDermott’s hire of Butler is the one that has produced the most puzzled reactions.
Although the Bills ranked just 20th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (230.5), the team’s 18 interceptions tied for sixth and its 14 passing touchdowns allowed ranked second best in the NFL. Cornerback Tre’Davious White finished second in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting after finishing with 69 tackles, four interceptions, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and a touchdown. Fellow cornerback E.J. Gaines also fit in well when healthy after coming over in an August trade with the Rams. The safety duo of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde became one of the best in the league, with Hyde making the Pro Bowl and Poyer making a strong case he should have been there, too.
Byrd deserves some of the credit for those individual successes. The optics of McDermott replacing him with one of his high school friends aren’t great.
Butler spent four seasons as Houston’s secondary coach coach before coming to Buffalo, with the Texans ranking 21st, third, second and 24th in passing yards allowed over those four years. Houston led the NFL in third-down defense in 2015, the same year the team tied for third in the league with 90 passes defensed. The following year, the Texans led the NFL in total defense.
So the 44-year-old Butler isn’t without qualifications, but McDermott still owes fans an explanation on how exactly he will be an upgrade over Byrd as the defensive backs coach, and should be prepared for some hard questions if the secondary does not perform as well in 2018.
It’s also fair to put Daboll’s addition under the microscope. While he brings a jewelry box full of championship rings to Buffalo, his track record as an NFL coordinator has not produced glowing numbers. His offenses ranked 32nd and 29th in Cleveland, 22nd in Miami in 2011 and 24th in Kansas City in 2012 in total yards.
There is a feel-good element to the St. Francis High School graduate coming home to run the Bills’ offense, but that will only last as long as significant improvements on that side of the ball are made.
As busy as the offseason has been for the above reasons, some of the biggest decisions are yet to be made. The most important one is at quarterback. Taylor has one year left on his contract, but it would be a surprise if he returned – especially after he told The Buffalo News’ Vic Carucci last week that he’s not open to a pay cut. That means a replacement will be needed, either through the draft, free agency or via a trade, or some combination of all three.
If Beane and McDermott nail that decision, they'll enjoy even more job security than ending the franchise's 17-year playoff drought bought them.