FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The Buffalo Bills played their final game of the season Sunday, but their potential offseason moves are already dominating conversation around the team.
National media reports over the weekend speculating on changes to the Bills’ front office overshadowed a meaningless, 17-9 victory against the New England Patriots.
What is there to make of reports that had two different names possibly taking over the club’s football operations and a third in line to become its new general manager?
For the immediate future, not a whole lot.
“I don’t know where all this speculation comes from,” Bills President Russ Brandon told reporters after the game. “It’s agent-on-agent crime, listening to all the nonsense that’s out there. It’s hard in our business not to get caught up in the noise, but it’s just that – it’s noise.”
It began Saturday, when Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk speculated that former Bills General Manager Bill Polian was on the verge of returning to the team that went to three consecutive Super Bowls on his watch. Florio went so far as to say Polian could be on the job, in an unspecified capacity, by Monday. Afterward, Polian told The Buffalo News the story wasn’t true.
Early Sunday, a high-ranking Bills source told The News that the team had “no plans” to hire Polian and was “not sure where this is coming from.” Beyond what a league source described as third-party contact between Polian and the Bills to gauge his interest in working for the team again, there have been no substantial discussions and there are no indications if or when they will occur.
On Sunday, Florio speculated that NFL agent Brian Ayrault, a longtime family friend of Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula, would soon be joining the team’s front office as possibly a contract negotiator or to oversee football operations. Ayrault later posted on his Twitter account that the speculation was inaccurate, something Florio later reported the agent told him in a phone call. A high-level Bills source told The News that the Ayrault story was “also a rumor” and that the Pegulas have had no contact with him since they purchased the team in October.
Jason La Canfora, CBS Sports NFL Insider, reported Sunday that Chris Polian, Bill Polian’s eldest son and pro personnel director for the Jacksonville Jaguars, would be a “strong candidate” to become the Bills’ new GM if the club were to part ways with current GM Doug Whaley. That, too, has been placed in the rumor category by multiple sources.
Should anything be ruled out?
“He’s the owner, he can do anything he wants,” Brandon said of Terry Pegula. “We talk all the time, with both Terry and Kim, but it’s his prerogative as the owner to handle anything the way he sees fit. I feel very comfortable with both of them; they’ve been incredible through the first four months of their ownership and I’m just glad we could end it on a winning note for them.” Brandon added that no season-review meeting with the Pegulas has been scheduled yet.
“That’s the nature of the business,” Whaley said of speculation about a front-office shakeup. “I mean, it’s one of those things if you do good, everybody loves you. If you’re borderline, there’s going to be questions. And if you’re bad, there’s going to be accusations. I know what we signed up for.” It gives the media “platforms to do your jobs.”
The Bills’ 9-7 finish gives them their first winning record since 2004. But it wasn’t good enough for them to avoid missing the playoffs for the 15th year in a row.
If the Pegulas make a change at the top of their football department, it will be because they want someone who could ultimately get their team over that postseason hump. After putting together rosters that routinely reached the Super Bowl in Buffalo and played for the NFC title in Carolina, Polian finally assembled one that captured a Super Bowl crown in Indianapolis. He also is the only six-time recipient of the NFL Executive of the Year award, voted by fellow league executives.
Polian, 72, is a finalist for induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015 in the newly created Contributors Category. Although his being hired by an NFL club would not cause the clock to be reset on his eligibility for induction (because, unlike players and coaches, there is no waiting period for contributors after retirement), it’s entirely possible that some on the media voting panel would hold that against Polian when Hall balloting takes place on Jan. 31.
That could lead Polian to put off any decision on returning to the NFL until after the vote. And that, in turn, could be a deal-breaker for the Bills or any team that might want to hire him because it would cost them a full month of the offseason.
Even if Polian comes aboard, Brandon figures to be secure in his area of expertise, leading the Bills’ business operations, which he says he does now while leaving football decisions to Whaley and coach Doug Marrone. Marrone also figures to have helped solidify his job by winning three more games than in his first season at the Bills’ helm last year.
The biggest question is whether Marrone can co-exist with Whaley, with whom he reportedly has had an acrimonious relationship. Brandon said that was not the case.
“I’m around all the time, and I’m with those guys around the clock,” Brandon said. “If I’m missing something, then I’m missing something, because those guys collaborate on everything from practice-squad transactions to everything on player personnel. Every day’s not perfect when it comes to decision-making, but they’re incredible collaborators. They work together on everything.”