Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula stressed the need for continuity in his floundering organization during the final week of a disappointing 2015 season.
On Sunday, Pegula acted on his words, as the team announced a contract extension with General Manager Doug Whaley.
Pegula’s wife, Kim, the Bills’ co-owner, first tweeted the news, in the form of a photo of Terry Pegula, Whaley and team President Russ Brandon aboard the family yacht in South Florida.
Whaley was entering the final year of his contract. He avoided lame-duck status by signing the extension, which The Buffalo News has learned is for is for three years, meaning he’s under contract for the next four seasons. That goes along with the length of time left on coach Rex Ryan’s deal.
The News reported last week the two sides were nearing an agreement.
The team's leaders – including the Pegulas, Brandon, Whaley and Ryan – were to have year-end meetings this weekend at the owners' residence.
In a follow-up tweet, Kim Pegula alluded to those meetings.
Whaley, 43, has served as the Bills' general manager since May 16, 2013. He originally joined the franchise in 2010 as the director of pro personnel and assistant general manager.
"We are pleased to announce a multi-year contract extension with our General Manager Doug Whaley," Terry Pegula said in a press release issued by the team. "Doug has demonstrated an excellent eye for talent and has been an asset to the organization on many levels. I look forward to working closely with Doug and Coach Ryan for many years to come."
During Whaley's tenure as GM, the Bills have gone 23-25 in the regular season. Their playoff drought hit 16 consecutive seasons following an 8-8 campaign in 2015. Because of that, his job status has been called into question on more than one occasion.
By signing an extension Sunday, that talk can be shelved in the short term.
“I am excited for this opportunity Terry and Kim Pegula have given me and my family to continue to work for the Buffalo Bills franchise,” Whaley said in the team’s press release. “I look forward to getting back to work with our owners, Rex Ryan, Russ Brandon and our scouting staff to build a winning team that this tremendous and supportive fan base deserves.”
The Pegulas have touted continuity as being the key to ending the team's playoff drought in recent weeks. Terry Pegula took the rare step of releasing a statement prior to the season finale against the New York Jets late last month, backing both Whaley and Ryan.
"As our first full season as owners of the Buffalo Bills draws to a close, management, coaches, players, and fans all feel that our expectations were not met," he said. “Kim, Russ and I look forward to working and collaborating with Doug Whaley and Rex Ryan in forming a winning future for the organization. Our management team and coaching staff are very capable and work well together. This stable foundation is necessary to achieve long term success in the NFL."
During a season-ending press conference, Whaley said he "didn't need" the vote of confidence because he has "daily dealings" with Pegula.
During that same press conference, Whaley also did his best to shoot down any speculation that there was a rift between himself and Ryan.
"I think that is tabloid reporting when things don’t go well," Whaley said. "People are out there just to take create some friction and just throw darts at the board and if it's right, then I was first to report it. I mean, I understand your guys business. Controversy sells – but we have been unified from day one.
"We have no problems, I haven’t had any problems with anybody on the staff. I think our offensive staff has done a wonderful job. I got complete confidence in the defensive staff, our head coach and I know the Pegulas do as well, and I know Russ does. So that, to us, it's one of those where you just tune out the noise and know it's part of the business."
During Whaley's two-plus years of running the team's personnel department, there have been more hits than misses. The acquisitions of running back LeSean McCoy and guard Richie Incognito, for example, helped the offense improve from 26th in 2014 to 13th a season ago. Ryan also pushed for the team to sign quarterback Tyrod Taylor, which proved to be a sound move.
Perhaps the biggest move Whaley has made as GM came in 2014, when he traded the Bills' 2015 first- and fourth-round draft picks to Cleveland as part of a package to move up and draft wide receiver Sammy Watkins with the fourth overall pick. Watkins looked like one of the best receivers in the NFL over the second half of the 2015 season.
Despite not having a first-round pick, the 2015 draft class also earned high marks for its production. Second-round draft pick Ronald Darby is a candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year, while running back Karlos Williams scored nine touchdowns as a fifth-round draft pick.
Of course, there have also been some misses for Whaley. He was a big part of the decision to draft EJ Manuel in the first round in 2013, even though Buddy Nix was still the GM at the time. Manuel has been a bust, as has 2014 second-round draft pick Cyrus Kouandjio.
"We didn’t deliver what our goal was and it’s to win a championship and the first way to get to winning a championship is getting into the playoffs," Whaley said after the recently concluded season. "So yes, disappointed, but it wasn’t a disastrous season in our view. There’s a lot of things we can build on, there’s a lot we can got to get better at, absolutely, but we’re excited to get to work this offseason and improve on those things that we need to improve on."
Whaley has a big challenge ahead of him. The Bills are tight against the league’s salary cap, meaning there will be no spending spree in free agency like a year ago. In fact, even re-signing players like Incognito, left tackle Cordy Glenn and linebacker Nigel Bradham will be a challenge given the team’s lack of cap space.
That means the pressure will be on Whaley to deliver starters from April’s draft. By way of their 8-8 record, the Bills hold the 19th overall pick in the first round. Only one team that missed the playoffs has a lower pick.
Shortly before news emerged last week of the progress made toward a contract extension with Whaley, The Buffalo News reported that Terry Pegula had met with the general manager and Ryan in the finals weeks of the 2015 season and issued a “win or else” sort of ultimatum for the 2016 season.
Pegula denied that in a text to The News – a denial that was reiterated Sunday by a team source.
Replacing a coach and/or GM with time remaining on their contract would not be out of character for the Pegulas, however.
As owners of the Buffalo Sabres, they gave General Manager Darcy Regier a contract extension in January 2013, only to fire him 20 games in the following season. Former Sabres coach Ted Nolan was also fired just a year after signing a three-year contract extension.
News Sports Reporter Tyler Dunne contributed to this report.