MOBILE, Ala. — The word reverberates from Buffalo to the Gulf Coast: “continuity.” This is the theme of the Buffalo Bills’ offseason.
No panic. No upheaval. Only continuity, trust, a refusal to start all over.
This 8-8 team will head into the 2016 season with the same general manager, same head coach, same coordinators, same quarterback. Owners Terry and Kim Pegula didn’t want to hit the reset button on this franchise, so Whaley was extended to a multi-year deal and a tone was set.
As the South team took the field for practice at the Senior Bowl Tuesday, Whaley set up behind the bleachers. Sunglasses clipped to his shirt, speaking candidly topic to topic, he emanated confidence. Some fans may think of those 16 straight playoff-less seasons, he's told, and loathe the word “continuity.”
“I look at it this way,” Whaley said, “we haven’t had continuity: the Buffalo Bills. And was has it gotten us? So let’s try something new. What’s the definition of insanity?”
Indeed, that’d be doing the same thing over and over, banging one’s head against the wall through constant regime change.
“And if you look at the teams that are consistently competing, they’ve had continuity,” Whaley said. “Are you going to have some down years? Absolutely. But if you believe in what you’re doing, and the Pegulas believe in what we’re doing, it’s just going to keep building and building and building. I told people, ‘If you take away the 16 years and the Buffalo Bill off the helmet, think of it, first-year owner, first-year coach, first-year quarterback, 8-8. Is it what you want? Absolutely not. But there are some positives to build off.”
This was Whaley on Tuesday. Confident. Assertive. Steadfast that these Bills are trending in the right direction… and yet he is fully aware that urgency is, indeed, high.
A contract extension doesn’t necessarily guarantee immunity beyond 2016. He gets that.
“Let’s put it this way: anything can happen. You never say never in this business. But what it does is it confirms that everybody in the building is on the same page and feeling like, ‘Hey, we’re in the right direction.’"
And this is the mentality that will drive decisions this offseason. They’re not going to take a hacksaw to the defense. Whaley sees the need to tweak the NFL’s 19th-ranked unit, not uproot it. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams (knee) and safety Aaron Williams (neck) will be back, he said, and the G.M. is hopeful the team can re-sign inside linebacker Nigel Bradham.
Whaley emphasized the need for all current players to fully understand the scheme. Too often last season, he said, players were focused on their specific position, instead of thinking about this defense as a whole.
There won’t be a big offseason splash on defense in 2016 like the one on offense in 2015.
And yet, there’s a threat of honest urgency in his voice, too. Continuity has its limits — the Bills are not prepared to invest long term in quarterback Tyrod Taylor quite yet. As Taylor gears up for his first Pro Bowl appearance in Hawaii, Whaley is in Mobile after all. He's still searching for a franchise quarterback, still keeping all options open.
Would the G.M. consider drafting a quarterback in the early rounds or did Taylor eliminate this as a top need? Whaley didn't flinch.
“If it presents itself, it makes sense," Whaley said, "and it's a guy we like, and we believe in, absolutely.”
Buffalo must see Taylor take the next step before committing top dollar. So up close at the Senior Bowl, the Bills' scouting staff and offensive coordinator Greg Roman get a close look at the next wave, including North Dakota State's Carson Wentz. In the same breath, Whaley does not see a quarterback ready to step in and start on Day 1. While admitting he needs to look at the junior class more closely, he's not seeing studs at the top like last year with Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.
“I think it's a deep crop and I think it's a crop that's going to need some time," Whaley said. "Now, it depends on their situation, who takes them and what they do. But I would say it's not as top-heavy as last year where those top two guys would still be the top two guys. How quickly these guys can matriculate into the league, I think it's going to take a little bit of time. Maybe a year, maybe a half of a year.”
Such is Buffalo's predicament. Continuity sure is the perfect way of doing business. You don't see the New Englands, Green Bays, the Pittsburghs firing people every other year. A system is installed, wins and team-wide phrases are repeated like Bible verses.
But, you know, it's usually a Hall of Fame-worthy quarterback driving that continuity and the Bills have been cursed at that position for nearly two decades. The fact that Whaley is so open to drafting one despite Taylor's success is a great place to start. Buffalo has drafted a grand total of four quarterbacks since Jim Kelly retired. That's a recipe for perennial futility.
Whaley's job is safe. The Pegulas made that clear.
Now, comes the hard part. Whatever the GM decides to do long term at quarterback likely determines his own fate.
Right now, his starter is Taylor and that made him smile at one point.
"If I would've told you guys the Buffalo Bills would've had a quarterback in the Pro Bowl, what would you say?”
A reporter chuckles.
The unknown: One year from now, what will he say?