INDIANAPOLIS – For Buffalo Bills General Manager Doug Whaley, pressure is as much a part of the territory as game tape and 40-yard dash times.
Ask him if he’s feeling any greater pressure to win in the 2016 season while trying to assemble a roster under ultra-tight salary cap constraints, and he doesn’t flinch.
“You guys put pressure on us no matter what, whether we had $50 million (in cap space) or zero million,” Whaley told a gathering of Western New York media at the NFL Scouting Combine Thursday. “The pressure’s always out there. And it’s the pressure to win because we’re competitive. We want to win more than you guys want to win. We want to win more than the fans want to win because this is our livelihood and this is what we do for a living.
“So the pressure’s always there.”
The challenges don’t stop with re-signing key players, such as offensive tackle Cordy Glenn and guard Richie Incognito, before they hit the free-agent market.
They don’t stop with possibly needing to cut big-money players, such as defensive end Mario Williams, and/or trying to get Williams and other veterans with huge salaries to take pay cuts to accommodate other signings. On Thursday, for instance, they announced they restructured the contract of tight end Charles Clay and could make similar moves with cornerback Leodis McKelvin and safety Corey Graham.
There could be other matters needing attention as the GM goes about the roster-building process.
Whaley must have a plan ready if the Bills do if they end up losing running back LeSean McCoy for any length of time due to possible punishment for his alleged involvement in a nightclub brawl in Philadelphia.
And Whaley needs to figure out how the Bills will respond if offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson is unable to return to action due to his battle with Crohn’s Disease.
Through the balance of the Combine, Whaley and the rest of the Bills’ player-personnel staff and coaches are going to accumulate more information on college prospects in preparation for April’s NFL Draft.
Whaley is going to have plenty to think about. But he admittedly will spend a little more time considering, for instance, what the Bills’ medical staff will eventually tell him about Henderson’s ability, or lack thereof, to deal with his disease.
“Obviously, it’s on your mind, but it shouldn’t affect how you stack your board,” Whaley said. “Because if you stack your board because of need, that’s when you start pushing guys up and then you overdraft and then you have propensity to make a mistake. So we don’t let our needs affect how we stack at the board. We keep the board as pure as possible and then go from there.
“If you look at our team, you can make an argument that we can draft any and every position. So we’re preparing to look at every position and whoever’s the best at the draft board at the time we pick, we’re going to follow our draft board.
“And if you look at it, a perfect lesson was last year. We got a lot of flak for taking (cornerback Ronald) Darby (in the second round). Everybody was like, ‘Why would you take a DB?’ And it worked out pretty good for us. You know what we did? We followed the draft board. We picked the best player available, and that was Ronald Darby.”
Still, it would be hard to imagine the Bills coming out of the early rounds of this year’s draft without someone to help bolster a pass rush that generated a mere 21 sacks last season … or without someone to provide, at the very least, much-needed depth or even a starter at offensive tackle … or without a backup for quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who, like veteran understudy EJ Manuel, is in the final year of his contract … or without a wide receiver to fill the No. 2 spot behind Sammy Watkins.
Maybe running back won’t be as much of a priority as the other spots, but it, too, could become an important consideration.
Not when Whaley looks at the Bills’ current roster and the current crop of college players.
“This is a great draft for areas of so-called perceived need for us, so we’re excited about it,” he said. “We think it’s so deep that you can get some guys in the third, fourth and fifth round that can help produce for you.
“I think in the draft, as a whole, I wouldn’t say it’s as top heavy as years past, but the depth in this draft is very exciting. There are guys who were in the Senior Bowl that will be third- and fourth-round picks that can come in and contribute, so we’re excited.
“When you’re building a roster, you’re always looking for competition and depth. And competition brings out the best in everybody and it helps you because, without even suspensions, injuries are part of the game. And I think there are a lot of areas where we have enough depth that we can absorb a depletion from the top. And we’ll keep doing that.”