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Sully's Mailbag: McDermott's power limits the GM field

Has the smoke cleared yet? All hell has broken loose since my last Mailbag. Terry and Kim Pegula have fired two general managers, a head coach and a chorus line of scouts since the last installment. Secretaries and cleaning staff could be getting terminated as I write this.

But the most amazing thing was that photo of Doug Whaley and Tim Murray chatting at a downtown bar last Tuesday. Perhaps the ex-GMs shared a chuckle over Terry reminding the media that he hadn't hired either of them.

I found myself wondering what it would be like for Buffalo to have stable franchises with entrenched, competent leadership, making routine trips to the playoffs. Remember what it was like to take the postseason for granted?

From 1988 to 2001, the Bills and Sabres combined for 23 playoff appearances. The Sabres made it 13 times, the Bills 10. Boy, those were the days! On to this week's Mailbag:

Kenneth Link asks: It seems as if McDermott is both coach and general manager. How do you hire a strong GM under those circumstances?

Sully: How indeed. Regardless of titles, McDermott is the top guy in the Bills' organization. The Pegulas ceded him an unprecedented level of power by putting him in charge of personnel and firing Whaley the day after the draft.

On the "Tim Graham Show" on radio this week, we speculated that McDermott might become the most powerful figure in Bills history aside from Ralph Wilson. He has already assumed a degree of power equivalent to Tom Donahoe, when Wilson made him his first team president (and GM) back in 2001.

So while the Pegulas will likely hire a general manager type to replace Whaley, he'll defer to McDermott, whose vision prevails in the organization. It'll be like Kansas City, where John Dorsey is GM but Andy Reid runs the show. Or New England, where there's no GM and Bill Belichick serves the role.

The problem, of course, is that McDermott still hasn't coached his first game as an NFL head man. The Pegulas are entrusting him with an inordinate amount of influence for a man of his experience. That has to limit the field of candidates to replace Whaley.

The top candidates would want to run the show and hire their own head coach. The Patriots' Nick Caserio and the Ravens' Eric DeCosta, who wind up near the top of any future GM lists, wouldn't be keen on deferring to a boss who hasn't coached a game or spent significant time in personnel.

It wouldn't shock me if the Bills added "vice president" to McDermott's title before long, making it clear that the new personnel guy answers to him -- whether you call it a GM or director of football operations.

That doesn't mean McDermott will fail. The empowered head coach model has worked for many NFL teams. It's just that the coach has usually established himself on the field before rising to such a powerful position.

Vic Carucci's Bills Mailbag: About Watkins, adding to ownership's voice and backfield-depth questions

@carbin14 asks: In your opinion, did the Bills have a good draft? Is the team headed in a good direction after getting rid of Whaley?

Sully: I hate grading drafts, because you're generally judging the process rather than the players. But I'll give the Bills a "B", because teams get extra credit when they move back in the draft and pick up more "currency," as they did by trading the 10th pick to the Chiefs.

That pick gives them two in the first round next year, which could help them move up in what is expected to be a very good draft for quarterbacks. Some early mock drafts have quarterbacks going 1-2-3 next year: Sam Darnold of USC, Josh Rosen of UCLA and Josh Allen of Wyoming.

So time will tell. It will be a great draft if they get one of the top quarterbacks next year -- and he becomes a true franchise guy. But it won't be that easy to move up. That's why they would have been better off cutting Tyrod Taylor, taking their lumps, and drafting high on merit (sort of).

The rest of the draft was OK. They addressed needs, though they didn't get a top three guy at any position. They reached on Zay Jones, who had great stats but might struggle to get separation at the NFL level. Nathan Peterman was a solid choice in the fifth round. Getting quarterback late is a gamble, but one the Bills don't take often enough.

Are they heading in the right direction? People are giving them credit for simply having direction. Time will tell if it's right.

Rick McGuire asks: With Mike Gillislee heading for greener pastures and the Bills now questionable at backup RB behind McCoy, what do you think of possibly bringing back Karlos Williams?

Sully: I think you're hallucinating. It's true that the Bills could use an upgrade at backup running back. But after all the preaching about character, they're the last team that would give Williams another chance.

You can't blame them. Williams smoked his way off the Bills. showing up overweight and getting a four-game suspension for substance abuse. Then he went to the Steelers and impressed them on the scout team, but got nailed again, this time a 10-game sentence for illegal substances.

The NFL should soften its stance on marijuana. Still, if a player cares about his career and his team, he follows the rules (right, Marcell?). A third suspension would be a year minimum for Williams and possibly longer. Sean McDermott wants accountable guys. He doesn't need the headache.


Chris Koniarczyk asks: Jim Overdorf has been with the Bills since 1986. He has survived 31 years, 11 coaches, 7 GMs, 2 owners, and a 17-year playoff drought. How has he managed to stick around at such a prominent level?

Sully: You call yourself "perplexed in Denver," and I can see why. Overdorf is in charge of the salary cap. The Bills' cap is a mess. They've overpaid for countless players and have the sort of financially bloated roster you'd expect from a team that made a Super Bowl run.

You can blame Whaley and Russ Brandon for a lot of the moves, but if the guy is a cap expert he's supposed to protect the front office guys from their own profligate instincts. It's clear that Overdorf hasn't done enough of that. Why the Pegulas keep him around is a mystery.

Overdorf has done more damage than the average scout, and they've been shown the door.


Alex Davis asks: If Lebron James beats this Warriors team to win his 4th title, is he a top 3 player of all time? Is he a top 5 player already?

Sully: These best-ever arguments make for fascinating debate. It's hard to compare players from different eras, and I'm guilty of a bias toward the ones who played when I covered the NBA and followed it more intensely.

My top three is: 1. Magic Johnson; 2. Michael Jordan; 3. Bill Russell. But I consider James to be top five and felt he made a strong move on the top three when he willed the Cavaliers over the Warriors in last year's Finals.

LeBron is a freak athlete and a brilliant hoop mind. He can guard every position. He's a terrific passer and runs the offense. He posts up like a power forward. There's never been anyone quite like him. He combines qualities of many other historic greats. He's won three titles and reached six straight Finals.

This Warriors team, with Kevin Durant, is better than the one that won 73 games a year ago. I don't see them losing. If James does it again, his argument gets much stronger.


@maddimbuffalo asks: Who do you like in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday?

Sully: This is one of the toughest Derbies ever to call, which makes it even tougher for someone who knows little about the sport. I like Hence on a wet track. They say he's the "wise guy" choice, which suits me nicely.

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