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Sully's Mailbag: Bills wise to unload Rick Dennison

The Bills have employed a dozen offensive coordinators since the start of the 2000 season. Only one, Curtis Modkins, lasted more than two seasons during that time, and Chan Gailey was running the show. At some point, each took his turn as the least-popular man in town, which is to be expected when anyone who can open a beer feels he could do the job better.

Some were better than others. Kevin Gilbride went on to win two Super Bowls as OC with the Giants. Tom Clements won a Super Bowl coaching quarterbacks in Green Bay and later became the OC. Alex Van Pelt had success for four years as the Packers' QB coach before getting fired last week.

One thing they all had in common in Buffalo was weak quarterback play. That, and some dubious upper management, will make a fool out of even the most promising coach. It's amazing how brilliant Charlie Weis and Josh McDaniels were while running Tom Brady's offense through the years.

It's true, Rick Dennison was operating at a disadvantage from the start with Tyrod Taylor. Still, he was a mediocrity as a coordinator, a man who took a limited but functional offense and made it worse. His firing on Friday was as warranted as it was unsurprising. The Bills can and must do better.

Dennison wasn't Sean McDermott's first or second choice when he took the Bills job last January. It was understandable. Dennison had been a figurehead OC under Gary Kubiak at Houston and Denver. It became clear this season that he didn't have many original or inventive ideas about running an offense.

He didn't take advantage of Taylor's greatest strength, which was rolling Tyrod out and making plays on the move. Dennison altered the blocking schemes for a run game that had led the NFL in rushing yards and average two years in a row.

Dennison modified the attack after the bye, using more of the old blocking schemes and read options for Taylor. But he set them back by violating a fundamental coaching tenet that says you put players in a position to succeed.

Five times OC Rick Dennison made Bills fans scratch their heads

The worst came last Sunday in Jacksonville, when he dialed up a run-pass option for Taylor on first-and-goal at the 1. Taylor threw a fade for Kelvin Benjamin, who pushed off Jalen Ramsey, one of the top cornerbacks in the game.

That call might have cost the Bills a chance to win in their first playoff game in 18 years. McDermott, who rarely says a disparaging word about a player or coach, said he would like that call back and didn't defend Dennison in Tuesday's season-ending press conference.

Sure enough, Dennison is gone. There's no lack of candidates, including two men who worked with McDermott and Beane in Carolina – Rod Chudzinski and Mike Shula. Darrell Bevell and Ben McAdoo are available. Van Pelt on Friday joined the Cincinnati Bengals as QB coach.

They can't let cronyism get in the way. The Bills need to hire an OC who can help groom their next franchise quarterback, who will likely come in the draft. It's a very big hire. After Dennison, they can surely do better.

Jerry Sullivan: Bills make right move on Rick Dennison

On to the Mailbag:

Eric Sepci asks: Would you call this year's rendition of the Bills a success — why or why not?

Sully: Interesting choice of "rendition." I suppose it was a dramatic performance, especially when they got into the playoffs at the end. Snapping a 17-year playoff drought, the longest in major pro sports, is certainly a success. It lifts a huge weight from the team and the fan base and gives Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane credibility around the NFL.

But it doesn't guarantee anything. McDermott might be "changing the culture," but some of his in-game decisions made him seem no different from Doug Marrone. Beane proved he's willing to make the hard decisions and unload prominent players who don't fit into his plans.

They still have a lot to prove. This is about long-term success, and they know it. That starts with nailing the upcoming draft and a couple after that. Beane needs to identify a franchise quarterback and be right about it.

If not, this playoff run will seem like a happy confluence of lucky events. I think they'll slip back next year. It'll be two more years before we can say with any certainty that the new regime has been an unqualified success.


Rick McGuire asks: How do you see the Bills with McDermott as coach and Beane as GM in five years from now? Mediocre, wildcard caliber or elite?

Sully: As I suggested in the above response, it's too soon to tell. The Bills made the playoffs with mediocre talent. There were half a dozen or more teams during the drought with more talented rosters that didn't get to the playoffs.

They'll be elite in five years if they stack some drafts and make shrewd pickups in free agency. Actually, there's not much difference between mediocrity and the wild card in today's NFL. So they'll remain in football limbo if Beane isn't a superior personnel man.

Beane has never run a draft as a GM. Having McDermott call the shots in last year's draft could come back to haunt them if Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes wind up being better quarterbacks than anyone in the next draft.


mtm2649 asks: Do you think the Bills would be willing to trade both 1st-round picks plus more to get into the top 5 for a QB? Who do you want?

Sully: Yes. It will take at least the Bills' first-rounders (21 and 22 overall), plus another high pick to move up that high in the draft. When teams know that you're desperate, the price can become even greater.

I don't watch much college football. Last year, I saw enough to think they should take Deshaun Watson 10th overall. I saw Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen play a couple of games and agree they're the top two prospects. I like Rosen's sheer talent as a passer the best of them all.

The one QB I don't care for is Baker Mayfield. He's a dynamic player and a winner, but he doesn't strike me as a guy who will make the difficult downfield throws. As a pocket passer, he'll struggle at the next level. I don't think his talents will translate well to the NFL.

I also don't believe that Mayfield's cocky personality would suit this Bills regime. Rosen isn't a great fit, either. I suspect they like Darnold.


Richard Hamister asks: Raptors are surging, 18-4 over last 22. Are they for real? Is it a 3-team (Cavs and Celtics) race in the East?

Sully: Toronto is definitely playing well for the underrated Dwane Casey. I was there Thursday when they drilled the Cavs, 133-99. It was the most points ever scored in regulation by the Raptors and handed LeBron James the first back-to-back 25-point losses in his NBA career.

Former general manager Masai Ujiri, now the team president, has done an admirable job building a young, promising roster. It was only one game, but the Raptors' kids overwhelmed an older, unmotivated Cavs squad. Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby all had strong games Thursday. The Raptors are deeper than I realized and could be an interesting team in the playoffs.

Granted, the Cavs have destroyed them in the last two postseasons and LeBron has reached seven straight Finals. But Toronto should be able to put up a better fight if they meet this year — especially if the Cavs play defense the way they did on Thursday. The same goes for Boston.

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