Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Track record

I just finished reading Brian Billick's book on the current state of the National Football League. You can read a full review of the book here, but there are a couple of applications to what has been going on at One Bills Drive lately.

First, Billick talks about how well he worked with Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome during the time he was head coach there. Newsome basically stayed in the home office and watched every practice and game as he did his job. He sent scouts to look at other players; he was only interested in his own team. Therefore, when something came up, Newsome was very familiar with the situation. He could give a direct, face-to-face, reason why the team was taking a specific action, such as cutting a player or starting one player over another.

The Bills lately have not had a football man as general manager, preferring to use a committee that included a variety of people working under team president Russ Brandon. And we all see how well that has worked in the last couple of years.

Owner Ralph Wilson has had a couple of bad experiences with something along the lines of "director of football operations." Apparently Bill Polian made Wilson feel uncomfortable visiting the team offices, and Tom Donahoe didn't exactly work out to his liking either. But it's nice to have someone in charge, and that's why apparently we're headed back toward that organizational structure ... and a few years too late, at that.

Billick also discusses the need for good drafts in a salary cap world. Drafted players represent relatively cheap labor, particularly after the first round. If you don't make good on those picks, and then keep them around as long as you can, you start furiously plugging leaks. And you never catch up.

Need proof? Let's examine the Bills' first-round picks for the last 10 years:

2000 -- Erik Flowers wasn't much help at all. A whiff.

2001 -- Nate Clements was a very good pick; too bad he left for a huge contract.

2002 -- Mike Williams was the fourth overall pick and never justified the pick. If he had worked out, he'd still be a cornerstone of the offensive line -- and life would be much easier to this day in that area.

2003 -- Willis McGahee was a big gamble, considering the Bills knew he'd miss a year after knee surgery. He had a couple of moments in a Buffalo uniform, but this swing for the fences resulted in a pop-up.

2004 -- After giving up a first rounder for Drew Bledsoe, Buffalo saw Bledsoe start to decline and took J.P. Losman as the "quarterback for the future." When Bledsoe's career took a continued dive, Losman never was able to take over. Lee Evans was much more like it.

2006 -- Donte Whitner has at least started whenever he's been healthy. The Bills tried to trade John McCargo, but the defensive lineman flunked his physical and has been a backup since then.

2007 -- If McGahee had come through, the Bills wouldn't have needed to draft Marshawn Lynch here. They could have addressed another need.

2008 -- If the Bills hadn't lost so many cornerbacks to free agency in the decade, the selection of Leotis McKelvin wouldn't have been necessary. We'll see how he does after losing almost all of 2009 to injury.

2009 -- Aaron Maybin signed very late and has done little this season. He shouldn't be written off yet, but early returns are discouraging. The jury is still out on Eric Wood.

Get the idea?

Dick Jauron made some mistakes in his three and one-half years as head coach of the Bills. The no-huddle offense this season in particular, with a very green offensive line and a young quarterback, might have been the biggest one. It not only didn't work, but it caused a fight with the offensive coordinator that resulted in a firing just before the start of the season. Jauron also never did any sort of job of becoming a public face for the franchise, something that the team could have used and something that could have bought him a little more time.

But if you're asking me if he ever had a chance, I'd guess, probably not. And if you're asking me if it would be worthwhile for a new football executive to at least give Billick a call, I'd say, probably so.

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