ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The Buffalo Bills have fired general manager Doug Whaley one day after the end of the NFL draft, a move that further solidifies rookie head coach Sean McDermott’s control over the team.
Team owner Terry Pegula said Sunday he and his wife, Kim, reached the decision after a lengthy review of the team. Whaley’s dismissal completes what has become yet another front-office house-cleaning which began when coach Rex Ryan was fired in the final week of last season.
“This was my decision. It was not an easy decision but I believe it’s the right one for the future of the Buffalo Bills. Our search for a new general manager will begin immediately,” Pegula said in a statement released by the team. “He is a good person and we want to thank him for his work and commitment to our football team.”
Whaley’s future was also uncertain when Ryan was fired, though he received the full backing of Pegula at the time. The owner’s change of heart coincides with the authority McDermott has amassed in the three months since being hired.
The 42-year-old detail-oriented defensive specialist has become the voice of the franchise in discussing all team-related topics, including free agency and the draft.
The shake-up leaves the Bills seeking their seventh GM during what’s been a 17-year playoff drought — the longest active streak in North America’s four major professional sports.
Whaley had three seasons left on his contract after signing a four-year extension in January 2016. After Whaley worked up the scouting ranks with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bills hired him as an assistant general manager in 2010. He was groomed to become the GM, he took over the job in May 2013 when Buddy Nix stepped down.
Though Whaley was present in the Bills draft room this past weekend, it was unclear how much influence he had on the selections.
The Bills made six picks and swung several trades in addressing both immediate and long-term needs.
Buffalo opened by acquiring two selections, including a first-rounder next year, in a trade with Kansas City to move back 17 spots and select LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White at 27th.
McDermott sidestepped questions regarding Whaley’s job security saying he was solely focused on the draft. At one point on Saturday, he credited Whaley’s work without discussing his future.
“Nothing’s changed from what I’ve said all along. Doug and his staff have done a nice job,” McDermott said. “We’ve had great conversation, to your question, the entire time in terms of healthy meetings and productive meetings.”
In a departure from tradition in Buffalo, the general manager was not made available to reporters in the weeks leading up to the draft or at any point during the three-day event. Instead, those responsibilities fell exclusively to McDermott.
The Bills drafting history had been spotty this decade.
Of the 35 players Buffalo drafted from 2010-13, only defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and left tackle Cordy Glenn remain on the roster.
Whaley has been second-guessed on a number of selections.
Overseeing his first draft as GM in 2014 and with the franchise’s stability in question a month following the death of Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson, Whaley made a bold gamble to land receiver Sammy Watkins. He dealt two draft picks — including Buffalo’s 2015 first-round selection — to Cleveland to move up five spots and pick the Clemson star fourth overall.
When healthy, Watkins has shown flashes of his ability. Injury troubles aside, Whaley was criticized for paying too high of a price to select Watkins in a draft class that produced a bounty of receivers including Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Kelvin Benjamin, Jordan Matthews, and Jarvis Landry.
Whaley acknowledged he took a gamble and suggested his tenure in Buffalo might well be judged on that one move.
Last year, the Bills selected defensive end Shaq Lawson with the 19th pick while knowing the player would likely require surgery to repair a shoulder injury that had nagged him at Clemson. Lawson aggravated the injury during the team’s rookie minicamp and eventually missed the first six games of the season.
Whaley was more successful in identifying experienced talent.
Two of Buffalo’s best additions last year were free-agent linebackers Lorenzo Alexander, who had a team-leading 12 1/2 sacks, and leading tackler Zach Brown.
Concerns were also raised regarding Whaley’s relationship with Buffalo’s two previous coaches. Doug Marrone elected to use an opt-out clause in his contract to step down as coach after the 2014 season.
In January, Pegula told The Associated Press that while it was his decision to fire Ryan, Whaley had input based on conversations he and the GM had over the season.
Both of Pegula’s Buffalo-based sports franchises are hitting the reset button. Pegula fired GM Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma 10 days after the NHL season ended two weeks ago.