Rex Ryan was fired Tuesday, done in by his defense and the sky-high expectations of a new ownership group that believes Ryan inherited a playoff-ready roster. Rex didn't shy away from promising the moon, but his team landed where this franchise has been for far too long: out of the playoffs.
As the Bills look for a new coach, it's clear they don't view the opening as a traditional rebuilding job. The Bills are 24-23 since Terry and Kim Pegula reached an agreement to buy the team in 2014. The organization has outscored opponents in just four seasons (three have been during the Pegula's stewardship) since their last playoff appearance in 1999.
General manager Doug Whaley remains in power after not seeing eye to eye with his previous two head coaches. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports that Whaley will lead the search for a new coach, and current offensive coordinator/interim coach Anthony Lynn will get strong consideration.
The Bills gig is an incredible opportunity with plenty of drawbacks, like most openings. Let's take a look at some of the positives and negatives for their next head coach.
On the plus side ...
Buffalo's loaded running game: Fresh off back-to-back games with a combined 552 yards on the ground, the Bills lead the NFL in rushing, yards-per-attempt and touchdowns by wide margins.
The next Bills coach should absolutely look to bring back the key pieces to this running game. Their four best offensive linemen -- Cordy Glenn, John Miller, Richie Incognito and Eric Wood -- are all under contract for next season. So is LeSean McCoy, who has been back in top-five running back form this season.
Top shelf talent: There are holes on the Bills' roster and a general lack of depth, but there's no denying the team has some frontline talent. We've already mentioned McCoy and the talented offensive line. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins, defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, defensive end Jerry Hughes and cornerback Ronald Darby all can be premier players. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore is a free agent but could be retained via the franchise tag. With promising rookies Shaq Lawson and Adolphus Washington in place on the defensive line, there is a good base up front on both sides of the ball. That's an excellent starting point for a new coach to build from.
Owners willing to spend: NFL.com's Mike Silver's profile of Bills owner Kim Pegula was instructive. This is an ownership group that will stop at nothing to turn this franchise around. That kind of eagerness can be a double-edge sword. This will be the third coach in four years since the Pegulas took over, and they know they have to get this hire right.
So about the other side of that sword ...
Drawbacks to Bills job
High expectations and Doug Whaley: The Bills clearly believe that Ryan underachieved by coaching his team to a 15-16 record. That indicates an ownership group and GM that want a playoff team sooner than later. The 17-year playoff drought weighs on this franchise like a wet nor'easter.
Couple those expectations with Whaley, whose track record in Buffalo has been spotty at best, and it will be a difficult situation to navigate for any head coach. Tim Graham of the Buffalo News wrote recently the Bills have just 22 of their own draft picks on the active roster and 31 overall still with the organization. Those numbers are dead last in the league, a sign of a franchise that can't draft well and changes course every few years.
Whaley, who has been with the organization since 2010 and the general manager since 2013, has seen three head coaches come and go since he arrived in town. That's a red flag for a new coach. Any new hire will have to work well with Whaley and hope that he turns around his drafting record. Especially at quarterback ...
Quarterback situation: Tyrod Taylor's contract should be an asset, but he looks like a goner in Buffalo. Rapoport reported that the Bills will bench Tyrod Taylor this week in favor of EJ Manuel, Whaley's hand-picked quarterback from the 2013 draft. Taylor is coming off one of the best games of his career and a season where he comfortably fit in the middle of all NFL starters.
Meanwhile, Whaley still has eyes for Manuel.
"We think this guy is going to be our quarterback for a long time," Whaley said about Manuel in 2013, via the Buffalo News. "In three years, maybe he's not, and then I'll be sitting there, saying, 'Guys? Anybody got a job for me?"
Instead, Whaley remains in power and Manuel has struggled with every opportunity given to him. He's a free agent after the season, and Rapoport reports that "some in upper management" have wanted to bench Taylor for weeks. Whaley wants to see Manuel play, and it's possible the team could bring him back in 2017.
It seems benching Taylor is partly about preserving Taylor's health. If Taylor were to get injured in Week 17 and couldn't pass a physical in March, the team would owe him $27.5 million guaranteed. Either way, the Bills are ruining their leverage for a potential trade of Taylor. I believe that Taylor's contract is actually tradeable despite the big option due this offseason. If the Bills or any team were to pick up that option, the deal would essentially be two years for $40.5 million. That's reasonable for a mid-level starting quarterback with upside, which Tyrod has proven to be.
Now the rest of the league knows that Whaley wants no part of Taylor. Other teams now can likely wait out the Bills, knowing the team will eventually cut him. That will leave the next head coach essentially starting from scratch at quarterback even though Taylor is the best passer they've had for more than a decade. Fun!
Rex's defensive pieces not fitting: This is the problem with any coaching change. The players Whaley acquired or drafted for Rex's defense the last two years may not fit the next coach's scheme. That's why there's a strong case to be made for retaining Lynn as head coach and keeping the offense in place. The team could possibly retain Dennis Thurman as defensive coordinator for continuity on that side of the ball, though a fresh start on defense is more likely.
Retaining Lynn would keep Whaley firmly in charge, a result that shouldn't be that surprising after the machinations in Buffalo the last three years. Even when the Bills lose, Whaley winds up on top.