I'm a huge "Seinfeld" fan. There's a splendid, underrated bit where Jerry successfully gets out of a dinner with George and the droning J. Peterman. While George sits miserably at the dinner table, enduring Peterman's tiresome storytelling, Jerry is at home, eating popcorn and watching football. Jerry pumps his fist and smiles as the game announcer says, "It's fourth-and-inches, and the Giants are going for it. You gotta love sports!"
Which brings us to the Buffalo Bills. It feels like the long-suffering franchise has been stuck at fourth-and-forever ... but, for the love of sports, this team is going for it! And I'm wholeheartedly fist-pumping in approval.
The Bills are dangerously close to finally breaking through and ending a dreadful, defining, unfathomable 14-season playoff drought -- the NFL's longest active streak. They aren't waiting until next year. They want to win now.
"It hurts. It hurts everyone, physically. I mean, it hurts the fans, the region," Marrone said. "The expectation going (into this coming season) is, you know, we're going to make the playoffs. That's what our expectations are, and we're going to do everything we possibly can to get there, knowing that it's going to be extremely hard, as far as the work -- that's what we're explaining to our players. So that's the league we're in, and we have to win football games -- there's no doubt about it. We have to do it and do it the right way."
In last month's NFL draft, the right way was the aggressive way.
Buffalo, which entered the draft with the No. 9 overall pick, seriously coveted Sammy Watkins. In fact, director of player personnel Jim Monos revealed that the Bills tried to get all the way up to No. 1 to secure the Clemson wide receiver's services, but the Houston Texans wouldn't budge. When Watkins remained available at No. 4, Buffalo general manager Doug Whaley pounced in cat-like fashion. The Bills packaged their No. 9 pick with first- and fourth-round selections in 2015 to move into the Cleveland Browns' slot and snag the top-rated offensive player on their board.
Last year, Marrone hitched his wagon to EJ Manuel, drafting the Florida State quarterback with the 16th overall pick -- a selection that took many by surprise. Manuel showed flashes during his debut season, but the campaign was plagued by injuries and inconsistent play. In our conversation last week, Marrone expressed that he likes what he's seen from Manuel this offseason. The 24-year-old is healthy and displaying impressive playbook knowledge, work ethic and leadership. Marrone says the game "has slowed down" for the second-year pro. Still, the coach remains very candid when it comes to his quarterback, stressing that Manuel must carry these positives over to the field this fall. Seems pretty doable, considering the surrounding cast.
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Buffalo has fantastic talent and depth at running back, headlined by the 1-2 punch of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. At wide receiver, the Bills acquired Watkins in the draft and Mike Williams via trade. Stevie Johnson's gone -- he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers one day after Watkins was picked -- but Robert Woods is ticketed for a big sophomore campaign. Lastly, Marrone believes the offensive line, which gave up too many sacks in 2013 (48, to be exact), is better.
And I haven't even mentioned the defense.
Despite losing Jairus Byrd in free agency, this unit is loaded. Kiko Alonso was a revelation in Year 1, finishing second in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. The defensive line is elite; Mario Williams reestablished himself as a dominant force last season. And although he's had some health issues, Stephon Gilmore has great promise as a young cornerback. Bottom line: Buffalo has a really strong, difference-making defense.
It's Year 2 of Marrone's reign in Buffalo, so everyone in the locker room knows what to expect.
"We are a better team right now than we were last year at this time. We have to be able to convert that into wins," Marrone said. "There's no doubt about it that we're more athletic, we're bigger, stronger faster. The system is under our belt, we're moving around quickly, we're making plays."
Of course, the offseason hasn't been entirely favorable. Marrone has had to deal with multiple arrests for the supremely talented Marcell Dareus. A couple of weeks back, Dareus was charged with reckless driving after an alleged drag race with teammate Jerry Hughes. Earlier in May, Dareus was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.
I asked Marrone if Dareus "gets it." Marrone paused before saying, "That's a good question. That's a good question, whether he gets it or not. You say all the right things, but then your actions are going to speak louder than your words. We all understand that obviously, and we're aware, he's made some poor decisions lately. I'm working with him. He's dealing with stuff, too."
Marrone went on to say how he needs to help his players "become better men," while simultaneously striving to reach on-field goals. It's a difficult job, but one the caring and committed Marrone is handling with aplomb. I think Marrone is the right coach to turn the Bills around. He turned around my alma mater, Syracuse. Prior to that, he was a highly respected NFL assistant with the Saints and Jets. I also think Whaley is the right general manager.
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Marrone addressed all of the above in our conversation. The sale isn't the elephant in the room -- it's been discussed. There's confidence the team will rightly stay in Buffalo.
Does the fact that there's new ownership on the horizon increase the pressure? Perhaps. But I think this Marrone-Whaley tandem is more than up for the challenge, ready to punch 14 years of painful history in the face.
You gotta love sports.