Kim and Terry Pegula faced a big crisis this offseason with both the Buffalo Bills and Sabres needing new general managers and head coaches. Even under intense scrutiny, the Pegulas shine.
The couple that owns both teams faced such intense scrutiny that some called the Bills dysfunctional.
The Pegulas were quoted recently that they like collaborative organizations. The problem with the rest of the NFL world is that this is a foreign concept. This a league filled with big name leaders like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway, who is now the team’s executive vice president of football operations and current general manager.
The reason the Bills were dysfunctional wasn’t due to their owners, but due to a general manager that was meddling, confrontational, simply doesn’t fit in the collaborative mold, and, most importantly, wasn’t very good at being a NFL general manager.
First, many writers have forgotten a 2014 incident between former Bills head coach Doug Marrone, some front office personnel, and former general manager Doug Whaley. The front office didn’t like how certain players weren’t getting enough playing time. Those players were wide receiver Robert Woods, offensive guard/center Kraig Urbik, and offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio.
Woods is nothing more that a number two wide receiver, who signed this offseason with the Los Angeles Rams. Urbik is a backup now with the Miami Dolphins and Kouandjio is nothing short of a complete disaster with the latest incident being a half-naked run-in incident with the police just off the highway.
The real reason that the Bills haven’t made the playoffs is simply Whaley is just bad at being an NFL general manager to the point where one has to question his ability to evaluate incoming NFL Draft prospects.
In the NFL, first round picks are gold as they can make or break your team. That definitely is the case for Whaley as he foolishly gave up a 2015 NFL Draft pick to trade up and take wide receiver Sammy Watkins. All you have to do is look at the rest of the wide receivers in that first round to know how bad Whaley is.
Bills fans all remember that Odell Beckham Jr. was available to them at ninth overall as the New York Giants took him 12th overall. The problem is the team could have traded down and still got a stud wide receiver as that year was loaded with wide receivers. The rest of the round included Mike Evans, who was taken seventh overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Brandin Cooks, 20th by the New Orleans Saints, and Kelvin Benjamin, 28th by the Carolina Panthers.
So, here is a look at their career numbers, which is organized by draft position:
Watkins: 37 games with 153 receptions for 2,459 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns
Evans: 46 games with 238 receptions for 3,578 yards receinv and 27 touchdowns
Beckham Jr.: 43 games with 288 receptions for 4,122 yards receiving and 35 touchdowns
Cooks: 42 games with 215 receptions for 2,861 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns
Benjamin: 32 games with 136 receptions for 1,949 yards receiving and 16 touchdowns
Finally on the Bills front, let’s not forget another big blunder this offseason that sealed Whaley’s fate.
One of the big headlines during the 2016 NFL season was if the Bills were going to re-sign cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The thing is most smart NFL teams tag franchise players like Gilmore and then trade them to a team for draft picks to get compensation, which the team did in 2009 with offensive tackle Jason Peters. Whaley didn’t do that and Gilmore signed with the New England Patriots, which would get any general manager in the NFL fired.
The Bills however look to be in a solid place as the team hired Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to be their head coach and hired Panthers assistant general manager Brandon Beane as their general manager. They also made a solid trade in last April’s NFL Draft as they traded down with the Kansas City Chiefs for a 2018 first rounder and still got a cornerback that they liked.
As for the Sabres, their problem can simply boiled down to one point. Former general manager Tim Murray got too greedy and made a terrible trade that cost his team a solid young defenseman.
During the 2016 NHL Draft, Murray traded for Flordia Panther defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and the 33rd overall pick for defenseman Mark Pysyk, the 38th and 89th overall picks. The only way this trade works out is if center Rasmus Asplund, who was taken with the 33rd overall pick, turns out to be a good one.
That is easily fixable for the Sabres as they have four solid defenseman and two young defensemen.
The Sabres top four is already determined with Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, Josh Georges, and Zach Bogosian. As for their young defensemen, those would be Brady Austin and Brendan Guhle.
Austin played five games near the end of the regular season for the Sabres and just finished his second season with the Sabres’ minor league team, the Rochester Americans. So, he may be ready to make the jump to the NHL this year. As for Guhle, he will be 20 years old this summer, which means he will certainly be sent to Rochester to develop his game.
So, the Sabres are stacked with players and got off on the right foot as they hired Pittsburgh Penguin associate general manager Jason Botterill. That just leaves their head coach.
Give the Pegulas some credit as it takes great courage to stand up for what you believe in. Like it or not they have done just that as both organizations will be teams where front office personnel and head coaches will work together for one common goal.