Bills remind fans that the NFL is a business

Releasing a fan favorite will never be popular, but winning games on the field has nothing to do with popularity. The Buffalo Bills reminded fans on Monday that the NFL is a business and releasing Fred Jackson was best for business for the Bills.

The NFL is a business. We don’t have to like it, but that’s how the NFL operates. Quite a few Buffalo Bills fans were beside themselves on Monday after Buffalo released veteran running back Fred Jackson. Jackson was a fan favorite with the Bills, so being upset is understandable. That said, it seems that some Bills fans have a short memory of how the NFL works.

No day in Buffalo Bills history proved that the NFL was a business like February 10, 2000.

On that date, the Bills released three legends and future Hall of Famers: Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith and Andre Reed. That was a day that opened my eyes to how brutal the NFL can be. At the age of 15, I learned that there is no loyalty in the league and that the NFL was a business.

Thurman Thomas, Buffalo’s all-time rushing leader, released. Thomas wanted to stay with the Buffalo Bills, but he was let go. Thomas wanted to play a 13th season with Buffalo at the age of 34 but the Bills didn’t even attempt to work out a deal with the back.

And Bruce Smith?! Buffalo’s sack leader, and the NFL’s all-time sack leader, released. The greatest defensive player in Bills history was just cut by the team he played with his entire career at the age of 36. Smith was understandably upset with his release. He said the following on his release.

"It's a sad day, a very sad day," Smith said. "I wanted to be (in Buffalo) more than anything. These are strong ties built over the course of 15 years and now it's gone," he said. "My father always told me in the midst of adversity, in the midst of a struggle, 'It builds character. Stay strong, be positive, look ahead, don't look back. I can do that, but I'll never forget the fans of Buffalo and the people I've grown to love."

If Bruce Smith can be released, no Bills player is safe from now to eternity. The NFL is a business.

Reed, Buffalo’s all-time receiving leader, actually wanted to leave the Bills due to having a reduced role with Buffalo. He was 35 years old in his final season with the Bills.

"Today was the big day I've been waiting for," Reed said afterward on his Internet site. "The Bills released me. Isn't it something? Most people don't want to be released, but I wanted this so bad. My wife even said, 'We're free agents now! I'm so happy for you.' It's a big sigh of relief that it's over with."

Although Reed was rather happy with his release, it was still a hard day for Bills fans. It only became more difficult in 2000 when all three players were playing elsewhere in the league.

Reed and Smith stayed together with the Washington Redskins and Thurman Thomas stayed in the AFC East with the Miami Dolphins. None of them looked right in their new uniforms and none played like they had with the Bills.

Smith hung around for four seasons with Washington and racked up 29 sacks over that time. Twenty-nine sacks is nothing to scoff at, but it was a drop off from what Bills fans grew accustomed to in Buffalo. In Smith’s last four seasons in Buffalo, he had 44 sacks.

Reed caught 10 passes in 13 games for 103 yards and a touchdown in 2000. It was his final season in the NFL.

And Thomas? He too played his final season in 2000 with the Dolphins. He ran the ball 28 times for 136 yards while adding 16 receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown.

Based on their respective stats, releasing the trio proved to be correct. It wasn’t the popular move at the time, but it turned out to be the right move.

Jackson was a fan favorite. Perhaps it was his feel good story of making the league at the age of 26 after stints in the Indoor Football League and NFL Europe. It could be Jackson’s personality. You’d be hard pressed to find a nicer athlete than Jackson. He also did a lot of charitable work in Western New York. There were plenty of reasons to like Jackson, but it doesn’t mean that the team was wrong to release the running back. Jackson’s release may have bothered some Bills fans, but if three Hall of Famers can be released, you best believe Jackson could be released as well.

Last year, Jackson’s YPC average of 3.7 yards was the lowest of his career. During his entire tenure with the Bills, he only had one 1,000 yard season rushing and he’s missed time on the field three out of the last four seasons. Buffalo had their reasons to release Jackson.

In addition to the reasons above, the Bills have LeSean McCoy as their workhorse back this season. He’ll carry the load for the most part, but the team can now give some of the carries meant for Jackson to rookie Karlos Williams. The rookie had a strong camp and is the biggest beneficiary of Jackson’s release. Replacing a veteran with a rookie is nothing new and in the long run, the snaps Williams receives this year will benefit him long-term.

The Bills reminded fans that the NFL is a business on Monday. Releasing Jackson wasn’t a popular move, but long-term it’s probably the right move. 

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