Conflict of Interest and Goal Setting for Bills

Many fans and even media rationalize that while the Bills are 0-4, they were close to winning all four games. Well, they were also very close to getting blown out in two of those games and played two teams that barely had an offensive pulse in the other two. In fact, they were much closer to high double-digit losses vs. both the Pats and Jets than they were to winning as I see it.

Recent rumors regarding the Bills, supposedly with credible roots, have GM Tom Donahoe being phased out to one extent or another. These sources explain that the recent Bobby Shaw release was a move by new head coach Mike Mularkey apart from Donahoe's influence. While this release of Shaw is not the move that the media has made it out to be, primarily because receivers like Shaw are a dime-a-dozen, there is a far more meaningful indication here. If the basis for this is that Mike Mularkey made this decision and particularly against Donahoe's wishes, then this would be good news for the Bills indeed.

The best thing that this Bills team can do this offseason, or earlier, AHEM…, is to rid itself of GM Tom Donahoe and QB Drew Bledsoe who has not succeeded to the extent that befits his written "reputation" during the past six seasons not heading into this season for the seventh.

The GM's job for any team is "seeing the Forest through the trees." In other words, it is the GM's job to develop and keep tabs on the big picture while turning over the tactical decisions to the coaching staff, which usually that same GM has hired. Naturally there is an overlap there, but the person primarily responsible for ensuring that the team is on track as a whole is the GM.

Tom Donahoe has done an extremely poor job of this. Upon his hire he promised to have this Bills team be competitive last season. The opposite has in fact occurred. Following last season's two opening wins the Bills have gone 4-14 since with this week's game threatening to derail this train entirely if the Bills cannot put up a win at home vs. "the league's worst team." The trend of this team has been downward since Donahoe's hire and one now challenging for the worst record in the entire league during Donahoe's tenure and one that has already been achieved in the AFC excepting the Texans which have not been in the league that long.

Risky decision making coupled with a sound lack of awareness of what has built great teams, not to mention dynasties in the NFL, have revealed this emperor as one without clothes as the fable goes. Upon Mularkey's hiring, which appeared to be the hiring of yet another Donahoe stooge, I stated that Mularkey's first big decision would be to defy Tom Donahoe by yanking Drew Bledsoe once he figured out that he'd been sold a bill-of-goods by Donahoe on that very matter.

While that still holds, if the rumors are true, and Mularkey has made a significant first step with this decision in spite of Donahoe's desire to see Shaw, a Pittsburgh "friends-and-family" hire, remain on, then this is indeed a very positive development for the Bills. Mike Mularkey absolutely needs to take charge of this team, its player staffing, and it's big-picture strategy given the void of competence otherwise.

Naturally this would leave Donahoe without a primary function rendering his status as GM defunct. It also renders him useless to the team. Quite frankly, he was a cut above useless in terms of building the team anyway as I see it. His actions reflected more of the "kid in the candy shop" variety than of a wise and patient GM with sound decision making considering all things and getting the most for the team's precious cap resources.

All it takes is a simple glance contrasting his promises of having a competitive team on the field last season and a fully capable playoff-contending and Super Bowl challenging team this season with the reality of this team which is a team that has gotten progressively worse since he began his rebuilding program and which now threatens to return to the same or similar state that it was in upon his hire four seasons ago.

Either way, there is a major league conflict-of-interests between Tom Donahoe and the welfare of the Bills. The Bills are yet in another rebuilding mode whether fans and media care to recognize this or not. Bledsoe is not the answer at QB, the offensive line has issues, big ones, the defensive line also has issues although not quite as large, and the core of this current Bills team is aging and on the wrong side of 30 with few talented, skilled, and effective players coming up to backfill those spots. As well, much of the good will of this team has been expended due to Donahoe's lack of success and the ramifications thereof which will make attracting top free agents more difficult in the future and quite possibly necessitating that the Bills overpay simply to attract free agent talent.

In the most recent Donahoe Q&A session, the question was asked: "Is this a rebuilding year?" Part of this answer was "We don't feel that this is a rebuilding year. We feel that we have a team that is capable of being competitive and capable of winning."

I am not sure who the "we" now is, but his response clearly indicates a problem. The rest of his answer spoke contrary to his very position prior to the season starting and the third part of it expressed an expectation that this team will "turn things around" to the extent that they will be competitive, this season. His answer in this same session to another question stated that the Bills would not consider themselves eliminated from playoff contention until they were mathematically eliminated simply supporting my earlier statement that wisdom is not applied in team decision making when Donahoe is involved. Donahoe is clearly out of touch with reality to a large extent here.

JP Losman will no doubt step in when healthy and just as all young QBs struggle, so will Losman likely making next season another "gelling" or learning curve season, and reasonably so. It will also take some time, good will, as well as cap space in order to rebuild the lines.

All in all, it is unreasonable to expect these Bills to be competitive next season to the extent that they can make the playoffs and advance in them. The Bills need to have an incredible draft this offseason, now made more difficult due to the Bills first selection being in the second round, and will need to put a solid plan in place for the replenishment of talent either aging or lost and soon to be out, or ineffective to the extent necessary, due to age. This will take time.

Donahoe's goals however, would be to fulfill his promises of making this team competitive. He needs to be concerned with keeping his job in what would be his last season of his contract next year. This would mean taking the approach of the Raiders by stringing out aging talent in hopes that one last push will give the Bills what they need to win it all one season. The odds of that occurring are remote while the odds of it only pushing off future competitiveness are incredibly high. Ergo, it is not in the best interests of this Bills franchise to retain Donahoe after this season and into his fifth and last season. Which decision Ralph Wilson makes remains to be seen however.

It is a lose-lose situation for Donahoe. If he were to remain on and continues down his path of "trying to make this a competitive team" for next season, then it will run counter to the future welfare of the team. If he admits failure, then two things; first, why should he be kept on. Short answer, he shouldn't be. Second, why should the team, or anyone, believe that given a second opportunity starting from essentially where he started when he initially took the reins, believe that he will do anything different given his very clear and terminal lack of understanding of the types of things that build winning franchises in the NFL, namely solid line play. Again, short answer, they/we shouldn't. His "trying it the right way" would be less an indication of competence and more an indication of going opposite his approach and doing what he is told is the way to go. The Bills need a proactive GM not a reactive one.

Again, if these rumors are true, while Mularkey will have not gotten out from underneath Donahoe's thumb in the manor that I suspected he would have, namely by yanking Bledsoe, a decision that is imminent as well nonetheless, he seems to have gotten out from under it, at least for the moment, which is good for the team. Having said that, he did buy into Donahoe's philosophy and assessments of this team and as such has dug himself a fairly decent sized hole to climb out of now. We will see how big this hole is on Sunday. Whether that upward digging begins this season or next, or at all, remains to be seen.

It will take two to three seasons to fully assess how good Mularkey is as a coach and Clements as an offensive coordinator. But their hitching their wagons to Donahoe's has certainly pulled them in the wrong direction thus far, and by more than a few train cars down the track. As they say however, the first step in problem correction is acknowledgement and recognition of the problem and the ceasing of denials. Tom Donahoe's weekly question and answer sessions are chock full of denial type statements. Mike Mularkey can begin to buy back a good chunk of that lost good will by beginning to start seeing things as they are and not as Tom Donahoe's fantasy fairytale storybook tells the story. Getting away from such denials would be a welcome change of pace in Buffalo these days.

In hindsight, foresight at the time for those that have been reading my pieces to date, it is unfortunate that perhaps the largest single detriment to moving this team forward has been not having released Bledsoe to free up $8 million this past offseason to begin rebuilding the lines that the team could not possibly have assessed any more contrarily to reality. Moreover, they not only did not avail themselves of over 10% of the team's entire cap to do so, but they have now pushed well over $4 million into next season to boot likely negating whatever salary cap increase there is. This has been continues to be an enormous handicap.

There are some glints of light down the long tunnel to One Bills Drive however suggesting that this team is finally realizing what the real issues with its lack of competitiveness in fact are. Unfortunately much of it falls into the "day late and dollar short" category for this season. But, and again, pending further progress down this road, there are glimpses of hope for Bills fans and possible reasons to at least be somewhat optimistic for next season and with certainty the 2006 season.

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