This is the week that a lot of coaching changes occur, but very few leave on their own terms. Doug Marrone, opted out of his contract with the Buffalo Bills hoping for a fresh start on the eve of 2015. There was an opt-out clause in Marrone’s contract that stated he could leave the team if they changed ownership which happened in October. The team was sold to the Pegula family who also own the Buffalo Sabres hockey team.
Under Marrone, the Bills had a 15-17 record in the two years that he was there. Buffalo’s 2014 season was their best season in the past decade as they finished over .500 for the first time since 2004. Buffalo was in contention for a Wild Card spot until a surprising loss to the Oakland Raiders eliminated them. Buffalo ended their season with their first road win against the New England Patriots since 2000. With their 9-7 record, the Bills were one game away from playoff contention and ending the longest playoff drought in the NFL at 15 years. While the record isn’t great, the organization looked like it had turned a corner and was showing signs of improvement.
The fact that Marrone opted out of his contract could be a result of quarterback Kyle Orton’s abrupt decision to retire. Without Orton, that leaves Buffalo without an established quarterback as the sophomore EJ Manuel was very shaky and lost his job after week four. Marrone never seemed too confident in Manuel, so that could have factored into his decision. Another aspect of Marrone’s decision to leave was the fact that he gets his 2015 salary from the Bills, without it counting as an offset against the pay of any job he gets in the future. So Marrone just got paid $4 million to leave and gets all of his salary when he signs with a new team. Where do I sign up?
Before Marrone signed with Buffalo in 2013, he was one of the most sought after coaching options. He was offered the head coaching job of the Browns and was a finalist for a couple of others. Not only is Marrone a good coach, but he works well with others and is good at getting his people promoted. After his first season with Buffalo Marrone’s first year defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, was offered and given the head coaching position of the Cleveland Browns. One very real possibility for Marrone is the New York Jets, where he spent four years as an offensive line coach.
With the Bills position now open, it is probably one of the better vacancies in the league. They have a great young defense that led the NFL in sacks, some promising young receivers and one of the better all-around backs in CJ Spiller. In three of their last four games, Buffalo did not allow a passing touchdown to Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. That is three Hall of Fame caliber quarterbacks having one of their worst games of the season, well half game for Brady. Even though Buffalo’s defense is among the best in the league, their offense could use some help.
We may very well have a divisional swap of coaches with Marrone going to the Jets and former Jets coach Rex Ryan going to the Bills. Each coach has a good idea of the team that they have there, due to the fact that they faced each other twice a year. Both teams have solid defenses and need work on the offense. For Buffalo, they should really make a push for Ryan who could do some great things with that defensive line. There would be mutual interest there as Ryan would like nothing more than another shot at Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots and the idea of beating them, and his former team the Jets, twice a season could be a deciding factor.
The one area that Buffalo will need to improve is their quarterback. With the loss of Orton, all the Bills have on their roster is Manuel. Buffalo is going to have a tough time getting one through the draft especially since the Bills don’t have a first round pick this season. That was traded to the Cleveland Browns in a deal that allowed Buffalo to take wide receiver Sammy Watkins with the fourth overall pick. It is possible that some veteran quarterbacks, like Chicago’s Jay Cutler for instance, could be traded and there are a couple recognizable names in free agency. Buffalo could go after AFC East castoffs Brian Hoyer, Mark Sanchez or Ryan Mallet.
It’s safe to say that 2015 isn’t starting off on the best foot for the Buffalo Bills. Marrone had three days to opt out of his contract and doing so with about five hours left in that window can be seen as a low blow. At the end of the day though, it is a business and the Bills shouldn’t be too beaten up over that fact. They were the one that either put the clause in the contract or agreed to it, so they have nobody to blame but themselves for that. All that is in the past now as Buffalo now gets added to the teams that need a head coach as things continue to change in the AFC East.