With coach Marrone opting out of contract, where do Bills go from here?
On Wednesday, the Bills announced that head coach Doug Marrone was exercising a clause in his contract and leaving the team. Per that contract, Marrone will receive the $4 million he was due in 2015. Marrone told the team he wasn't leaving after the regular season concluded, but reports indicate that the lack of a contract extension was a major factor in his departure.
Tale of the Tape: 15-17 over two regular seasons, 9-7 in 2014; no playoff record. The Bills have not made the playoffs for 15 straight seasons, the longest current drought in the NFL. Marrone guided the team to its first winning season in a decade.
What went wrong: With the announcement that former Bills, Panthers and Colts personnel czar Bill Polian will be taking over the team in all relevant ways, it's entirely possible that Marrone, who had a three-day escape clause in his deal related to the sale of the team to current owner Terry Pegula, saw a situation in which he would be the odd man out. Polian has strong opinions about what he wants and how he wants it (to say the least), and it's hard to imagine that he'd return to a front office from his current ESPN position without the promise of absolute control.
"We are disappointed that Coach Marrone will no longer be an important part of our organization," Pegula said in a statement. "We thank him for all of his hard work and leadership during his tenure and wish him and his family the best with the next chapter in their lives.
“We will now begin the important process of conducting a thorough search for a new head coach as we continue to strive to reach our goal of returning to the playoffs and bringing a championship to Buffalo for our fans,” Pegula added.
From a personnel perspective, the Bills have some forthcoming issues. Quarterback EJ Manuel didn't look to be ready for prime time at all when he started early in the season, and veteran Kyle Orton was a nice stopgap, nothing more. Orton retired from the game this week, which means that the Bills will have to hope Manuel can be salvaged, try to extract their next franchise quarterback from a limited pool of free agents or go into the 2015 draft with that position in mind. The Bills are also without the first-round pick they gave up in the 2014 draft so that they could move up to select receiver Sammy Watkins.
Roster outlook: Though the quarterback situation is very much in flux, the Bills don't need much more to become a playoff contender. They have the best front four in the NFL, outstanding linebackers and underrated cornerbacks. The offensive line is a bit iffy, but there's enough talent at the running back position, and with Watkins and Robert Woods leading the charge, quality targets for whomever steps into the team's quarterback slot.
Possible replacements: Marrone, who is from Brooklyn, has been tied quickly to the New York Jets head coaching position that was opened by the recent firing of Rex Ryan. As for who could replace Marrone in Buffalo, look for any number of former Polian acolytes to be on the bill. It's possible that it could be current Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich (who played quarterback for the Bills when Polian was there from 1985-1993). Polian also brought Reich to the Panthers in 1995 and added him to the Colts' staff in 2008 as a coaching staff assistant. Reich was then promoted to quarterbacks coach in 2009 and wide receivers coach in '11. Reich would be a valuable addition specifically because the Bills have a desperate need for quarterback development, and that's Reich's specialty.