The Buffalo Bills released arguably their most popular player, Fred Jackson, last week. “Against the grain” decisions, like this one, are something Bills’ general manager Doug Whaley has never shied away from, but this one will ultimately define his tenure in Buffalo.
When any professional sports team cuts one of their most popular players, backlash from the fan base is generally inevitable. To the surprise of few, that was the case with the Buffalo Bills surprising release of running back Fred Jackson. But the release of Jackson has an interesting twist to it that scathes far beneath the fan bases displeasure with the decision.
By now, we’re all well aware that general manager Doug Whaley isn’t afraid to take risks. During his tenure with the Bills, he’s made debatable decision like drafting EJ Manuel No. 16 overall, trading multiple picks to move up and select Sammy Watkins and has signed troubled players like Richie Incognito, Percy Harvin and IK Enemkpali.
While it’s tough not to like the roster Whaley has constructed, parting ways with a player like Jackson is a significant move that will define his tenure in Buffalo.
At 34 years old, you can understand why he wanted to move on from Jackson. Running backs past 30 years old are few and far between in the NFL and with a stable of backs, the Bills are in decent shape at tailback, once everyone is healthy.
Football wise, you can justify his release. But that isn’t what makes this move concerning, though. It’s the comments by Jackson, saying how he was “blindsided” by the news of his release, which were supplemented by reports of Whaley going “rogue” in the decision to cut Jackson that are an issue.
Those reports do say that ownership knew about the decision, but clearly, the entire organization was not aware.
Normally, this isn’t a big deal since players are so transient in the NFL, but when it comes to a player of Jackson’s popularity, it matters.
Going forward, every little thing about the Bills’ offence will be magnified, particularly in the backfield. If LeSean McCoy’s health issues linger, fans will be quick to bring up Jackson. If Karlos Williams, Bryce Brown or Boobie Dixon struggle in their reserve role, fans will once again bring up Jackson. No matter which way you look at it, any semblance of struggle in the Bills’ backfield will result in the mentioning of Jackson.
May 26, 2015; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley during the organized team activities at the ADPRO Sports Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
When it comes to Whaley, though, the success of the Bills’ backfield is paramount. It’s not so much about proving he was right to cut Jackson, it’s more about the potential trickle down affect it could have with the fan base if certain areas of the team – like the backfield – struggle early on.
Every aggressive decision Whaley has made over the years will be brought up and questioned. With an angry fan base, decisions such as selecting EJ Manuel, moving up to take Sammy Watkins, and trading for LeSean McCoy will all become points of emphasis to question Whaley’s decision making.
If reports are true about Whaley going “rogue” in this decision, I’d imagine it will be more than just the fan base questioning Whaley if things don’t work out. With a new coaching staff and owner in charge, making decisions without communicating your thought process to them is a risky maneuver that better work out, or else it’s very easy to see where problems can arise.
Call it recency bias, but people will point to Jackson’s release if the team gets off to a slow start, especially in the backfield. Fair or not, that’s the risk attached to releasing a popular player like Jackson. But when you’ve made a barrage of risky decision like Whaley has over the years, they eventually need to pay off, or unpopular moves like this one will magnify everything else.
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