The silence has become deafening in Buffalo regarding the intentions of new owners Terry and Kim Pegula regarding the future of the franchise. There’s growing speculation and rumor in league circles that the team’s immediate future could include a blast from the past.
Some in league circles firmly believe that, as soon as Monday, former Bills G.M. Bill Polian could be returning to the team. It’s unclear what his role and duties would be; Polian and the Bills could try to engineer the job title and description in a way that doesn’t re-set the clock on his looming election to the Hall of Fame. Nominated for the first time in the new contributor category, Polian’s candidacy will be debated and determined on January 31.
It’s also unclear what would happen after Polian’s return, if that indeed occurs. Some think that G.M. Doug Whaley and CEO Russ Brandon would be in jeopardy, based on factors such as the ill-advised decision to use a first-round pick on quarterback EJ Manuel in 2013 and the surrender of a first-round pick and fourth-round pick in 2015 to move up five spots in the 2014 draft for receiver Sammy Watkins. Some saw the trade as a way to get to the postseason right away, increasing the chances of sticking with the franchise under new ownership.
Brandon, who was hired by the team in 1997 and who rose to a key level of influence in 2006, doesn’t have much to show for his time in Buffalo. More importantly, he has no pre-existing connection to or allegiance with the Pegulas, who may want their own people to run the team.
The wild card moving forward is coach Doug Marrone. Polian recently praised the second-year coach, which could be a sign that, if Polian gets the reins in Buffalo, Marrone won’t get the boot.
“Doug Marrone, the Bills’ head coach, should be very much in the running for coach of the year,” Polian said on ESPN earlier this month. “The Packers are a much better team, but they weren’t yesterday in Ralph Wilson Stadium, and that’s to Doug Marrone’s credit, that’s to [defensive coordinator] Jim Schwartz’s credit and that team’s credit.”
Some think Polian would find a role in Buffalo for his son, Chris, who currently serves as the director of pro personnel in Jacksonville. At one point, it was believed that Bill Polian was trying to set the table for Chris to become the G.M. of the Colts. Then came the disastrous 2011 season, which resulted in owner Jim Irsay cleaning the decks.
While 2014 was hardly a disaster for the Bills, it’s been 15 years since the franchise last qualified for the postseason. Which means that whatever they’ve been doing hasn’t been working. Which means that a guy whose work helped the team to four straight Super Bowl appearances could soon be back in the fold.
UPDATE 6:07 p.m. ET: Joe Horrigan, the Executive V.P. of Museums, Selection Process & Chief Communications Officer for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, tells PFT that the clock does not reset for contributors. So Polian can return to the NFL and be elected to the Hall of Fame. Which would make 2015 a pretty good year for Polian.