Bills GM Whaley takes all-in rebuilding approach

 
 
FILE- In this May 9, 2014, file photo, Buffalo Bills first-round draft pick Sammy Watkins, right, poses for photos with general manager Doug Whaley at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.  Whaley's swing-for-the-fences philosophy is evident in the new-look offense the Bills will unveil Sunday, when they open training camp in suburban Rochester. There's rookie receiver Sammy Watkins, who was drafted fourth overall after Whaley traded Buffalo's 2015 first-round pick to Cleveland.
FILE- In this May 9, 2014, file photo, Buffalo Bills first-round draft pick Sammy Watkins, right, poses for photos with general manager Doug Whaley at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. Whaley's swing-for-the-fences philosophy is evident in the new-look offense the Bills will unveil Sunday, when they open training camp in suburban Rochester. There's rookie receiver Sammy Watkins, who was drafted fourth overall after Whaley traded Buffalo's 2015 first-round pick to Cleveland.
Bill Wippert, File / AP Photo

AP Sports Writer

Pardon Doug Whaley for using a baseball analogy when discussing his all-in approach to transforming the Buffalo Bills into something he hopes will finally resemble a playoff contender.

"You have equal chances of missing when you play it safe as when you try to swing for a home run," the Bills general manager said. "So why not go for the home run?"

And Whaley didn't blink when reminded that home-run hitters generally strike out a lot.

"Yeah," he said. "And a lot of single hitters stay on base."

The Bills prepare to open training camp in suburban Rochester on Sunday featuring a new-look offense. The changes reflect the swing-for-the-fences philosophy Whaley put into motion this offseason in a bid to end the franchise's 14-season playoff drought — the NFL's longest active streak.

Whaley's biggest move came in May while overseeing his first draft since taking over as GM.

Whaley mortgaged a portion of the team's future by trading next year's first-round draft pick to move up five spots and select Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins fourth overall.

It was a risky move, and yet one Whaley believed was worth the gamble by adding a dynamic piece to a passing attack that had sputtered during quarterback EJ Manuel's inconsistent and injury-troubled rookie season.

Whaley didn't stop there in a bid to improve the supporting cast around Manuel, the team's 2013 first-round pick.

The Bills used three of seven draft picks on offensive lineman. Whaley shuffled his receivers by acquiring Mike Williams from Tampa Bay and trading starter Stevie Johnson to San Francisco.

Whaley even tinkered with the Bills already strong running attack. He added experienced depth behind co-starters C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson by acquiring Bryce Brown in trade with Philadelphia and signing Anthony Dixon in free agency.

"It is our duty to do what we can to get this team into the playoffs. And I have no problem in saying that," Whaley said. "That's a goal. I'm not guaranteeing it, but that's a goal."

Whaley's win-now objective comes at a most uncertain juncture in the franchise's 55-year history.

The Bills are for sale after team founder and owner Ralph Wilson died in March, and a new owner could be identified within the next month.

There are concerns of the franchise eventually relocating under new ownership.

And there are shorter-term questions as to whether the next owner will consider cleaning house if Whaley and the rest of the Bills front-office fails to deliver a winner.

"That's out of my pay grade," Whaley said, regarding his job security. "I have nothing to do with that stuff."

Ownership change aside, there is a distinct sense the franchise is entering a new era ushered in by Whaley, second-year coach Doug Marrone and team president Russ Brandon, who took over daily oversight of the team in January 2013.

Despite a 6-10 finish last season, the Bills showed signs of being competitive following a major top-to-bottom overhaul. While their defense improved in several areas, their offense remained a weak spot in large part because of Manuel, whose development was stunted by three separate knee injuries. He went 4-6 in 10 games, with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Given the new additions on offense, the pressure is on Manuel to begin carrying his fair share of the load.

Whaley maintains his faith in Manuel, saying he has confidence the quarterback can build on last season.

"I wouldn't say concerned. I'd say I'm optimistic. I'm eager to see him get out and perform for 16 games," Whaley said. "I think this year is going to be a big leap for him and for us."

Whaley's series of offseason moves caught the players' attention by refocusing their commitment to win.

"This is a desperate franchise with desperate players and coaches to win," center Eric Wood said. "I'm not using desperate in a negative way. I'm using desperate in a positive way. Desperate like: Willing to do whatever-it-takes mentality. This is probably the most positive energy I've felt since I've been here."

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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