Jairus Byrd: Doug Whaley’s First Big Challenge

When Doug Whaley was announced as the new General Manager of the Buffalo Bills, he boldly outlined his strategy for bringing about a massive culture change at One Bills Drive. He spoke about his belief that there needed to be a focus on creating a clear identity for the Buffalo Bills.

Photo lifted from Buffalo News
Photo lifted from Buffalo News

Whaley was open about his desire to model the Bills organization on a foundation similar to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He spent years studying the Steelers franchise, and observing how they went about developing a consistent philosophy and expectation for their players. He stated that he wanted the Bills to become a winning organization by putting together a team that reflected many of these same qualities.

One of the more obvious qualities seen in Steelers management is the unwavering manner in which they deal with “disgruntled” players, or players who feel their value is greater than what the Steelers believe fits their strategic mission. They have repeatedly shown they will not capitulate when they believe a player does not share a congruent philosophy.

The most recent example of this was their decision to part ways with WR Mike Wallace. Wallace’s unquestionable talent made him one of the most highly sought after free agents. It appears the Steelers made what they believed was a fair offer in their attempt to resign him. Somehow a deal could not be reached, and Wallace signed a huge contract to play for the Miami Dolphins.

The Steelers reaction was one we have seen many times with their organization in the past; next man up. Welcome Antonio Brown, now it is your chance to shine and take your game to the next level. Time will tell whether this was a good decision on the part of the Steelers. History has shown that some players who receive a huge contract don’t live up to the hype when they move on.

Creating a winning organization is all about getting value and managing to retain “home grown” talent, but that is not always possible when a player refuses to accept what is deemed a reasonable contract. There is an inflection point reached in any negotiation where it becomes clear that an individual player and a franchise cannot agree upon what constitutes “fair value”.

Whaley now faces his first test of establishing a new culture at One Bills Drive regarding the recalcitrant Jairus Byrd and his infamous agent Eugene Parker. In a stunning display of clear animosity, Jairus Byrd has now shown through two press conferences that he can barely tolerate speaking to the media.

His choice of words and demeanor reflect a man who (despite his words) who wants nothing more than to get out of Buffalo as fast as he can. Even his choice of clothing during press conferences reveals that he is making a statement that he has no desire to be associated with the Buffalo Bills.

This presents a critical moment and opportunity for Doug Whaley right out of the gate. If he wants to set the tone for a “new culture” at One Bills Drive, he must deftly find a solution to remove a potential locker room cancer who threatens to derail a team who is trying to move forward and create a new culture. It’s obvious that Jairus Byrd has made his decision that he wants no part of that process.

Whaley must now weigh what is best for a young team trying to move forward. Doug Marrone is doing exactly what he should be doing regarding Jairus Byrd. He is spinning the story with positive accolades for Byrd’s work ethic and desire to contribute to the team’s success.

That’s what good coaches do; their job is to focus on coaching players to be the best they can be, and they separate themselves from the ugly part of the negotiation process that can lead to hard feelings on both sides. Marrone has done an excellent job of walking that fine line.

This presents Whaley with an early opportunity to make his statement about the direction he intends to take the Bills organization. If he is truly building a foundation for the Bills based upon the Steelers model of handling these types of situations, expect him to make it clear that this team will not be held hostage by one very good, albeit disgruntled player.

It would appear that Whaley’s ability to identify players who wish to be a part of the solution and not the problem is evidenced by the recent signing of Eric Wood to a long term contract before the start of the season. Signing Eric Wood was a clear statement by Whaley and the Bills organization that they are more than willing to work with a player who embodies the spirit of taking this team in a new direction.

A critical part of effectively establishing a culture change requires swift and immediate response to challenges that emerge that may jeopardize that strategic plan. This is especially true when you have a group of young players who need to be led by example to understand that a new regime is in place, and this is not the same old floundering Buffalo Bills.

If Doug Whaley determines that the presence of Jairus Byrd will be a distraction to achieving that goal, expect him to remain steadfast in his approach to dealing with Jairus Byrd and Eugene Parker. With Alex Carrington also being represented by Mr. Parker, this situation with Byrd will serve as an example of how Whaley and the Buffalo Bills will move forward in the future.

If rumors are to be believed that Jairus Byrd is asking for a trade at this point before the season has started, and his posturing about whether or not he can play with his foot condition (plantar fasciitis), it is doubtful that Whaley will display much patience regarding the shenanigans going on with Byrd and Parker. Expect to see Whaley handle this as he has always stated, behind closed doors, but with a resolve that may surprise some Bills fans.

There is little doubt in this fan’s mind that Doug Whaley will use this situation with Byrd and Parker to make an early and emphatic statement about how he intends to implement his strategic plan for the Buffalo Bills. Whatever happens, there is little doubt in my mind that Whaley embraces this challenge.

How this is handled will provide Bills fans with an early glimpse of what to expect from Mr. Whaley in the future. In fact, I would go as far as to state that I believe Whaley relishes this opportunity. If Byrd and Parker think they can mess with this “rookie” GM, they may both be in for a very rude awakening.

About Robyn Mundy

Robyn Mundy is Editor-in-Chief of the BillsMafia blog at BuffaloFAMbase.com. She's a retired oncology nurse & psychotherapist who loves to write about her life-long passion for the Buffalo Bills, and occasionally something of clinical or social relevance. Robyn lives with her husband Gary and their dogs in the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. Robyn is also a proud founding sponsor. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynMundyWYO.