Bill Wippert/Associated Press
In one fell swoop last Thursday night, Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley placed himself squarely on the hot seat.
Whaley mortgaged the short-term future of the Bills and his long-term employment prospects in Western New York with a seismic trade, dealing the ninth overall pick in this year's draft along with a first- and fourth-round selection in 2015 in order to move up five spots to select Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.
Make no mistake about it, Whaley has tethered his future to Watkins and is betting on the electric playmaker to push the Bills into the postseason for the first time in 14 years.
The problem, of course, is that the Bills weren't just one player away from making a deep playoff run heading into the draft. I panned the trade last Thursday night, as the Bills had more a more pressing need along the offensive line. Last year, Buffalo allowed 48 sacks, tied for fourth-most in the NFL, and starting quarterback EJ Manuel missed six games with various maladies. If the team can't protect Manuel and keep him upright, it wouldn't matter if the Bills receiving corps featured Watkins and both Andre Reed and James Lofton in their primes.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated's Peter King, Whaley said this about the decision to move up and select Watkins:
We’ve got to win. We’ve got to win now. Fourteen years of not making the playoffs. Fourteen years. The people here deserve so much more. We need to give them more. We need to give them a winning team. We need to do it for the people of this region, and we need to do it for Mr. Wilson. I understand how big the deal is. I’m a competitor. I like our odds. I like our chances. The information we had made the decision for us. The player made the decision. I think I made the best decision for the Buffalo Bills. I can live with that, however it turns out.
In that quote, Whaley refers to the late, great Ralph Wilson, the longtime Bills owner who passed away earlier this year. Whaley surely knows that with a new ownership group on the horizon, he must win over the fanbase and provide significant hope for the future in order to keep his job.
That's what he hoped to accomplish by trading up for Watkins. It was a calculated gamble, and it is one that will determine whether or not he remains the general manager of the Bills in 2015 and beyond.