Season summary: Like in 2015, the Bills had the top-level talent to make a playoff run. However, injuries, a lack of depth and quest ionable coaching all eventually doomed the team. Some weeks, the Bills' biggest problem was an inept passing offense and a quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, who could not keep pace with opponents' quarterbacks. In other games, Rex Ryan's defense was a lifeless shell of the intimidating units he coached while with the Ravens and Jets. His defense reached an embarrassing low in a Week 16 loss to the Dolphins in which only 10 players were on the field for what was essentially a game-winning, 57-yard run by Jay Ajayi.
The Bills' only consistent performer was LeSean McCoy, who was unquestionably the team MVP. Buffalo entered Week 17 ranked first in the NFL by averaging 170 rushing yards per game, and the Bills' overall production in that area should help interim coach Anthony Lynn get attention for other teams' head-coach openings.
Injuries played a role in the Bills' downfall. The Bills lost a pair of games in October -- to the Dolphins and Patriots -- when McCoy was either hobbled or inactive because of a hamstring injury. Top receiver Sammy Watkins also missed nine games with a foot injury, safety Aaron Williams missed the final nine games with a neck injury and second-round pick Reggie Ragland missed the entire season with a torn ACL.
Biggest draft need: Quarterback. Whether or not the Bills keep Taylor is irrelevant; they must continue to take swings at finding a franchise quarterback. One of Doug Whaley's biggest mistakes as general manager has been his hesitancy to draft quarterbacks, especially in the 2014 draft, when he thought EJ Manuel did not need competition to be the starter. Picking up Cardale Jones in the fourth round in 2016 was a start, but the Bills need to continue to add talent at that position.
Can the Bills attract top coaching talent to their job opening? The Bills' final week of the season was a mess that included the early firing of Ryan, an announcement that Whaley would lead the coaching search, the benching of Taylor in a "business decision" and an awkward news conference in which Lynn had to answer for his bosses' decisions. Potential coaching candidates were surely paying attention. The Bills will have trouble hiring the most qualified candidates, such as former Giants coach Tom Coughlin or Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, because Whaley is unlikely to give up control over personnel decisions. Ultimately, the Bills might have to settle for a coach with less clout who will defer to Whaley on the roster and is comfortable being put in uncomfortable situations like the one Lynn faced upon being named the interim coach.
What sort of coach should the Bills target? If the Bills are sticking with Whaley as general manager and avoiding an overhaul of their football operation, they are narrowing the scope of their search to coaches willing to accept the current power structure in place. However, the team still must decide on what qualities are most important in its new coach. A disciplinarian could be the answer. Watkins said Thursday that the Bills are in need of a culture change, citing a lack of discipline on and off the field this season. The star receiver wants a coach who will be "hard on us" as players.
Where does Taylor fit in the Bills' future? After the Bills decide on a new coach, the organization's attention must turn to Taylor's future. The Bills have until March 11 to exercise Taylor's contract option for the 2018 through 2021 seasons, and whether or not they exercise the option, Taylor will be guaranteed $30 million by March 12. That means the Bills must cut Taylor by March 11, decide to keep him and pay him $30 million, or attempt to restructure his contract. It's a decision that must be made jointly by Whaley and whomever is serving as coach by March. Taylor's career-best outing against the Dolphins in Week 16, including a signature fourth-quarter rally, could help sway the decision. However, any new coach must first deem Taylor a fit for his offensive system.