ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — A year and a half ago, the Buffalo Bills just wanted to keep Josh Allen happy.
They saw what the weary Green Bay Packers endured on a recurring basis with Aaron Rodgers and were motivated to avoid getting crossways with Allen, their franchise quarterback, the most precious sports asset a team can attain.
Allen and the Bills didn’t choose to undergo a delicate transition during the 2022 offseason, but their haute offense was too attractive for other teams to ignore. The New York Giants hired away most of Allen’s caregivers.
Bills coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane essentially let Allen select Ken Dorsey to be the next offensive coordinator and were even willing to make Allen’s pal Davis Webb — despite still being an active player — the quarterbacks coach.
That’s how badly Buffalo wanted to appease Allen.
“You try to get a feel for the landscape of the NFL and where things take a turn for the worse,” McDermott said at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine. “Wanting to do it the right way was big for me and Brandon.
“So Josh being involved in this decision (to promote Dorsey) gives him some ownership while also trying to get us to continue to get him comfortable or keep him comfortable, but also growing our system from where it’s been.”
Allen didn’t look comfortable or happy Wednesday afternoon.
But, to his credit, he took ownership for getting Dorsey fired after 28 games. Quarterbacks coach Joe Brady will call plays now.
“It hurts,” Allen said. “It hurts a lot to see somebody you care about go through a situation like that and to know that if I could’ve done more, if this offense could’ve done more, we wouldn’t have had to do something like that.
“It’s an unfortunate series of events.”
Play callers who work with elite quarterbacks should expect future head-coaching interviews, not pink slips.
For the first time in Allen’s career, he has cost someone a job. McDermott might be next.
Fairburn: Sean McDermott firing Ken Dorsey is desperate move by desperate coach
Buffalo’s presumed upward trajectory toward Lombardi Trophies has been a fallacy. They have been descending for three years. The 2020 Bills reached the AFC Championship Game. A year later, they fell 13 seconds short of returning. Last postseason, they were blown out in the second round.
Current math shows these Bills are unlikely to make playoffs at all.
Allen is not solely culpable, of course. If the Bills didn’t gift Denver Broncos kicker Wil Lutz a second attempt because too many defenders were on the field, then Dorsey probably doesn’t get axed this week, not after a winning touchdown drive on the final possession.
And although Allen leads the NFL in interceptions and is on his way to becoming the first quarterback since 1980 to lead the league in giveaways two straight seasons, there have been some deflections, wayward routes and fabulous defensive plays made against him.
Further impacting Allen’s performances, the Bills made a concerted effort this year to morph him into more of a pocket passer. The process has extracted much of the derring-do that made him the MVP favorite well into last season.
Now, he plays a passionless style that has fans wondering if deeper issues are involved.
After beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers three weeks ago, Bills center Mitch Morse remarked Allen “let his freak flag fly” with the best dual-threat game of the season. Allen passed for 324 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 41 yards and a score.
“I’m sure he really enjoyed it as much as we did,” Morse added.
When I mentioned Freak Flag Allen seems to generate Buffalo’s best overall results, Morse replied, “Yeah, that’s fair.”
Allen used to play every game like it was Dec. 31. This year has been April 15 on repeat.
Before kickoff Monday night, the Bills posted what they apparently considered an inspirational Allen pregame speech in the Highmark Stadium tunnel. He spoke with all the enthusiasm of a middle manager notifying the office there were leftover doughnuts in the break room.
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) November 14, 2023
I asked him Wednesday whatever happened to the take-no-prisoners badass we came to admire.
“We all evolve as human beings,” Allen said. “We all evolve as players in this league and just trying to be the guy that I feel it’s necessary to be to lead this team, and I’m just trying to be myself. Sometimes, it calls for that. Sometimes, it doesn’t. So I’m not quite sure.”
Perhaps the Dorsey firing will prove a long overdue kick in the pants.
Something or somebody needs to wake up Buffalo’s offense. Veteran tailback Latavius Murray noticed the dysfunction. This is Murray’s first season in Buffalo, but last week he called a players-only offense meeting that didn’t seem to resonate.
“It’s not going to be, instantly, a light switch flips and we’re all completely different,” Morse said Wednesday. “It’s one moment at a time, man.”
Given a chance to do it all over again, I believe the Bills still would have promoted Dorsey because Allen’s comfort was (and remains) a legitimate concern. After all, he did sign a six-year contract extension worth $258 million with $150 million in guarantees before the 2021 campaign.
But the organization didn’t have to give Allen so much leverage when it came to Dorsey the following offseason. The front office could have negotiated the transition more sensibly.
When offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and former Beane lieutenant Joe Schoen departed for the Meadowlands, assistant quarterbacks coach Shea Tierney was among the Bills staffers who went with them. They also signed Webb for $1.035 million, way more than the Bills could pay a rookie quarterbacks coach.
Dorsey, Allen’s position coach since 2018, hadn’t called plays before. But with an offseason mission not to disrupt Allen’s contentment, Dorsey was handed the vital job anyway.
Once Webb passed on McDermott’s offer to coach the Bills’ quarterbacks, McDermott found a fine consolation prize in Brady, the former Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator who won the 2019 NCAA national championship as Louisiana State’s passing game coordinator and receivers coach.
Buffalo tried to blanket Allen with other comforts over the years, investing in the QB depth chart to provide additional tutelage, including veterans Derek Anderson, Matt Barkley, Mitchell Trubisky and Case Keenum.
Upon losing Webb in 2022, the Bills brought back Barkley as the third-stringer. Barkley suffered an elbow injury in the preseason and eventually was released. The Giants signed him in October.
Without as much salary-cap space, due in large part to Allen’s massive contract, the Bills can’t afford to invest in polished backup quarterbacks anymore. The backup now is Kyle Allen (no relation, but the quarterbacks are golf buddies), with Shane Buechele on the practice squad.
A common locker-room scene after a Buffalo loss this year has been Josh Allen sitting at his stall, devastated, as Kyle Allen and Buechele hover close by. What worthwhile advice could they possibly be imparting? Kyle Allen has attempted 704 passes over six seasons. Buechele hasn’t played in an NFL game.
Whatever, the QB support system has been unable to rouse an alpha male who has been playing like he’s dead inside. He has been expecting that old explosiveness to just materialize.
McDermott obviously believed the offense was taking any eventual success for granted.
Minutes after Allen iterated his confidence in Dorsey and the system Monday night “because we’ve done it before,” McDermott scoffed at the notion as naïve.
“I’ve seen the inconsistencies through 10 games,” McDermott said. “So that’s really where, to me, the honest evaluation right now is.”
A few hours later, Dorsey was unemployed.
Dorsey might not have deserved to be fired, but he had to be. Buffalo is paying beaucoup bucks for an elite quarterback who won’t be in his prime forever. Teams must find ways — uncomfortable ways, at times — to maximize such a limited opportunity.
“I’ve got to be better,” Allen said. “We’ve got to be better as an offense. Turnover-wise, it’s abysmal when we lose. There’s not a whole lot … It’s not like it’s broken. We’re not a broken offense. We’re not a broken team.
“But the splits compared to when we win and when we lose are massive, and that’s on my shoulders.”
Now, nobody is happy.
(Photo of Ken Dorsey and Josh Allen: Robin Alam / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)