Their playoff lives on the line Sunday, the Bills rallied from 14 down to take a 31–28 lead on the Dolphins. They then proceeded to allow a game-tying FG drive in the closing minutes, missed an OT field goal of their own after a failed trick play, and later allowed a 57-yard Jay Ajayi run to set up a Dolphins victory.
This is how it went for the Bills in the short-lived Rex Ryan era: They were competitive, scrappy even, yet never quite good enough to be a real threat.
The Bills announced Tuesday that they had fired Ryan, as well as his brother, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Interim offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, who inherited that position when Greg Roman was let go in September, will coach the team in its Week 17 game at the Jets.
Lynn could wind up owning the full-time gig, too—there has been speculation for some time now that he would be a head-coaching candidate following the season, and the Bills will have a brief first-hand look.
As for Rex Ryan, the ending felt almost inevitable. The Bills showed signs of a dramatic turnaround early in the season, ripping off four straight wins shortly after Lynn replaced Roman. But they soon settled back into an all-too-familiar fight to escape mediocrity, of which they will come out on the short end.
At best, the Bills can finish 8–8 and regardless their playoff drought will extend to 17 seasons. Ryan ends his Buffalo days with a record of 15–16, far shy of what he promised when he arrived last season armed with an endless supply of confidence.
Sunday’s loss was indicative of issues the Bills had all along. Ryan always seemed to believe his defense was better than it actually was, like when he punted it away with four minutes left in overtime—of a game Buffalo absolutely had to win—expecting a quick three-and-out. The Ajayi run occurred on the first play of Miami’s possession there, and the game ended moments later on a Dolphins field goal.
Worse yet, the Bills had just 10 men on the field when Ajayi broke free, the final nail in the coffin of Ryan’s regime.
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen and it should never happen but it did happen,” Ryan said Monday, about 24 hours before he was relieved of his post. “And it cost us the game.”
Buffalo currently has one of three coaching openings, along with Los Angeles and Jacksonville. Ryan does not figure to be an immediate candidate for either of the latter two jobs, nor would it be likely for him to land anywhere in the NFL as a head coach this coming off-season. He is a mere 61–66 for his career, spanning Buffalo and New York, and just 41–54 the past five seasons.
As for the Bills, the two pressing issues now are: 1) Is Lynn going to be the answer moving forward? 2) Is Tyrod Taylor their QB of the future?
Already, the Bills are planning to sit Taylor Sunday vs. the Jets, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, so as to avoid any serious injury that would lock in $30 million-plus in guarantees on Taylor’s contract. Taylor signed a five-year, $90 million extension back in August, but that deal essentially broke down to a year-by-year commitment. Should the Bills decline the ’17 option on Taylor’s contract and release him, they would lose less than $2.5 million off their cap (via OvertheCap.com).
It’s possible Taylor’s future winds up tied to Lynn’s. Should the Bills opt to retain Lynn as their head coach, they may steer into that idea of continuity and give Taylor his third season as a starter, too. Taylor will finish 2016 with passing numbers almost identical to his ’15 totals: 3,023 yards, 61.7% completion, 17 touchdowns, six INTs this year; 3,035 yards, 63.7% completion, 20 touchdowns, six INTs last year. He did, though, also average 6.1 yards per carry this season and pitched in 580 yards on the ground.
Will any of those stats convince the Bills to commit at least $27.5 million more to Taylor? Should they pick up that ’17 option, they would be on the hook for his base salary ($12 million), plus another $15.5 million in bonuses spread through 2021. The better question may be if there is an upgrade out there. At first glance, it sure doesn’t look like it.
Lynn’s offensive background, first as a running back himself and then as a running backs coach from 2003 to ’16, would fit the typical NFL approach of reversing course after a firing—Ryan was considered a defensive-minded hire.
Should Lynn not land the gig, there are several other potential candidates cut from a similar cloth: Patriots OC Josh McDaniels, Redskins OC Sean McVay, Falcons OC Kyle Shanahan, etc. A wild card in the mix could be Sean Payton, who is rumored to be headed for the trading block in the off-season.
Lynn will get first crack, albeit without Taylor at his disposal—EJ Manuel is now expected to start Sunday, likely with Cardale Jones active as the backup. Where the Bills head for 2017 depends on what they think about Lynn, and perhaps on what Lynn thinks about Taylor.