Since their 2022 season ended, the Bills have moved on from both DC Leslie Frazier and OC Ken Dorsey. Coordinator dismissals have been known to precede head coach firings, but the Bills look set to give Sean McDermott more time.
A driver in the Bills going from holding major North American sports’ longest playoff drought (from 2000-16) to the team becoming an AFC power, McDermott is in his seventh season as the Bills’ HC. The team has qualified for the playoffs five times in McDermott’s six seasons. Between Buffalo’s fourth consecutive Super Bowl loss to close the 1993 season and McDermott’s 2017 hire, the team had booked a postseason berth four times. While McDermott’s 2023 squad may be underachieving, it appears ownership is taking a big-picture view here.
McDermott is not in danger of being fired, according to The Athletic’s Tim Graham (subscription required). One of the sources informed Graham there is “zero” chance Terry Pegula will fire McDermott, who was hired before GM Brandon Beane came to town. This follows a report that suggested both McDermott and Beane are safe for 2024. While perhaps not on the hot seat, McDermott’s stock has dropped a bit over the past two seasons.
The Super Bowl LVII favorites to start last season, the Bills went 13-3 and beat the three-loss Chiefs. Because of Damar Hamlin‘s life-threatening injury, the NFL canceled the Week 17 Bills-Bengals game. This led to Buffalo being the AFC’s No. 2 seed, but the Bills — who had lost multiple key defensive starters as the season progressed — underwhelmed in the postseason, narrowly clipping the Skylar Thompson-quarterbacked Dolphins and dropping a one-sided divisional-round game to the Bengals. Still facing high expectations this season, the Bills have stumbled to a 6-6 record.
While Buffalo’s point differential (plus-101, fourth in the NFL) does not depict a team sitting on the “In the Hunt” line in playoff graphics, the Bills have endured several letdown losses. Most recently, the Eagles eclipsed a dominant Josh Allen performance by driving for an overtime touchdown, dropping McDermott to 1-6 in career OT games. This followed Buffalo having 12 men on the field to give Denver a second-chance try at a game-winning field goal. ESPN’s FPI gives the Bills, who have again seen core defenders go down with major injuries, a 21% chance to make the playoffs.
The Bills, however, announced through-2027 extensions for McDermott and Beane in June. McDermott’s .624 win percentage remains the highest in franchise history. The recent stumbles aside, Buffalo has won three AFC East titles under the “McBeane” duo’s leadership. The Bills’ two-trade effort in the 2018 first round secured Allen, and the team’s 2020 trade for Stefon Diggs helped turn their quarterback into a superstar. With the Chiefs redoing Patrick Mahomes‘ deal in September, Allen’s $43MM-per-year pact that runs through 2028 may be the team-friendliest of the current QB extensions.
That said, both the Titans and Cardinals bailed on staffers’ extensions recently. Tennessee axed GM Jon Robinson months after extending him through 2027; the Cardinals did the same with Kliff Kingsbury and Steve Keim. Teams have fired HCs after repeated playoff trips and experienced immediate success as a result, as evidenced by the Broncos moving on from John Fox in 2015 and the Buccaneers firing Tony Dungy in 2002. Both teams won the Super Bowl the following year. McDermott has also been fired after a playoff season, when Andy Reid dismissed him as Eagles DC despite the team winning the NFC East in 2010. That move led McDermott to Carolina. As it stands now, however, the Bills are not planning to shake up their operation.
Pegula is believed to still hold McDermott, 49, in high regard, Graham adds. Pegula has only fired one coach since buying the Bills in 2014. He axed Rex Ryan during the 2016 campaign. The team aimed to keep Ryan’s predecessor, Doug Marrone, but he exercised a $4MM payout clause that freed him from his contract in the event an ownership change occurred during his tenure. Marrone made the unusual move to leave an HC job for a position coach gig (in Jacksonville, though he later became HC). Pegula fired GM Doug Whaley following the 2017 draft, however, hiring ex-McDermott Panthers coworker Beane soon after.