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NFL

Bills' GM Whaley, an Upper St. Clair native, goes all-in

| Thursday, July 17, 2014, 9:15 p.m.
Bills first-round draft pick Sammy Watkins (right) poses for photos with general manager Doug Whaley on May, 9, 2014, at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Pardon Doug Whaley for using a baseball analogy when discussing his all-in approach to transforming the Buffalo Bills into something he hopes will finally resemble a playoff contender.

“You have equal chances of missing when you play it safe as when you try to swing for a home run,” the Bills general manager said. “So why not go for the home run?”

And Whaley, an Upper St. Clair native, didn't blink when reminded that home run hitters generally strike out a lot.

“Yeah,” he said. “And a lot of single hitters stay on base.”

The Bills prepare to open training camp in suburban Rochester on Sunday featuring a new-look offense. The changes reflect the swing-for-the-fences philosophy Whaley put into motion this offseason in a bid to end the franchise's 14-season playoff drought.

Whaley's biggest move came in May while overseeing his first draft since taking over as GM. The former Pitt safety and linebacker served as the Steelers' pro personnel coordinator for 10 years.

Whaley mortgaged a portion of the team's future by trading next year's first-round draft pick to move up five spots and select Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins fourth overall.

It was a risky move, and yet one Whaley believed was worth the gamble by adding a dynamic piece to a passing attack that had sputtered during quarterback EJ Manuel's inconsistent and injury-troubled rookie season.

Whaley didn't stop there in a bid to improve the supporting cast around Manuel, the team's 2013 first-round pick.

The Bills used three of seven draft picks on offensive linemen. Whaley shuffled his receivers by acquiring Mike Williams from Tampa Bay and trading starter Stevie Johnson to San Francisco.

Whaley even tinkered with the Bills already strong running attack. He added experienced depth behind co-starters C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson by acquiring Bryce Brown in trade with Philadelphia and signing Anthony Dixon in free agency.

“It is our duty to do what we can to get this team into the playoffs. And I have no problem in saying that,” Whaley said.

Whaley's win-now objective comes at a most uncertain juncture in the franchise's 55-year history. The Bills are for sale after team founder and owner Ralph Wilson died in March, and a new owner could be identified within the next month. There are concerns of the franchise eventually relocating under new ownership.

And there are shorter-term questions as to whether the next owner will consider cleaning house if Whaley and the rest of the Bills front-office fails to deliver a winner.

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