Wednesday night, about 20 people — some of them aspiring scouts, some of them active and former NFL scouts — gathered for a little more than an hour with former Bills GM Doug Whaley. The topic was team-building, both on and off the field. Doug discussed how he approached building the Bills’ roster after spending a decade with the Steelers, as well as how he went about populating and managing his team’s scouting department.

Here are three (of several) takeaways from Doug’s discussion.

  • Steelers scouts/administrators are rarely approached by other teams despite their great success: Pittsburgh is a model franchise, yet Doug is one of the team’s few former executives who got a shot to run another team. “Everybody (in the league) believes none of them will leave, so no one gets approached . . . If you talked to (Steelers scouts and executives), you could ask them. They would entertain it. Do (the Steelers) pay? They’re not the top-paying club in the industry. Now, they treat you well, but I remember Mr. Rooney always saying, ‘we’re not the highest, we’re not the lowest, but we’re on the high side of fair.’ But again, you know, you’re going to win. They treat you right. But I’m telling you, nobody. And I talked to some of the scouts and was like, ‘what is it out there in the league that people don’t come and ask us?’ No one knocks on the door. The only other thing that I could say is maybe the owners are like, ‘hey, we respect the Rooneys so much that we won’t raid their staff.'” 
  • You can’t force a first-round QB: Then-Bills GM Buddy Nix wanted to have the team’s franchise QB in place before retiring and handing the reins to Doug, which is why he reached for Florida State’s E.J. Manuel at No. 16 in 2013. “At the time, I was Assistant GM, and the GM there was Buddy Nix, and he had talked to me before about, ‘hey, before I get out of here, I’m going to make sure that we have a quarterback’ . . .  And unbeknownst to me after the draft, he was going to retire. So I gave you the backdrop of that to say this: don’t ever back yourself into a corner by saying, ‘I want to get a specific position,’ because then you overdraft, which leads to some mistakes. So, E.J. Manuel, that was (Nix’s) favorite quarterback out of that draft. He wanted to get him and he didn’t want to lose him. Now I know why. So he got him in the first round. He removed all doubt. If we would have drafted him in the third round — which that’s probably where he should have gone, maybe third or fourth round — he may have still been in the league today as a backup. But don’t back yourself in a corner or of overdraft because of need.”
  • In the minds of some scouts and executives, center has eclipsed left tackle as the most important position on the offensive line: It’s due to today’s complex defenses and the center’s need to make the right line calls. “It was always offensive tackle, but the last two coaching searches, a lot of them switched to center, and it was because of the mental part of the game and (identifying) the (middle linebacker) and being able to make the line calls. And that’s so important now because of the intricacies of the defense. (Today’s coaches are) saying we need that center; it’s more important than the right or left tackle, which was interesting. . . I struggle with that, but I also understand where they’re coming from, especially if you have a young quarterback. If you can have that center take a lot of that mental part of the game off your young quarterback (you can) help him be able to function at a higher level with a lot less mental taxation on him.”

We’ll have another GM on next month to discuss the finer points of running a franchise. Stay tuned to our Twitter if that’s something you’d like to tune in for next time. In the meantime, if the business of football is your bag, make sure to sign up for our Friday Wrap