Monday, April 28, 2003

With McGahee pick, Bills start new soap opera



By LEO ROTH
(Rochester, N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - In selecting Miami running back Willis McGahee with their first pick in the NFL draft, the Buffalo Bills not only acquired a potential superstar - they also acquired one very big headache.

That would be the running back controversy that's already growing in scope between McGahee and incumbent Travis Henry, their young Pro Bowl performer the Bills have antagonized.

"I was shocked. I really look at it like a slap in the face," Henry told the Buffalo News. "You don't draft a running back in the first round to be a backup. Maybe they are trying to tell me something. I don't know. I'm at a loss for words."

Henry, a tough-minded kid, said he wouldn't back down from the challenge of holding onto his starting job, but we all know where this is going.

Did the Bills really need to open this can of worms again? So soon after the Doug Flutie-Rob Johnson soap opera?

One has to wonder about the wisdom in jeopardizing the Bills' chemistry for what promises to be a playoff-contending 2003 season for potential gains in 2004.

That's when McGahee, recovering from a ravaging knee injury, will most likely be ready to play but not a week will pass when his status won't be a distracting sideshow.

The Bills did well in free agency but since when did they get THAT good where they could actually select the best player available regardless of need, and, in McGahee's case, regardless of injury?

Taking a pass on Miami defensive tackle William Joseph, a potential Warren Sapp, or not making a simple trade like Philadelphia did to move up 15 spots to take stud pass rusher Jerome McDougle, magnified the boldness of the McGahee pick.

The fact Nebraska's Chris Kelsay slipped to the second round for the Bills can't be considered as anything more than a consolation prize to have fallen so far.

The Bills said they weren't sending a message to Henry, who had one of the best seasons ever by a Buffalo running back last year with 1,747 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns, but struggled with fumbles.

They said taking someone like McGahee was merely a rare opportunity to make themselves better overall.

That's only true IF McGahee recovers fully and becomes the next Terrell Davis.

The reality is that they psychologically jolted one of their key players in Henry and the team's wariness of the front office was heightened. Henry likely would not have signed a contract extension had he known general manager Tom Donahoe's strong interest in McGahee.

"I don't understand the pick," Henry said. "I know that competition makes everyone better, so it should be a lot of fun in practice. But I felt I like I proved what I could do last year."

Gregg Williams said he's a "Travis Henry fan" but could offer little sympathy.

Afterall, he's the head coach without job security himself, having it "suggested" to him by Donahoe that he hire Kevin Gilbride as his offensive coordinator last year and Dick LeBeau as his assistant this year. Both are former NFL head coaches positioned to replace him if the Bills start poorly.

On Sunday, Donahoe dismissed Henry's "slap in the face" comment as emotion and that Henry is happy to have McGahee on the team. Next we'll be hearing Henry likes root canals.

"Obviously, he was in shock. Was there anybody in Buffalo who wasn't?" Donahoe said. "But we haven't found Travis to be anything but a competitive ... tough player. This addition won't change that."

Despite what's being said, the McGahee move sends one very loud message: Nobody should ever get complacent as long as Donahoe is in charge.

"I don't know that it's ever been detrimental in football to have depth and to have competition," he said.

Competition does elevate a team's performance, and Donahoe has worked wonders in resurrecting this franchise. But there's also something to be said about showing confidence in team leaders. Making loyalty a two-way street.

After Thurman Thomas' big 1988 rookie year, Buffalo's former regime didn't spend a first-round pick on a running back again for nine years. Thomas grew stronger and stronger in that environment.

Henry's used to competition (Jamal Lewis at Tennessee), and he'll play hard this fall. He's a true pro and he'll always be a very trade-worthy player.

But does he really deserve to be treated this way? He could gain 1,700 yards and catch 60 passes this fall and still be fighting for his job.

"It's not a reflection on Travis," assistant GM Tom Modrak said of taking McGahee. "He's a top back and he'll continue to be top back. He'll get plenty of chances here."

We all know there's only one football. Let the new soap opera begin.




NFL DRAFT
A lifetime lived in 8 days
Day Two sees team turn focus to defense
Team adds fullback to mix
2 more Bearcats selected in draft
Five Buckeyes headed to NFL
Winners and losers in 2003 draft
Were there really 12 QBs better than Ken Dorsey?
Colts say draft went according to plan
With McGahee pick, Bills start new soap opera
Giants bolster defense through draft
Texans select Drew Henson
2003 NFL Draft selections
Team-by-team draft

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PLAN YOUR DAY
Monday's sports on TV, radio

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