On Friday, John Bradshaw Layfield (JBL) announced his plan to leave SmackDown Live and the blue brand in an effort to spend more time on outside interests. It wasn't immediately clear when the change would take effect, but speculation quickly began to circulate that his departure had to do both with the never-ending reputation as a WWE bully and that the WWE had potentially finally chosen to limit his role in the company.
It was later learned that his contract was expiring and it appeared both sides reached an understanding that it was mutually beneficial to cut back his duties. A list of names began to surface as to who might take JBL's spot on Tuesday nights with names like Mauro Ranallo and Renee Young among the early favorites. Young shot down rumors over the weekend, then it was publicly announced by the WWE that Corey Graves would be officially joining the SmackDown Live announce team and become the only commentator appear on both the red and blue brands.
While this is fantastic news for Graves, and likely most WWE fans—many of whom found JBL an easy target for their ire—it still led to the real reasons Layfield was taking a step back in his WWE duties. Later, it was revealed that inside the WWE, JBL's departure was not new news.
According to Justin Barrasso of Sports Illustrated, JBL's exit was planned out far in advance and had little, if anything, to do with bullying accusations involving Mauro Ranallo. The decision was almost a year in the works, and JBL informed the WWE he would not be continuing in his role once his contract expired.
What's even more interesting is despite a WWE Board of Directors who had been pressuring Vince McMahon to release JBL when the bullying stories surfaced, Layfield's longstanding friendship with McMahon left his employment secure and Vince believed the story would fizzle away. JBL was never punished for his alleged involvement, and when the WWE brought back Ranallo as part of the NXT program, things seemed settled.
In the end, despite the speculation over JBL's departure from SmackDown Live, it was not related to bullying or the WWE's dissatisfaction with his performance. The timing was simply a happy coincidence and had JBL chosen to stay, likely would have. Instead, JBL chose to cut back due to travel issues and being burnt out by the grind of working far more frequently than he would have liked.
Tuesday nights will now feature Corey Graves along with Tom Phillips and Byron Saxton. This is great news for Tuesday nights as the pair of Phillips and Graves were well liked by NXT fans and should bring that chemistry with them.