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Jay Skurski's Bills Mailbag: Sammy Watkins' injury concerns, the ongoing QB search and more

One of the most misused terms in this great language of ours is "first annual."

There is no such thing. If an event is the first of its kind, it can't be annual. If the plan is to make it annual, the word to use is inaugural. That way, if a comet crashes into earth and we never make it to the "second annual," at least we went out with proper grammar.

With that out of the way, welcome to my inaugural Bills Mailbag. I plan on doing these much more often than on an annual basis. Please feel free to submit questions to be via Twitter  – @JaySkurski – or you can leave a post on my Facebook page. Now, to your questions ...

Like with everything else, it has to start at quarterback. Heading into spring practices, the pecking order figures to be Tyrod Taylor, T.J. Yates, Cardale Jones, Nathan Peterman and Josh Woodrum. The two biggest questions to me are, 1. Is Yates solidified as the backup?, and 2. Will Peterman push Jones off the roster?

There is also the possibility that the Bills decide to keep both Jones and Peterman and cut Yates. Doing so would leave them without a veteran at the position, but Yates has only 18 games of NFL experience, despite entering his seventh season.

After quarterback, wide receiver always seems like a position to watch closely. If you consider Sammy Watkins, Zay Jones, Andre Holmes and Philly Brown as roster locks, that leaves a group that includes Brandon Tate, Kolby Listenbee, Dez Lewis, Jeremy Butler, Walt Powell and even undrafted receiver Daikiel Shorts fighting for one or two spots.

Defensively, the competition for reserve spots at defensive end will be intriguing to watch, not because of the talented players who might be on the roster, but rather because the Bills desperately need some depth to emerge. After starters Shaq Lawson and Jerry Hughes, the team is down to the likes of Ryan Davis, Marquavius Lewis, Jake Metz, Ian Seau and Max Valles. Davis is the only one of them to have every appeared in an NFL game. If the team keeps four defensive ends, including Davis, there will be a big opportunity for one of those other four players.

Even though it feels like Terry Pegula has been in front of the TV cameras on what feels like a weekly basis lately – which I'm sure he loves – he hasn't been asked that question yet. He also hasn't stopped by the Bills' media room to just shoot the breeze, shockingly enough.

So allow me to answer this question as if I were advising the Pegulas on the matter: "We're optimistic Ronald Darby (second round, 2015) can step into the role of our No. 1 cornerback this season in Sean McDermott's defense. We like the progress John Miller (third round, 2015) made last year and look for more of it. We whiffed on Karlos Williams in the fifth round in 2015 – he clearly doesn't represent what we want the Buffalo Bills to be about. Nick O'Leary (sixth round, 2015) is sticking around so we can get golf lessons from his grandfather. Just kidding. Nick and Dez Lewis (seventh round, 2015) have big opportunities this year.

"As for last year's draft, we look forward to seeing our first two picks, Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland, healthy after going through an entire offseason. They should make our defense better. We're also counting on Adolphus Washington (third round, 2016) to play a big role for us inside. We didn't match the contract offer to Mike Gillislee because we believe Jonathan Williams (fifth round, 2016) can back up LeSean McCoy, and we look forward to seeing Kolby Listenbee (sixth round, 2016) healthy. His speed could be a game-changer. Lastly, Kevon Seymour is everything we want the Bills to represent. We're thrilled about him off the field, and excited that he should have a chance to play a lot as the third cornerback this year."

Watkins had his second foot surgery in January. The optimistic outlook is that should give him plenty of time to rehabilitate and be ready for September.

Your skepticism, however, is easily understood. From the time former coach Doug Marrone put Watkins into a meaningless preseason game and then watched as the receiver aggravated an injury to his ribs, the Bills' treatment and care of such a valuable part of their organization has been easily second-guessed. To hear Watkins aggravated his foot injury last year when someone stepped on it certainly set off alarm bells. If his foot was that fragile, why was he on the field? By the end of the year, the team and player couldn't even get on the same page when it came to whether his foot was actually broken.

We won't know about Watkins' outlook until training camp, as he's not expected to take part in spring practices. Players have gone through similar procedures as the one Watkins had done and made successful returns before. Atlanta star Julio Jones immediately comes to mind.

It's clear under new coach Sean McDermott, however, that the Bills are protecting themselves in the case Watkins isn't able to do that. By not picking up his fifth-year contract option, they have made things simple going forward. If Watkins is healthy and has the type of season he's capable of, he'll be rewarded by the Bills, or someone else. If not, he'll likely have to sign a short-term, "prove it" deal.

That is correct. Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com was first to report that Tuesday.

McDermott also got a five-year deal to become head coach in January, so those contracts will expire at about the same time. That is, of course, intentional. Beane and McDermott are going to be paired together. To use a favored word of team President Russ Brandon, they'll be in "lockstep."

Don't expect any embarrassing sideline arguments with these two. A big part of the reason Beane is here is because of his previous working relationship with McDermott. Harmony in the front office is something the Bills have long lacked, but those days should be over now.

The constant preaching of "collaboration" shows how the Bills intend to do business. Of course, all that means is both Beane and McDermott will be on the hot seat together if results don't follow. While it's tough for a fan base that has gone 17 straight years without a playoff team to hear, people need to give the new coach and general manager time to implement their vision. While significant progress has been made in shaping the roster, there is still plenty of work left to be done. The cycling through of coaches every couple years has done significant damage. Beane and McDermott deserve a fair opportunity to fix that.

NFLPA records show the Bills with $12.046 million of space as of Saturday, but that does not take into account the money needed to sign draft picks. Barring any moves in free agency and/or via trade that adds a salary greater than the league minimum, the Bills figure to enter the season with about $8 million in space under the salary cap. That will give them money to make necessary roster additions that arise during the year.

My top positions of need include tight end, safety and, as mentioned above, defensive end. Depth at those three spots is lacking. The Bills brought tight end Gary Barnidge in for a free agent visit recently. The longer he remains unsigned, the better the chances his price tag comes down. If that happens, the Bills would be wise to bring him in.

It's coming. Albany lawmakers approved a budget deal last month that will allow ride-hailing companies to operate across New York with uniform licensing standards. Uber and companies like it could be here by July 4.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled that Uber is coming to our community,” Russ Brandon, president of Pegula Sports and Entertainment, said last month. “It’s going to benefit all the citizens of Western New York. Obviously, as an individual that is involved with a couple sports franchises, it will have a massive impact with Sabres games and Bills games. I’m a frequent user on the road, and it’s been a really rewarding experience.”

When the schedule came out last month, I projected a 7-9 record. That was before the draft. The Bills have gotten good reviews for their picks, and it's hard not to see cornerback Tre'Davious White, wide receiver Zay Jones and right tackle Dion Dawkins as Day One starters.

However, I'm not ready to change the Bills' win total based on the draft. At least on paper, the schedule appears more difficult than last year. Here are some of the quarterbacks the Bills are scheduled to face in 2017: Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton, Derek Carr, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady (twice). Based on strength of schedule, the Bills have the fourth-toughest slate of games. Of course, injuries and other factors can change things, but a record somewhere around .500 is a reasonable guess right now.

I'd say that the trade down with Kansas City this year, which netted the Bills a first-round draft pick in 2018, gave them the ammunition to do just that. The team can cut Tyrod Taylor after this year with a manageable impact on the 2018 salary cap. In what is expected to a quarterback-rich draft next year, having two first-round picks could give the Bills the flexibility to move up and take one they feel can be the next face of the franchise.

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