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Sully's Mailbag: Fitting time for Cookie to go on Wall

You know how much I love mail. But one thing I won't miss is readers asking why Cookie Gilchrist isn't on the Wall of Fame.

Gilchrist, a two-time AFL rushing champion and a transcendent figure in Bills history, will go on the Wall at halftime Sunday at New Era Field. It's a long overdue honor for Gilchrist, who died of cancer in 2011.

It's fitting that Gilchrist be honored in a year when protests by black players have been a big story in the NFL. He protested discrimination more than 50 years ago, when players had little or no job security.

Cookie did more than kneel during the anthem. In January 1965, Gilchrist led a boycott of African-American players who refused to play the AFL all-star game because of discrimination against blacks in New Orleans. The game was moved to Houston.

Buffalo in the '60s: Cookie Gilchrist among Bills who stand up to racism

Gilchrist was a great player. The late Larry Felser called him the best football player he ever saw. But Cookie said the boycott was "better than anything I did playing football."

On to this week's Mailbag.

Thomas Durlak asks: Bills are 4-2, same record as last season after 6 games. What makes this team different? When do we Billieve?

Sully: It depends on the depth of your 'Billief'. I don't think this year's team will make the playoffs, despite its encouraging start. The deficient passing attack and vulnerable secondary will prove too much to overcome.

But if you have a more long-range perspective, there's a lot to believe in. Sean McDermott looks like the real deal. He knows how to coach defense and seems to have engendered a genuine camaraderie and belief within his locker room, a sense that they can rise above their limitations.

Brandon Beane, the new GM, has an eye for discovering talent. It seems every marginal pickup the Bills put on the field contributes in some fashion. Deonte Thompson was a prime example last week, coming off the street to become the team's first 100-yard receiver all year.

They have a lot more work to do, however. The Bills don't have enough "value" picks, young draftees who make a big impact on the field but a small dent on the cap. They need to stack a couple of good drafts to create the kind of deep roster that makes a serious playoff run.

So my advice would be to believe in the future, but not to have unreasonable hopes for this season. Enjoy this team, but treat it like an unanticipated surprise. No one expected them to make the playoffs. They can finish .500, miss the playoffs and still be a success.

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Mark D. DiPirro asks: In an absurd scenario, Tyrod has a career yr & the Bills make playoffs. Do they pass on QB, long-term Ty, & draft for need?

Sully: No. They stockpiled six draft picks in the first three rounds to fill needs, but also to get their next franchise quarterback. I suspect they've made their minds up about Taylor, though there's a possibility they could bring him back again at a reduced salary as a bridge quarterback.

The Chiefs traded with the Bills to draft Patrick Mahomes 10th overall in the draft, while keeping Alex Smith as the starter. The Bills could make a similar move, drafting their next franchise QB while keeping Taylor in place to make another run with their current roster.

But under your scenario, Taylor would certainly want a long-term reward. Anything is possible, but I can't see him having the sort of epiphany as a passer that would force the Bills to give him a massive long-term deal.

Taylor would count $18.1 million against the cap if the Bills kept him for the second year of his deal. It's not crazy QB money, but it's hard to imagine Tyrod as a highly paid lame duck while the presumed franchise guy waits behind him -- along with Nathan Peterman.

•••••

@spyderman1954 asks: Where does not resigning Jason Peters rank in free agency gaffes by the Bills?

Sully: Actually, the Bills traded Peters after he made his second Pro Bowl in 2008 (they got a pick they used on Eric Wood). But letting him go was right up there with not keeping Antoine Winfield and Pat Williams, who had long careers in Minnesota.

Peters held out before that '08 season, asking to be paid like the top NFL tackles. Ralph Wilson wouldn't oblige. Peters was asking a lot at the time, but history shows he would have been worth the money.

The Bills got what they deserved. In 2007, then-GM Marv Levy invested $74 million in two marginal offensive linemen -- $49 million for guard Derrick Dockery, $25 million for Langston Walker. Peters didn't like being the third-highest paid O-lineman on his own team.

Dockery and Walker, who was expected to make fans forget Peters, were both released after the 2008 season. That led to a forgettable parade of left tackles (Demetrius Bell, Jonathan Scott, Chris Hairston) before they drafted Cordy Glenn in 2012. Glenn has a five-year, $65 million contract. Was he worth it?

•••••

John Scott asks: Given the Sabres' situation, when is the soonest you see them as legit playoff contenders, ready to make a Cup run? What would you do if you were in Botterill’s shoes?

Sully: I didn't expect them to start this poorly and figured them to finish with 88-90 points. I'd say two years before they make the playoffs. It's silly to speculate on any Cup runs until they put together a much deeper and talented NHL roster.

If I were Botterill, I'd make a deal to shake up that locker room. How often do we have to hear about a lack of mental toughness? Or that they weren't prepared for the start of a game? Really, in the first week of the season? With the NHL's second-longest playoff drought?

There should be no untouchables,  other than Jack Eichel. Shop Sam Reinhart while people still think he can be a star. Evander Kane, too. They have too many big contracts to give him a long-term deal. He's a rare talent, but if Kane is too talented to move, what does that say about the rest of the roster?

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Paul G Waas asks: Results didn’t get Joe Girardi released. Do you think personality or analytics played a major part?

Sully: Girardi was Yankee manager for 10 years. That's a nice run for an average skipper. It wasn't about analytics. Girardi was hip to the new numbers. He was famous for carrying a big binder around.

From what I can gather, it was more about his tense, joyless demeanor and management's belief that Girardi's personality was unsuited for a rising young team. He was also seen as evasive and even dishonest with the media, which didn't help his cause.

George Steinbrenner used to change managers as often as you or I change the oil. He did it nine times from 1985-92. It's hard to believe the Yanks have had two (Torre and Girardi) in 22 years.

It was time.

•••••

@lebronstein asks: Who is the best pure shooter to play for a WNY high school or college?

Sully: Good question, and one I'm sure could stir a lot of discussion. I only go back to 1989. I'm sure Reggie Witherspoon, my local hoop historian, could provide plenty of names from the early days.

Three great high school shooters come to mind: Ritchie Campbell, who was the all-time scoring leader for many years; Joe Licata, who held the state three-point record until recently; and Mike Heary, who once scored 62 points in a game against Traditional and went on to star at Navy.

College wise, it would be hard to beat Niagara great Calvin Murphy, who went on to be one of the best free-throw shooters in NBA history. Oh, and Gary Bossert once made 11 straight three-pointers in a game for the Purple Eagles, which remains a MAAC record.

Can't ignore the women. UB great Brenna Doty is the purest women's shooter I saw locally. She still holds school records for three-point and free-throw percentage in a season (both in 1996-97).

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