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Bills Mailbag: Signing Mathis a long-shot

You’ve got Bills questions/comments that you submit to me via Twitter, @viccarucci, and e-mail, at vcarucci@buffnews.com, and I have answers.

Here’s what I have to say about what you have to say:

@kensabre30 says: “Do the Bills have the cap room to take a run at Evan Mathis or is it something they aren’t considering, in your opinion?”

I say: It would be accurate to characterize the Bills as being open to the idea of signing Mathis now that the Pro Bowl guard has been released by the Philadelphia Eagles, but it doesn’t seem realistic for multiple reasons.

The biggest, of course, is money.

Although the Bills’ heavy offseason spending has left them with about $6-million-plus in cap space – based on their top 51 players whose contracts are the only ones counted against the cap – it’s certainly possible for the team to create cap room by reworking one or more of those top-51 deals.

From everything I’ve been told, however, that would only be a move they would make in the highly unlikely event that a starting-quality quarterback (such as Philip Rivers of San Diego) were to somehow become available via trade. At this point, the only veteran players the Bills would be inclined to sign are those who would be willing to play for the league’s veteran-minimum base salary. For Mathis, who is entering his 11th NFL season, that comes to $970,000 this year.

As someone who has made the Pro Bowl the past two seasons, Mathis figures to command much more than that – as well as some guaranteed money – in the open market. And that would probably put him out of the Bills’ price range.

Keep in mind, the Bills are planning to sign defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to a massive contract extension sometime soon, and would need to rework at least one other contract (probably the one belonging to end Mario Williams) to make that happen. More contract maneuvering and perhaps a big-money cut or two are expected to happen between now and the start of the season, but none figures to be done to make cap room for a guard where they are feeling they’ve made an upgrade with third-round draft pick John Miller and free-agent signee Richie Incognito.

Now, if the market for Mathis turns out to be something less than anticipated, then we’re having a different discussion about his potential to wind up in a Bills uniform.

Gerald Volpe says: “Is there any validity to the argument that EJ Manuel’s development was stymied by the Doug Marrone coaching staff? Wide-eyed rookie in 2013. Put him in as a starter and run a high-speed, no-huddle attack. I remember hearing Nathaniel Hackett, Marrone’s OC, saying, “We have to go faster.” Plus, having no QB coach the first year & being told to play it safe, both with his passing and running.”

I say: There is plenty of validity to that.

From what I’ve heard from the current Bills coaching staff, Manuel has gotten minimal technical/mechanical guidance since arriving in Buffalo as a first-round draft pick. The opinion of the current coaches is that he pretty much has been on his own the past two years in developing his game. And that has been reflected in his performance through offseason workouts.

How does that impact his chances in the competition for the starting job? You would have to think that Manuel is at least at somewhat of a disadvantage against Matt Cassel, who is entering his 11th season and is known for picking up new offenses quickly, and Tyrod Taylor, who is entering his fifth season and also had very good coaching during the past four years with the Baltimore Ravens.

It is possible for Manuel to make up for some of that “lost” coaching time through the tutelage he is receiving from new Bills quarterbacks coach David Lee. And as much as offensive coordinator Greg Roman might be leaning in the direction of Cassel because of the belief that he would be less inclined to make as many mistakes as Manuel or Taylor – a critical component to the “ground and pound” approach – none of the Bills’ quarterbacks has exactly distinguished himself with consistently efficient showings during offseason practices so far.

@CharlieCGordon1 says: “How can the Bills not have any urgency on the QB position? They need to get another one.”

I say: I think it would be incorrect to assume they aren’t feeling any sense of urgency about their situation at quarterback simply because they haven’t done anything else besides replace Jeff Tuel with Matt Simms in the fourth spot.

The coaches and General Manager Doug Whaley, along with his player-personnel staff, are watching practices just as those of us in the media are, although we only were allowed to see one per week through the past three weeks of OTAs. We will be permitted to view all of the three practices during the mandatory minicamp that runs from Tuesday through Thursday.

Yet, even with those relatively limited snapshots we’ve had of the OTA sessions, I think it’s fair to say that everyone watching the quarterbacks perform came away feeling mostly underwhelmed. Whether that is enough to prompt the decision-makers to “get another one,” as you mentioned, is anyone’s guess.

But I wouldn’t expect it to happen any time soon.

First, where exactly are the Bills supposed to find a quarterback who will be better than the ones they have? There’s no one worth getting in the free-agent market, including Michael Vick, who performed terribly when Ryan and Lee had him with the New York Jets. Vick’s greatest asset is still his running, and Ryan is on record as calling Taylor the “the fastest quarterback in the league.” So Vick wouldn’t be an upgrade in that regard.

No team is going to trade a quarterback that it deems valuable enough to be a starter or a backup, because as the Bills and multiple teams know, you either have a “franchise” player at the position or the reasonable hope of developing one in the near future, or you don’t. Period.

That said, could the Bills end up adding a quarterback who is released by another team at some point in the preseason, perhaps even a week or so before the regular season as they did when veteran Kyle Orton decided to come out of a brief “retirement” shortly before the start of the 2014 campaign? Yes. Could they even try to persuade Orton to come out of the second “retirement” he announced he was entering a day after last season? Yes.

But how appealing does that option sound? Orton was little more than a caretaker through the 12 starts he made last season. Sure, it could be argued that, with the expectation of a dominant defense and an improved running game, a caretaker is all the Bills need this year. Still, I don’t think Orton’s heart was in it enough last year, nor do I expect that to be the case this year.

Bottom line, finding a quarterback who can keep mistakes to a minimum, while making an occasional big play, isn’t as easy to find as one might believe.

@bchud1972: “From what you’ve seen from 11-on-11’s in OTAs, does Cyrus Kouandjio seem to have better knee bend as that appeared to be an issue?”

I say: Yes.

The previous coaching staff thought he was far too much of a “waist-bender,” and that had plenty to do with Kouandjio seeing no action on the line after joining the Bills as a second-round draft pick. During the offseason, he sought to improve all aspects of his game by working with former NFL offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley in Arizona.

By most accounts, Kouandjio has made significant strides in that area, and the current coaches have liked what they have seen of him to give him plenty of practice reps at right tackle. It’s too early to say whether he’s strongly in the running for a starting spot against the Bills’ presumptive top two tackles, Seantrel Henderson and Cordy Glenn, but there is reason to believe he has a strong shot to fill a backup role.

@Jiillyy says: “If you could gift one player on offense and one player on defense health for the entire season, who would you choose?”

I say: On offense, I’ll go with LeSean McCoy. For a team that is likely to rely on the running game as heavily as the Bills are, removing its best player at the position – and one of the best in the NFL – would be devastating. The Bills have no other player approaching that magnitude at running back or most of their offensive positions, for that matter.

On defense, I’ll go with Dareus. Take him out, and you’ve gone a long way toward weakening the strongest area of the team, which is the front seven. The pass rush is nowhere near as strong without Dareus’ dominance in the middle. The Bills have really good defensive line depth, but they don’t have another Dareus. Few players in the NFL can do what he does as well as he does it.

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