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Jerry Sullivan’s Mailbag: Tough roster choices lie ahead for Bills

We moved the Mailbag up a day so it wouldn’t run on Christmas. It wouldn’t have seemed right. There’s plenty of mail, most of it about the Bills, but let’s just say it’s not all tidings of comfort and joy. God Roast Ye Merry Gentlemen is more like it.

I thought of mailing it in, to be honest. The sooner this Cowboys game is done, the better. If someone tells me these last two games can be “something to build on,” I’ll hurl my eggnog. At least it’ll be fun if Fitz and the Jets are alive for the playoffs next week.

Let’s settle in beside the fake Christmas tree and sort through the mail:

Steve Fort asks: Based on what I saw this season, I regret to say I am fairly confident Ryan is not the answer. I think they should fire him now, as it’s likely he’ll be fired in 1-2 years anyway. Was this the best Bills roster Ryan will ever have?

Sully: Overall, I felt the depth of talent on this year’s roster was a bit overrated. But they paid heavily for top players during the last offseason, investing $91 million in guaranteed money, more than any other team, to deliver on Ryan’s playoff promise.

You’re right about Rex. If he misses the playoffs again next season, there’s a good chance he’ll be gone. That would make him one of four NFL head coaches since the merger to go six consecutive calendar years without getting in the playoffs.

Regardless of how long Ryan stays, he’s not likely to have another roster this physically talented – or expensive. The Bills have some tough choices to make. That includes whether to dump Mario Williams and Kyle Williams, and which free agents to give lucrative new deals.

How talented they are depends on two main factors: Whether Tyrod Taylor makes dramatic strides and develops into a true franchise quarterback next year (which I doubt), and whether they do well in the draft. They need to hit big on some draft picks and get immediate help at linebacker, right tackle, safety and backup quarterback.

It’s not all about talent, of course. The Pegulas have found out with both their major pro teams that there’s more to building a winner than throwing a bunch of money at supposed star players (and coaches). You need a coherent plan, plus a mix of stars and well-coached role players who know exactly what is expected of them, and how to get it accomplished.

Larry Schiro asks: I contend that the Bills waste money on high price players and get no real impact from them: Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, LeSean McCoy, Charles Clay. Do the Patriots spend such exorbitant gobs of money on wasted players?

Sully: The Bills haven’t necessarily “wasted” money on those players. They have all contributed greatly at some point. But they haven’t done enough to justify the huge investment – especially Mario Williams, who has largely underachieved in four seasons.

As I said in the previous item, it’s a matter of balancing a roster. Every team has high-priced players in a sport with a salary cap over $100 million. You need to be judicious about who gets the money. The Bills have been criticized over the years for not spending market value on their own free agents. Antoine Winfield and Pat Williams come to mind.

If you give out too much bonus money to win in the short term, you eventually have to pay the piper. That time is coming for the Bills, who pushed a lot of guaranteed money into the future and will have problems fashioning a contending roster in the coming years.

The Patriots do it better than anyone else. Bill Belichick has no problem cutting ties with stars if their market value is too high for his liking, and he’ll rarely cast for the big fish in the free-agent market. It helps, of course, that Tom Brady agrees to play for less than his worth ($9 million a year) so the Pats can afford other players.

Tim McCullough asks: Tyrod Taylor will hold out, no? Given the way other players have routinely held out with one year left on their contract, along with the fact he had a good year, he would have all the leverage. Why am I wrong?

Sully: You make a good point, Tim, but you’re wrong. Taylor is their No. 1 quarterback and deserves a new contract. If the Bills believe he’s their guy, they should compensate him. The question is how big a contract extension he warrants after one season.

If Taylor is shooting for one of those $20 million-a-year franchise deals after 12 NFL starts, he’s kidding himself. He has a lot more to prove before the Bills would consider that sort of money. Plus, they can’t afford it right now. They should offer him a short-term contract at around half that number and see if he’s amenable.

Taylor’s strategy might be to play out the last year of his contract and look to strike it big in free agency – though the Bills could slap a franchise tag on him. He can’t showcase himself if he’s not on the field. If he’s shooting for the moon, he should report to training camp, have a big season and make his case for real franchise money.

Scott Glinski asks: When are TBN writers going to stop treating everything said/done by Super Bowl Bills as gospel? They’ve been gone 20 years and every comparison has to be to the “glory years.”

Sully: Well, it’s hard to find other comparisons when the team hasn’t reached the playoffs in 16 years. The more time goes by, the more we realize how special those Super Bowl teams were.

Were they angels? Of course not. But they set a competitive standard that will never be matched in Buffalo. So when it’s time to ask what’s missing from the modern players, it’s natural to ask the greatest winners in Bills history what’s lacking in today’s players.

I know from talking with the old Bills (and their wives) that they don’t believe the modern athletes have the same sort of bond with the community, or with their teammates. It bothers a guy like Darryl Talley, who suffers through the losing as much as the fans do.

jhenry258@hotmail asks: Will the Sixers have more wins than the Warriors have losses at seasons end?

Sully: I love it. It’s amazing how the two teams’ records mirror each other’s. Entering Wednesday’s games, Golden State was 26-1, Philly 1-29. The Warriors had outscored their opponents by 13.4 points a game. The Sixers had been outscored by 13.3.

So the numbers say both teams could have historical records. My guess is that the Warriors will have more losses. They play in the West, which is tougher, and will have fatigue and injury issues. I expect them to lose at least 10 games.

I don’t see the Sixers winning 10. They’re that bad. Opponents won’t want to be embarrassed by losing to them. So the opponents’ motivation works against the Warriors on both fronts.

Dan Meyer asks: What’s the best sports-related Christmas gift you ever received, either as a child or an adult? For me it is a tie between my Don Mattingly “Hit Man” poster (as a child) and my Mario Lemieux Penguins jersey (as an adult).

Sully: The best sports gift I received as a kid was a subscription to The Sporting News when I was in eighth grade. It made me want to be a sports writer. Now you know what to blame. As an adult, it was the new putter Melinda got me two years ago.

This year, I’m hoping for a 3-wood. Happy holidays.