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Jerry Sullivan’s Mailbag: Ryan, Whaley will be under the microscope next season

The Bills will wrap up a 16th consecutive non-playoff season on Sunday, so I figured this would be a good time to apologize. No, not for my occasionally harsh treatment of the principal figures in the latest heroic run to nowhere.

Unlike the NFL team, the Mailbag got better down the stretch. If fact, the submissions got so heavy that I couldn’t possibly use them all. So I’m sorry to all of you who sent thoughtful, provocative questions that never made it to print.

Trust me, I read them all, even the ones from losers and trolls. Virtually every tweet and email helped advance the discussion and made the run more interesting. I hope it keeps up, because there’s lots to talk about with the other sports, and even my golf game.

I’ll try not to ramble as much this week, so I can get more people into the column before Fitz comes to town with his first playoff berth on the line. The mail:

Lou Brown asks: We all know in our heart of hearts it will come to this, so how long before Pegula realizes he needs a clean sweep at OBD?

Sully: Lou, I share your lack of faith in the Bills’ current brain trust. Terry Pegula announced Wednesday that Rex Ryan and Doug Whaley are safe for at least one more year, but the fact that he was consulting outsiders as recently as two weeks ago tells you his football people will be operating on a short leash next season.

I believe Pegula would have fired Ryan if his team lost the last two games in embarrassing fashion. But the Dallas win gave him a reason to give Rex another year to get it right. I imagine the Pegulas also wanted to quash any speculation about Chip Kelly after his ouster in Philly.

Doug Whaley is safe for now, but the GM isn’t as safe as the apologists want you to believe. It’s interesting how the Bills’ state media jumped to the GM’s defense after the Eagles game. Whaley is still on thin ice; his contention that he and Ryan are on good terms is laughable.

A solid source tells me that if the Bills have another disappointing season in 2016, Pegula will blow the football department sky-high – as he did, much too late, with the Sabres.

@Mdipirrobronze asks: There is talk that The Saints will move Drew Brees and his $20M contract at season’s end. Might the Bills cut Mario and sign Brees?

Sully: Mario Williams is as good as gone, which will free up $12.9 million in salary cap space. But while anything is possible where Pegula’s money is concerned, there’s virtually zero chance they’ll take a run at Brees.

For one thing, Brees will cost too much, nullifying the cap savings they gain by sending Mario on his merry way. Plus, they overspent on offensive talent last year. Any major forays in free agency will likely be to fix Ryan’s sadly underachieving defense.

But it’s less about money than their commitment to Tyrod Taylor. They’re not going to bring in a Hall of Fame quarterback who could win the job. They need to find out if Tyrod is their franchise guy. He’ll be the starter next season, with or without a contract extension.

Erik@LTarmy_0416 asks: What are the Bills’ options for backup QB, assuming that EJ is cut after the season?

Sully: I’ll be shocked if Manuel is here next season. The Bills need to upgrade at backup QB and it wouldn’t surprise me if Pegula told Whaley it was a condition of continued employment. They’ll need two QBs, since Josh Johnson will be a free agent.

The free-agent market isn’t great. The Bills aren’t going to pursue a guy who will challenge Taylor for the job (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Sam Bradford, Kirk Cousins). That leaves marginal types like Chase Daniel, Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Schaub, Matt Moore – all the usual Matts.

The No. 2 quarterback should come from the draft. The Bills ought to take one high in case Taylor doesn’t get better or plays out his contract, or both. They have to keep trying to get a franchise guy. The problem is, Ryan will be looking to load up on defense.

George Kunz asks: People talk about how few punters/kickers are in the Hall of Fame. What about free safeties? Searches lead me to the “Mels” (Blount and Renfro), but they were cornerbacks during their great years.

Sully: You’re right, George. Safeties (free and strong) have been marginalized by the Hall in recent years. Only one safety who retired after 1980 (Ronnie Lott) has been enshrined, and Lott played cornerback for the first part of his career.

My colleague Vic Carucci, who is an elector, said safety is a “hard position to evaluate in the draft and difficult to evaluate for the Hall.” Over recent decades, cornerbacks have become much more valuable than safeties, who aren’t required to play much man coverage in the modern game.

Still, two of the 11 spots on defense are safeties, and they deserve more love. John Lynch, who retired in 2007, made nine Pro Bowls and isn’t in the Hall. Denver’s Steve Atwater, the “Smiling Assassin,” made eight Pro Bowls in the 1990s. Some believe former Chiefs safety Johnny Robinson is the best player not in the Hall of Fame.

We should see the safety position get its due in the coming years. Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, who retired in 2013 and 2014, respectively, are two of the best strong safeties ever to play.

Steve Turkovich asks: Who are the top five head coaches in the NFL today?

Sully: Besides Rex? Just kidding.

1. Bill Belichick, Patriots. Insert your cheating jokes here, but The Hoodie might be the best ever.

2. Andy Reid, Chiefs. This will be his 10th playoff in 17 seasons. Three straight winning seasons with a Chiefs team that was 2-14 the year before he got to KC.

3. Pete Carroll, Seahawks. Has done it in college and the NFL. Could become first coach since Marv Levy to reach three straight Super Bowls.

4. Bruce Arians, Cardinals. Underrated coach for Arizona team that’s best in the NFL right now. Finally got a chance at 60 and made most of it. Has 34-13 career record, which doesn’t include 9-3 as Colts interim in 2012.

5. Mike Tomlin, Steelers. Could miss playoffs for third time in four years after bad loss last week to Ravens, but has never had a losing season and has a .636 career winning percentage. Won a Super Bowl title and lost another.

Gail Maloney asks: You don’t think Rex would let his defense tank so that he could justifiably fire the defensive coordinator and hire his brother? Just wondering.

Sully: Gail, such sinister thoughts. But the Bills’ defense was so inexplicably poor this season, devilish minds can only wonder.


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