The mail flow was a tad slow this week, as I’d feared. If not for Rex Ryan hiring his brother to help solve his defensive woes, it might have trickled to nothing. Good thing I had a bunch of old mail that piled up during the Christmas season.
Regrettably, there were no basketball inquiries. Well, if Rex can hire his brother, I can keep it in the family, too. I’m going to allow my son to submit a guest question on hoops this week. It appears at the end of the column. No peeking!
On to the Mailbag:
Dave Van Wyk asks: I decided this week not to renew my Bills season tickets due to 1) Canadian exchange rate and 2) the team’s constant mediocre results. Do you see reason for optimism for 2016? Also, how is Rex to deal with, and can you see him leading this team to success?
Sully: Bills fans always find reason for hope. Tyrod Taylor could turn into Steve Young next season. The Ryan boys could turn the defense into a snarling, well-oiled and cohesive unit that rises toward the top of the league.
But I’m not a fan, and I don’t share the optimism. The Bills went for it last season, investing huge money in bonuses to upgrade the offense and reward Marcell Dareus. Now it’s time to pay the piper and shed salary to stay under the cap and sign their own free agents.
The window of greatness has closed on the defense, which will be entering a period of transition. They might flip from a team with a good defense and average offense to the opposite – assuming that Taylor and Sammy Watkins keep improving, the backs stay healthy and they keep the offensive line together.
The Bills had a loaded roster and a favorable schedule and still finished 8-8. You never know from one season to the next, but it’s more likely to get worse next season than better.
Shield your eyes if you must, but this reminds me a lot of 2006. That team had a first-year recycled head coach (Dick Jauron), a quarterback who had a promising first year as a starter (J.P. Losman) and a fading defense that would say goodbye to three prominent veterans (Takeo Spikes, London Fletcher, Nate Clements).
Rex is fine to deal with. For selfish reasons, he’s great to have around, because you’re never lacking for material and he never (so far, anyway) shows any signs of vindictiveness toward the media. But I’m not confident he’s the guy to lead this franchise out of the muck and to a Super Bowl championship.
Rick Steinberg asks: Personal issues aside, how would you evaluate Ben Roethlisberger’s overall career? Where would you rank him among active quarterbacks? Is he above the “great quarterback” bar? If so, is he on a Hall of Fame track?
Sully: Great question, and yes, I think Big Ben will be a Hall of Famer. Your question raises issues about the game’s most important position and how many QBs from a given era should get in the Hall of Fame. Consider this: Each of the eight remaining playoff teams has a QB who was drafted No. 1 overall or has won a Super Bowl.
So I would lean toward putting a lot of them into the Hall. There are seven QBs who were active during the Bills’ Super Bowl run who are in the Hall: Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Warren Moon, Troy Aikman, John Elway, Steve Young and Joe Montana.
Quarterback play is even more vital nowadays, so I could see eight or nine guys from this era getting in. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, all among the top seven all-time in passing yards, TDs and rating, are locks. Aaron Rodgers is the top-rated QB ever. He’s still only 32 and is a safe bet to get in, barring catastrophe.
Philip Rivers and Roethlisberger have almost identical career numbers and will have strong cases. Big Ben, 33, is in the top 15 all-time in QB rating, yards and TD passes. He has won two Super Bowls, which will boost his prospects. His sexual assault case, which resulted in a suspension but no charges, won’t be a big factor.
I would rank Roethlisberger fifth among active QBs, behind Manning, Brady, Brees and Rodgers. Tony Romo rates alongside Rivers as a guy with great numbers who has never won the big one. Among younger quarterbacks, I see Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck as HOF candidates down the road.
email@example.com asks: Any chance the Bills will be interested in hometown quarterback Chad Kelly in 2017?
Sully: Some of that depends on how Tyrod Taylor develops next season, and whether he establishes himself as a true franchise quarterback worthy of big-time quarterback money. If that happens, it will alleviate the need to find a franchise guy at the game’s most vital position.
But either way, the Bills should continue to expand the talent pool at quarterback. They have drafted only four since Jim Kelly retired. The Packers have taken 10 during that time. The more shots you take, the better chance you have of hitting the bull’s-eye.
I agree with Bucky Gleason that Kelly was wise to stay at Mississippi and prove himself to NFL scouts as both a player and a person. If he continues to mature as an NFL prospect, the Bills have to take a good look. But it’s not about getting a hometown boy and a Kelly, it’s about getting the first true franchise QB since Kelly.
Jack Sullivan asks: So how about those Spurs, old man? You think they can win it all?
Sully: By now, you should know the answer to that. Of course, they can win it all. The Spurs are 35-6, the best start at the NBA season’s midpoint in franchise history. And we’re talking about a franchise that has won five NBA championships.
I know a lot of young fans wish San Antonio would just go away. They were too old five years ago. Tim Duncan will turn 40 at the start of the playoffs. But they’re as good as ever this season. The additions of LaMarcus Aldridge and David West give them a strong veteran frontcourt and the best depth in the league.
Gregg Popovich will have his team primed for the playoffs, you can be sure of that. They’ve won 10 games in a row – 32 straight at home going back to last year – and they didn’t even seem in top form in Thursday’s win over the Cavaliers.
The Warriors are the best show in the NBA, and have the best record. But I think the Spurs have the size, depth and experience – plus the great Kawhi Leonard – to beat them in a postseason series. And by the way, where’s my Spurs cap?