Welcome back. I held the mail a week to cover the NBA All-Star weekend in Toronto. It was a blast. But no, it was not the best one I’ve witnessed. Nothing will top 1988 in Chicago, when Michael Jordan won the dunk contest and MVP and Larry Bird won his third straight three-point shootout.
Anyway, I’m refreshed and re-energized and – to the chagrin of my tweeting tormenters – not ready to retire. I’m having too much fun to quit now. Twitter confirms that I really am smarter than most people.
On to the Mailbag. Remember, you can submit your profound insights via Twitter (@TBNSully) or my News email (email@example.com):
Howard Weimer asks: According to Spotrac, the Bills are 32nd in NFL cap space for 2016. Why has the local media given Doug Whaley a free ride on his inability to manage the salary cap?
Sully: Free ride? My critics would beg to differ. As you elaborated in your email, Whaley overpaid for a number of players, including LeSean McCoy, Charles Clay and Kyle Williams (not to mention Marcell Dareus), leaving the Bills with the least cap space in the league.
Whaley’s defenders say he’s done a good job with the roster. How can a GM get high marks when he laid out the most cash in the NFL, in a season when the team was loading up to go for the playoffs, and finished only 8-8 with a kind schedule?
According to ESPN’s Kevin Seifert, there will be $1 billion in empty salary cap space in the NFL this season. The Bills are dead last in available space. They’re the only team in the red at this point.
It looks like the balance sheet of a team that spent to win and now has to pay the piper. Problem is, they didn’t win. Sure, Whaley hit on some draft picks, but he had some big misses, too. If a GM laid out more guaranteed money than any other team and didn’t win, it’s a failure.
It figures to get worse, too. The Bills can save $12.9 million by cutting Mario Williams, re-work Charles Clay’s monster deal, cut Kyle Williams and Leodis McKelvin. But Whaley has to re-sign tackle Cordy Glenn at $10 million-plus and give guard Richie Incognito a lucrative new contract.
Whaley needs to nail this year’s draft. Thanks to the Sammy Watkins deal, the Bills haven’t addressed their defensive front seven high in the draft since taking Dareus five years ago. Free ride? He’s lucky to have a job.
@michael campaign asks: When the conferences realign again, do you see UB moving to a new one? Wish they would enter the A-10 and raise their hoops profile.
Sully: Good point. Bucky is a crusader for UB getting in a better hoops league, and I agree. The A-10 is a natural fit, a big-time conference that has gotten at least three men’s NCAA bids each of the last eight years. They got six bids two years ago and five in 2013-14.
The Mid-American used to be a top mid-major, but has lost relevance in the last 15 years. The MAC hasn’t sent more than one team to the NCAAs since 1999, when Wally Szczerbiak led Miami of Ohio to the Sweet 16.
UB considers itself a football school, which makes it a fit in the MAC. But this is an NFL town, and fans haven’t embraced a small-time college football program. Buffalo has a void in basketball and needs a team that resonates on a national level.
The closest thing we have is St. Bonaventure, which is too far away to be Buffalo’s team. Imagine if UB got into the A-10 and we had two teams in that league. I have no idea if more conference realignments are in store, but it’s bound to happen.
Jim from Skaneateles asks: We have heard for 2 or 3 years how the Sabres were stocked on defense. Where are they? Have I missed a mass migration of the ones that were to supposed to anchor this team?
Sully: The Sabres don’t have as much blue-line depth in the organization as they had a year or two ago. That’s because most of them have advanced to the NHL or been traded.
Nikita Zadorov was a rising young D, but went to Colorado in the Ryan O’Reilly trade. Tyler Myers went to Winnipeg in the Evander Kane trade. They got veteran D Zach Bogosian in that deal. Bogosian has been a disappointment. So has the highly touted Mark Pysyk.
So if you’re suggesting that the Sabres need help on defense, you’re right. They’re expected to contend for the playoffs soon. GM Tim Murray has to add a sturdy veteran to a somewhat soft defensive unit.
Brendan Guhle, last year’s second-round pick, is with Prince Albert and having a fine season in juniors. Guhle, 18, was a revelation in Sabres camp and could be on the blue line in Buffalo as early as next year.
firstname.lastname@example.org asks: Pitchers and catchers report this week! The Jays should run away with the division by 10 games, even without Price. Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Boston are a jumble and I do not see the Yankees winning 75 games. Any thoughts?
Sully: I don’t see the Jays running away with it. Their hitting is awesome, but I’m not sure about their starting pitching and bullpen – though I think Marcus Stroman will win the Cy Young some day.
Call me a shameless Red Sox fan, but I see them as a threat in the AL East. It’s not only David Price. Boston added Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith, two tough relievers. Bullpen depth is a vital quality in today’s game. The Sox also have a stable of rising offensive players, though defense is an issue.
I never rule out Tampa Bay with its young pitching, especially Chris Archer. As for the Yankees, they have a great pen and they’ll hang around if Masahiro Tanaka is healthy. But they’re old and while they’re better than 75 wins, I can’t see another playoff berth.
Bill Kelley asks: Shouldn’t it be required for every WNY college basketball fan to attend at least one game at the Reilly Center?
Sully: Yes. Quick story: A few years ago, legendary Boston scribe Bob Ryan was the guest speaker at the St. Bonaventure sports symposium. Before the lecture, Ryan excused himself and went for a walk. He had never been in the Reilly Center and wanted to see Bob Lanier Court.
This gives me a chance to correct an error from Monday’s column on the Bonnies. Their home game against Saint Joseph’s on March 2 will be at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, not the Reilly Center.
James Griffin asks: If the Bills didn’t win four of their final eight games for Chan Gailey in 2010, do you think they would have taken Von Miller 2nd in the 2011 draft like the Broncos did?
Sully: Yes, though I imagine the Bills would insist they liked Marcell Dareus better.