Here are my three thoughts on the Buffalo Bills after their three-day mandatory minicamp brought an end to offseason workouts:
>If Stephon Gilmore wants Josh Norman cornerback money, he'll have to get it from another team. I'm told the Bills have no intention of giving Gilmore a contract that will come close to the five-year, $75-million deal Norman received to join the Washington Redskins as a free agent.
And those are the operative words in the Gilmore situation: free agent. He isn't one. He has a year left on his rookie agreement, so the Bills have no reason to treat him as a player in the open market with other teams bidding for his services. Theirs would only be a preemptive offer to make sure he doesn't hit free agency after the 2016 season. And if the year were to end with no long-term contract in place, the Bills would still have the option of placing a franchise tag on Gilmore to prevent him from going anywhere for at least one more season.
It's always possible the Bills might prefer to use that tag on quarterback Tyrod Taylor, also entering the final year of his contract.
But the point is, the Bills don't have to go to wall for Gilmore. Nor should they. He's a top-level cornerback, a critical component of a defense that requires its corners to constantly play man-to-man coverage. But just because he wants to use Norman as the standard for his salary doesn't mean the Bills have to. At more than $11 million, Gilmore is being fairly compensated now. The Bills, as I understand it, would be willing to put him in the range of about $12.5 million, maybe $13 million, per year. But they aren't going to $15 million. Their cap space doesn't allow it and, with Taylor likely to be getting a huge payday in the future and second-year corner Ronald Darby headed for a whopping second contract in a couple of seasons, they can't justify the room a Norman-like deal would devour.
That's why Gilmore skipped all but the mandatory minicamp this offseason. That's why he gave not-so-subtle threats about missing the start of training camp next month. He can see where this is going. It's a standoff, and unless he comes to the realization the Bills aren't going to Norman him, he either accepts what they're offering or sees what next year brings.
>Exactly what offseason did the Bills win, again?
The top draft pick arrived as damaged goods and is recovering from shoulder surgery. The top wide receiver is recovering from foot surgery. The right tackle had an operation to remove part of his intestines. The left tackle didn't participate in minicamp because of a foot issue that's supposedly minor. One of the two top running backs showed up in the kind of shape that most people who watch, not play, the games are in. Depth at quarterback still appears shaky, at best. The Hall-of-Fame quarterback went on national radio to say the head coach had to make the playoffs or be out of a job. And there's the whole Gilmore saga.
Yet, that didn't stop Rex Ryan from not only declaring that the Bills "won the offseason" but also challenging other NFL teams to make a similar claim.
We get it, Rex. This wasn't so much a message to the outside world as it was to your own players. Something for them to take with them as they begin about six weeks of vacation before the start of training camp. Accentuate the good, ignore the bad, so only happy thoughts will be dancing in their heads as they lounge on the beach.
And, to be certain, there was some good. Taylor looked sharp, especially through minicamp. His throws were accurate and he seemed to do a much better job of working the middle of the field. The battle for backup receiver spots looks as if it will be extremely competitive. Preston Brown and the rest of the defense were communicating their butts off, while also turning up the intensity to the point where there was one fight and another scuffle -- the sort of things that aren't supposed to happen in the spring. Generally speaking, things did appear to be running with greater crispness and efficiency than last year, when players struggled to learn new offensive and defensive schemes. That might not necessarily be saying a whole lot, but it's something.
Rex also wanted to give the rest of the NFL something to think about as well. Sure, other coaches and players around the league likely dismissed it as "Rex being Rex," saying something ridiculous because that's what he does. But Rex has been in the league long enough to know that it's largely governed by extreme paranoia. He probably isn't crazy to think that somewhere, a coach or a GM or even a club owner, is at least wondering about what the heck is going on in Buffalo.
>With one news conference, Ed Reed demonstrated that he could very well be a very special addition to the Bills' coaching staff.
He spoke bluntly about what he saw of the Bills' 2015 defense. He talked about the confusion and lack of effort that was blatantly apparent as he watched video of games. He explained, in detail, what it meant to communicate on defense and how vital it is to success.
When Reed speaks, it's hard not to listen because besides the enormous talent that he had as an NFL safety, he clearly has a great deal of knowledge and the ability to share it. As the Bills' assistant defensive backs coach, he's able to hover around the secondary and offer pointers where needed and be available whenever one of the members of the groups has a question.
Reed's conversations take place on the field and in his office, which, I understand, was a busy place this offseason as defensive back after defensive back sought to pick his brain.