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Jerry Sullivan’s Mailbag: Don’t drink the Bills’ Kool-Aid


You won’t hear the Mailbag boast about winning the offseason. It has been a month since the last installment. I’ll be off on vacation for three weeks after this one. I’ll be in Rio for the Olympics for three weeks in August.

Rest assured, the mail will be posted faithfully every week during the NFL season. It promises to be a consistently compelling – and no doubt maddening – season for the Bills, who are seeking to make the playoffs for the first time in 17 years.

Rex Ryan will try to avoid becoming just the fourth head coach since the NFL/AFL merger to miss the playoffs in six straight calendar years. As Vic Carucci said, Rex always makes it interesting, and he keeps the mail flowing.

This month’s Mailbag:

Sam Ruggiero asks: I’ve heard many people say the Bills will be 6-10 this year! Really? We were 8-8 last year, dysfunctional & injured. If Tyrod can pull two or three out in the fourth quarter, am I drinking the Kool-Aid thinking we should be 10-6 or 11-5?

Sully: Drink up, Sam. It’s a great time of year for Kool-Aid. I remember the old pitchers with the Kool-Aid Man logo back in the day. Did you know the drink was invented in 1927, the year Babe Ruth hit 60 homers and Charles Lindbergh made the first solo transatlantic flight?

Back to the Bills. People are picking them 6-10 for a reason. They’re not as good as last year. You can blame injuries, but they had crossovers against the two weakest divisions in the NFL and couldn’t take advantage.

As for dysfunction, the same people are running the show. Their No. 1 draft pick, Shaq Lawson, will miss half the season. Say what you will about Mario Williams (I have), that’s a huge hole to fill. We still don’t know if Tyrod Taylor is the answer, or if Shady McCoy and Sammy Watkins can stay healthy.

Ryan is trying to win with an antiquated run-first philosophy that’s out of line with modern analytics. The right side of the offensive line is weak, and teams are going to load up against the run on Cordy Glenn/Richie Incognito’s side until Taylor proves he can win games with his arm.

I think 6-10 sounds about right, though they could make a run at a playoff spot if Taylor takes his game to another level, the rookies surprise and they stay healthy. But saying they should win 10 or 11? Chug away, lad.

Joe Zanghi asks: We are flirting with danger again on not having a decent backup QB. Didn’t Rex Ryan and Doug Whaley learn from last year’s Manuel debacles? Mind is boggled!!!!

Sully: I was about to delete the extra exclamation points. Then I had a flashback to Manuel’s performance against Jacksonville in London and let them stand. Evidently, Rex and Reckless haven’t learned from Manuel’s miserable showing as the backup a year ago.

Whaley insists on pretending Manuel is a top backup, but he’s one of the worst in the league. He was predictably terrible in minicamp. Rookie Cardale Jones looked as advertised – like a prodigious athlete who is at least two years away from being trusted to play quarterback in a meaningful NFL game.

As you suggest, the Bills are taking a big chance with Manuel as the backup for Taylor, a running quarterback whose style exposes him to injury. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in preseason if Manuel doesn’t show improvement. Could we see another late QB signing, like Kyle Orton in 2014?

Manuel likely wouldn’t be here if Bill Polian or some other outside football man had taken over in 2015. Whaley and Ryan’s lingering faith in Manuel is not shared by most personnel people in the league.

Steve Knight asks: Considering his involvement (presence, at least) in most of the Bills’ splashy failures over the past 15-plus years, how much of a role do you think Russ Brandon has played in the seemingly endless blunders cited in your columns?

Sully: Brandon has to take some blame for the team’s failings. He has been a brilliant promoter and ticket salesman, but better at selling hope than effecting real change on the football field.

But the big reason for the prolonged dysfunction was Ralph Wilson’s fear of empowering another outsider after Tom Donahoe failed as president. Wilson’s mistrust of outsiders led him to hire Marv Levy and Brandon – close friends who were miscast in the role – as his next two general managers.

Wilson admitted as much when he hired an old crony, Buddy Nix, as GM and said he had hired a “general manager of football.” Wilson gave Brandon power over the franchise before his death.

Brandon’s first choice as head coach, Doug Marrone, couldn’t get along with upper management and walked away. The Ryan hire raised hope and ticket sales. Whether it succeeds on the field remains an open question.

@kev56nfl asks: The only viable scenario I see to pay Tyrod Taylor and Stephon Gilmore extensions next year is to trade/cut Shady McCoy next year. Do you agree?

Sully: Not necessarily. There are other ways to trim payroll. But if they give extensions to Taylor and Gilmore, we’re talking a combined average salary in the $30 million range.

They would need to find relief somewhere, and you’re right, McCoy would be a prime candidate. He’s due to receive a $6 million salary in both 2017 and 2018. That’s a lot for a running back who is heading into decline and can’t stay healthy.

The Bills are stockpiling other options, including second-year man Karlos Williams, rookie Jonathan Williams and Mike Gillislee. They sure act like a team that’s preparing for life after Shady. If you ask me, he’s not worth the money, or the trouble.

James Griffin asks: Which one of these three events is more likely? Tim Duncan playing another year, Tiger Woods winning another major or the Sabres signing Steven Stamkos?

Sully: Duncan playing another season. He has until Wednesday to opt into a $6.29 million deal with the Spurs. Duncan is 40, but he can still be effective in the limited (25 minutes) role he played a year ago. Now that the Warriors have been exposed, he probably feels the Spurs are capable of making another run at an NBA title.

Stamkos is intriguing, but I don’t think the Sabres would be wise to invest more than $11 million a season on one player at this stage of their development. Better to find two solid NHL players and build needed depth into the roster for when they’re ready to make a playoff run.

I don’t believe Woods will ever win another major. Too much young talent out there. Look how tough it is for some of the top players to make a cut in a major nowadays.

@emperormax09 asks: With the recent success of the U.S. men’s and women’s national soccer teams and the fans’ support, do you think soccer is “arriving” in this country?

Sully: Judging by the rise in televised soccer in this country and the interest among younger fans, soccer has already arrived. As people are exposed to the sport, the notion that it’s boring and devoid of action loses weight. Hey, even I’ve been watching Euro2016!

Of course, that sorry 4-0 loss to Argentina in the Copa America semifinal showed the American men have a long way to go to catch up with the women.